Wine Rating Systems and Wine Reviewers

Is it redundant to say that wine ratings are over-rated? One needs to be careful to not buy wines solely based upon ratings. Too often one succumbs to the temptation to ante up a few dollars more for find a highly rated wine only to be disappointed. Or, we find a wine we like and then one of the wine pundits gives it a high rating and suddenly the price jumps, and or worse, it becomes difficult or even impossible to find. True the ratings are a valid indicator of relative quality of a wine but it should be noted, they are qualitative ratings, not quantitative. It should also be noted that ratings will reflect the personal tastes preferences of the reviewer. Further complicating the issue is that the leading wine journal, Wine Spectator, which publishes ratings of more than 160,000 wines, actually has several people doing the ratings. Logically, they have experts that focus on specific regions of the world who rate those particular wines. Be sure to make note of who wrote the review. 

The neophyte should take note then, that not all ratings are the same. Generally speaking, they are a highly useful, valid and legitimate means to reflect a particular wine. Just don't take them too seriously. I personally find it fun and interesting to blindly apply my own ratings to a wine and then compare my rating to the leading and other reviewers. More often than not I find agreement and consistency with them. Over time I have learned how my taste preferences compare fairly consistently relative to those of various noted reviewers. My tastes and subsequent ratings track some more than others.

Use these reviews, mine and the comparable reviews of the professionals as a barometer and calibration point for your own tastes. In the end, the only rating that matters is yours! And to all of you who consistently ask how you learn to apply these ratings, or rate wines on your own, the answer and process is very simple - practice, practice, practice!
 

The 100 Point Scale  

The most popular system is the 100 point scale - made popular by the prominent and oft published Robert Parker from his newsletter, the Wine Advocate. He has an incredible gift of an immensely discerning and discriminating palate coupled with a skill to discern, catalogue, characterize and classify the myriad of taste sensations and the for articulation. His methodology has become the defacto standard in the industry now adopted by many of the leading reviewers (see table below) including the Wine Spectator (right).

WINE SPECTATOR SCORE
   95-100 Classic
 90-94   Outstanding
 85-89   Very Good
 80-84   Good
 75-79   Mediocre
 50-74   Not recommended
 
The principle wine writers and reviewers and the abbreviations used by the industry for them are: I personally find the 20 point scale system used by Jancis Robinson to be easier to understand and to apply to my tasting experiences. I would recommend that system for anyone wishing to adopt their own system for comparison ratings of their wine experiences. I switched to more popular and widely used 100 point system as it allowed comparisons with other reviewers.

An excellent compendium of the various rating systems is published by the husband and wife team of Deborah and Steve De Long in their website known for its Wine Grape Varietal Table to help them to make sense of the vast and often confusing world of wine grape varieties, compiled over four years of extensive research and tastings in compiling it.

Abbreviation

Publication and Reviewer
 RP Robert Parker from The Wine Advocate journal..
WA Published in The Wine Advocate
WS Wine Spectator magazine.
DE Decanter magazine.
GR Gambero Rosso's journal on Italian wines.
BH Allen Meadows' Burghound.com.
JR Jancis Robinson on her site Purple Pages.
ST Stephen Tanzer:International Wine Cellar website.
JH James Halliday, published at 'WinePros' website.
NM Natalie McLean's Nat Decants website.
MB Michael Broadbent from The Great Vintage Wine Book.
5 Point Rating System

Quality rating: Based on a five-point scale, with increments in one-tenth of a point. Wines below 3.0 aren�t worthy of consideration at all, and 3.5 is a decent starting point for wine worth buying. Beyond that? It�s really a matter of personal taste and preference. A shorthand reference:

1.0: Undrinkable: Major flaws that make the wine too bad to drink
2.0: Marginally drinkable: You�d drink it if stranded on a desert island, but not otherwise
3.0: Acceptable: Wine free of any major flaws, but not otherwise worth mentioning
3.5: Good: Decent and drinkable wine, competently made and enjoyable to the average drinker
4.0: Very good: Highly pleasurable wine with excellent qualities, the product of top-notch winemaking
4.5: Excellent: Wine that excels in every aspect, true to its terroir and origin and of exceptional quality
5.0: Extraordinary: Classic wine of rare and unparalleled quality
Naturally the 5.0 scale is easier to understand use and is a great starting point for any novice as well as anyone who simply wants to take and make note of their wine experiences without getting too caught up in complexity and analysis ad nauseam.

For compulsive analytics or those simply seeking a more comprehensive method for analyzing a wine, check out the WineSpider evaluation method below.

 

The Winespider Evaluation System

The Winespider evaluation system has created an enormous amount of interest from an international community of wine lovers who have visited the web site at www.winespider.com. The Winespider concept developed from a deep seated distrust of current wine evaluation systems and the need to create a simple, yet objective way of representing the qualities of a wine.
Winespider achieves this using a methodology that rates the four fundamental attributes of wine:

1. SIGHT consisting of four categories: (a) colour (b) viscosity (c) brilliance (d) depth

2. NOSE consisting of four categories: (a) aroma (b) faults (c) variety (d) intensity

3. PALATE consisting of four categories: (a) complexity (b) concentration (c) fruit (d) length

4. FINISH consisting of four categories: (a) aftertaste (b) balance (c) tannin / phenolics (d) acid

These categories vary slightly in order to accommodate the peculiarities of each of the major wine groups - Red, White, Sparkling and Fortified. In tasting line-ups the Winespider system evaluates like with like, so that wines are rated according to their varietal nature or 'genre', rather than by broad terms such as 'Dry White table wines' or 'Light-bodied Reds'. For example, a Shiraz from anywhere in the world will be assessed on the desirable qualities of the varietal and on how it has been developed and expressed as a result of terroir and winemaking - not by an arbitrary 'Group' classification.

In the actual evaluation process, each of the above sixteen categories are marked out of a total score of ten giving a wine a total potential score of 160. For ease of comprehension, the computer automatically re-calculates scores to a figure out of 100 and generates a Winespider graph. The graph reflects a wines profile at a point in time, so re-tasting at a later date will produce a different profile. This system allows the history of a wines development to be graphically recorded.

The full spectrum of a wines subtleties are best expressed in this graph. A round profile following the outer limits of the web is indicative of a great wine - a 95 to 99/100 - complete and balanced in every way.

A wine with a similarly shaped graph, but with only average concentration, intensity and length for example, while rating 'highly' at 89/100, is nonetheless seriously lacking in some important aspects - namely the palate. Thus, following the Winespider system, the final score of a wine is always dependent on the sum of its parts - the qualities of which, however, may vary greatly. Consequently, minor discrepancies in scores between similar wines can mean significant differences in quality.

This is especially the case with wines once they attain scores of 90 and above in which the combination of qualities that are achieved is beyond the ordinary, and reflect a rare culmination of viticulture skills, vintage conditions & winemaking flair. An analogy may be formed with Olympic race times in which competitors are often separated by mere milliseconds- yet it is this same hairs breadth difference that distinguishes a world record from a silver medal.
 

Value

A value for money rating is allocated after the tasting is complete and is based on "professional intuition". That is to say, a wines value for money is rated by comparing the wines retail price with other wines of its type currently available on the market.

These ratings are as follows:

  Exceptional value for money.

     Excellent value for money. 

        Good value for money. 

            Fair value for money.

               Best avoided.

 

Cellaring Times
All wines tend to converge (i.e.- become similar) in old age. The primary fruit flavours disappear and the tertiary, developed flavours move in. Regional variations are often lost and what remain are mere skeletons of their former selves. Old reds are not all great - age is not by itself a mender of winemaking mistakes nor a means of correcting a poor vintage or bad viticultural practises.

Recommendations as to cellaring potential are invariably on the cautious side. We prefer to drink wine whilst the fruit flavours are still evident. We have also taken into consideration the fact that most people do not keep their wines in ideal cellars, and that in a warmer environment (warmer than say 14�C - 15�C), a wine will mature faster than one kept at an ideal temperature.

The cellaring times are a guide as to when the wines will be drinking at their peak, however, this does not mean the wines are not approachable now. Because most Australian wines are so fruit driven they are very drinkable early on. Personal drinking preferences should also be taken into account - if you prefer to drink your wines whilst they still have plenty of fruit then drink them early alternatively, if you prefer wines with more developed tertiary characters you may choose to cellar the wines for periods longer than the recommended drinking times.

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