What do wine ratings mean?

Let’s Talk About … Wine Ratings

There are a lot of wines out there. How do you choose?

Do you grab the one with the interesting label?

The one that you recognize and always buy?

Or do you take into account critic’s ratings? And what do those ratings mean anyways?

Robert Parker, Wine Advocate

Everyone has heard of Robert Parker and his famous 100 point scale. The question for you, as the consumer is, do you like the same types of wines as Parker?

If so, then his scoring may help you decide amongst the bottles. Parker specializes in wines from Bordeaux, California and the Rhone Valley. He likes big reds with lots of fruit. If you have similar tastes, then his ratings may help guide you.

How does he judge? He selects one type of wine, and conducts a blinded tasting. Although it is a 100 point scale, the wines get 50 points just for showing up.

Color and appearance can get up to 5 points. Aroma can earn an additional 15 points. Flavor and finish 20 points. Quality and aging potential can get up to 10 more.

It’s a Robert Parker 97! Buy it now! Should you? It’s unlikely you’ll see something this highly rated in the store, as once Parker rates it this high, it sells out pretty fast due to his enormous influence.

Although Parker now has several critics assisting him, the scores are still associated with him. It has been said “When Robert Parker spits, the world listens.”

Wine Spectator

The Wine Spectator is another highly respected source for wine ratings. There are several critics who specialize in different regions, such as James Laube, James Suckling, Harvey Steiman.

Stephen Tanzer, The International Wine Cellar, Food & Wine magazine, and Forbes.

Stephen also rates wine on the 0-100 scale, similar to the Wine Advocate and the Wine Spectator. He tends to do most tastings himself.

Michael Broadbent and Decanter

Decanter uses a 5 star system originally created by Michael Broadbent. This is an easier to understand scale than the 100 scale, as the categories are broader and you don’t need to think about the difference between a 92 and a 93.

  • 5 stars: Outstanding quality, virtually perfect example
  • 4 stars: Highly recommended
  • 3 stars: Recommended
  • 2 stars: Quite good
  • 1 star: Acceptable

Do the experts agree?

No, they don’t. This quote is from the article referenced under further reading: “Jancis Robinson and Robert Parker historically clashed in 2004 over their ratings for the new 2003 Bordeaux futures.

The wine was the 2003 Chateau Pavie, and while Parker awarded the wine a 95, Robinson awarded just 12 points out of a possible 20 and called the effort “ridiculous”. A passive-aggressive war of words ensued and critics all over the world took sides.”

Evaluating wine is highly subjective, based on a person’s likes, mood, the glass used, the time when the wine was tasted, and other variables. See below for how 3 major critics score their wines:

Use the ratings or not?

If you’re purchasing wine for investment purposes, then the scales may matter. If you’re purchasing the wine for enjoyment and you find that you have very similar preferences to one of the critics, then you may want to use their score to help guide you.

Remember, these scores are not the say-all-end-all in wine tasting. If you like a wine that a critic doesn’t, that’s okay – enjoy!

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