Let’s face it. It’s mostly wine people who stress out over wine ratings. Wine geeks can spend hours discussing why Chateau Whatchamacallit didn’t get the same score as Domaine Whosis. All the while being perfectly serious about the whole thing. Everyone else would be satisfied with an easy way to figure out what wine might be good with dinner Saturday night.
Actually, current wine rating systems are more confusing for the casual wine drinker. The problem is they don’t know it. Most geeks know the system is messed up. When I was learning about wine some years ago, a 20 point wine scoring system was prevalent. The University of California at Davis (big wine curriculum there) still uses its own 20 point scale. What we mostly see now in various wine publications is the 100 point scale. The 100 point scale was pioneered by famous (infamous?) wine reviewer and critic Robert Parker. Back in the day, a publication called Connoisseur’s Guide To California Wine began using a “puff” system. Wines were scored with 1, 2, or 3 “puffs”. A puff looked like a drawing of a circular cloud. Not sure what that has to do with wine, but it worked pretty well.
So now that the 100 point wine rating scale is more common, what’s the problem? The problem is that there are different 100 point scales used by different people and publications. And they don’t seem to really be 100 point scales. One system rates wines from 80 to 100. Hold on. Isn’t that a 20 point scale? Another rates wines from 70 to 100. When I went to school that was a 30 point scale. I have attended tastings that used a score sheet that had 5 categories. Each category scored a different aspect of the wine (taste, aroma, etc.). A perfect score in all categories added up to 50. Then an additional 50 was arbitrarily added to make it a 100 point scale. ??? See what I mean about wine ratings being messed up?
Someone decided – maybe Parker – that we would all understand everything better as a percentage. Maybe. But the effect has been to squeeze everything into about a 30 point range. Nowadays, people will turn up their noses at a 79 point wine, but on a true 100 point scale, that would be a decent wine. Really a pretty good wine; not great, but certainly drinkable. I know people who won’t look at anything under 85. That should be a damn fine wine, but for many people it is little better than average.
Of course the other issue is different people have different palates, and your ability to taste can vary from day to day. I have read accounts of professional reviewers rating the same wine 3-4 points differently in two separate tastings. There really is no way to standardize wine tasting because it is subjective. It is one person’s opinion. Nothing more. Some wine writers have mentioned the possibility of the 100 point scale going the way of the dinosaur. Don’t hold your breath, in my opinion. I would like to see a standard wine rating scale used by tasting professionals. I’m not holding my breath for that either.
What to do? Develop a relationship with a wine retailer. Find one who will take the time to find out what you are looking for. Most wine drinkers aren’t going to spend the time or money to do the research to figure out which publication and wine rating system they most agree with. Rely on a good retailer. The only wine ratings that really matter are your own. And try some of those 85 point wines. They can be pretty good.