Tag Archives: Wine rating

Wine Scoring Systems: What You Need to Know

The Scoring Systems

Three systems are most commonly used for wine scoring today: Robert Parker’s 100 Point System, UC Davis’ 20 point System and the Gold-Silver-Bronze Medal designations. So, let’s dive into each and understand their components, focus and determine their real-world reliability.

UC Davis & Medal Scoring Systems

Often, these two are tied together.

Medal System:

  • Gold-medal:     18.5–20.0 points – Outstanding quality
  • Silver-medal:   17.0–18.4 points – Excellent standard
  • Bronze-medal: 15.5–16.9 points – Very good wine for its class

UC Davis System:

  • 17 – 20  Outstanding
  • 13 – 16   Standard wines with no defect
  • 9 – 12     Commercially acceptable with no defect
  • 5 – 8       Below commercial acceptability
  • 1 – 5       Completely spoiled
  1. Appearance (2 points)
  2. Color (2 points)
  3. Aroma and Bouquet (4 points)
  4. Total Acidity (2 points)
  5. Sugar (1 point)
  6. Body (1 point)
  7. Flavor (2 point)
  8. Acescency (Bitterness) (2 points)
  9. Astringency (Tannin) (2 points)
  10. General Quality (2 points)

The glaring missing pieces are Balance, Complexity, Finish and Age-Ability. Without these factors, fine wine cannot accurately be judged. The UC Davis System has an inherent bias toward poor to mediocre wines. The problem is the potential for a 16 pt. score (bronze medal) for a typical Concord sweet wine, in comparison to a 16 pt. score for a mediocre Mendocino Cabernet Sauvignon. The latter is eminently more drinkable, yet carries the same score. This system allows too much weight for components that would be assumed with fine wine, such as Appearance and Color and virtually none where fine wine shines, such as Balance, Age-ability, etc. This evens the playing field for amateur wines and narrows the gap between the professional and amateur wine categories. BEWARE of medal designations and UC Davis scoring. If you enjoy fine wines and in particular, if you collect Old World wines, this scoring system is not for you.

Parker’s 100 Point System

  • 50 Points for Showing Up 🙂
  • 5 Points for First Impression or Color
  • 15 Points for Aroma or Bouquet
  • 10 Points for Flavor
  • 10 Points for Finish
  • 10 Points for Aging Potential

OK, this has its problems too. Certainly not scientific, or very systematic, but it weighs the important characteristics of fine wines. This too is missing the balance and complexity components, but allows enough latitude to score (let’s say) a U.S. 1997 Robert Mondavi Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvigon versus a French 2000 Chateau La Gaffeliere. Something the UC Davis and Medal systems do not.

Frankly, this system will just not work for evaluating an amateur winemaker’s sweet 2017 Chambourcin (native hybrid grape), BECAUSE Old World style wine quality is in another category of its own. So far removed, that any 20 Point System equivalent would require adding decimal quantifiers (i.e. 19.1, 19.2, etc.) to attempt to make an equivalency work.


5/28/18 – I have had a few comments from those who follow my blog about not including the WSET “Systematic Approach to Tasting Wine”.  I have never seen this system used by a wine writer in their media product (although some components are similar to UC Davis system). I am not sure it would/could be a commercially viable solution. I would appreciate any feedback on this, though. I am sure there are some that are using it in the background and converting it to the more common scoring systems (WSET Graduates your thoughts?)


A ” Wine Judge Certification Program”

This year I had an interesting experience with a wine judge training/certification program (Wine Judge Certification Program – WJCP) run by the American Wine Society (AWS). There are very few programs like this, specifically certifying wine judges in the U.S.

This program introduced me to a whole new subset in the wine continuum: amateur winemakers, native grape species and fruit wines. It became very clear to me quickly, AWS has a significant piece of their membership focused on this area. In fact, they have changed the UC Davis scoring system to make it more internally friendly to these wines. I also found out, there are many wine competitions across the Eastern half of the U.S. specifically focused on these type of wines. Who knew!!

Full Disclosure: This focus seemed quite odd and I could never get my head around it. I did make the decision to stop investing in these classes and have since exited the program.

I had never seen a bottle of anything in this category, before these classes. My closest familiarity was the Mogen David Concord wine my parents drank over ice occasionally. Who knew there was a whole wine culture that focused on this type of wine. I still remember the worst hangover of my life from drinking 3 bottles of Annie Green Springs when I was a teenager. I suppose someone has to evaluate these wines, but using the same scoring system to evaluate an aged Napa Cabernet Sauvignon is nothing but tragic. What happened to the idea that wine and local cuisine is a match made in heaven? Certainly, not with these wines.

The Jumble and Ambiguity of Wine Scoring

If it hasn’t become clear yet, there is an enormous amount of confusion surrounding these scoring systems. So, how can we use them to choose wines to match our tastes? Personally, I ignore the 20 pt. and Medal Systems completely and I take the 100 pt. System scores with a grain of salt… unless I am familiar with the judges palate. For example, I have a pretty good idea of what these wine writers/judges rate highly: Parker, Suckling, Galloni and Tanzer. I can make a reasonable guess at quality from 100 pt. system scores generated by these wine writers.

So, what do you do? Well, if you are a fine wine drinker, I would surely ignore the 20 pt. and medal systems. From there, it is all homework. Get to know what your favorite wine writers tend to score highly, learn their palate a bit and use their scores to make your choices!

P.S.

If I could develop my own scoring system for the wines I drink, it would be a version of a 100 pt. system and look something like this:

  • 5 Points for First Impression or Color
  • 15 Points for Acidity
  • 10 Points for Tannin and its Texture/Mouth-Feel
  • 15 Points for Aroma or Bouquet
  • 10 Points for Flavor
  • 10 Points for Finish
  • 15 Points for Balance
  • 10 Points for Complexity (mid-palate & layered flavors)
  • 10 Points for Aging Potential

A red wine theoretically could have a perfect score of 100. White/rose wine with no tannin would have 90 as a perfect score. Without balance, complexity and aging potential, 35 points are lost! With this type of system you could easily get the point swing needed to separate amateur wines from bottle-aged fine wines.

Many of these components are too subjective to make it onto a judges sheet at an amateur wine competition. The focus there has to be on the basics: no faults, or objectionable components. How many people get to formally judge better wines anyway? Only a lucky few…

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The 100 Point Wine Rating Scale has Become…

As wine media has begun reaching the consumer and wine critics are becoming rock stars… You have to ask yourself, just exactly how does this rating system work? On many websites, you will find an attempt at an explanation that reflects how the major critics SEEM to interpret it, but… does anyone really know definitively? There are no hard and fast rules. So hear is a quick look under the hood from the perspective of using the ratings as a method of selecting wines for your cellar.

As you walk through wine websites, you begin to notice there are virtually no ratings under 80, or over 95. I think the worst rating I have ever given a wine is 82. Of course this seems absurd, but regardless, if this is the standard… what do the ratings really mean? If you are the type that needs to make sense of this mess, follow me on my journey.

Criteria for the System

What exactly do the ratings evaluate: drinkability, age-worthiness, structure, balance? How do you compare entirely different styles using the scale: red, white, old-world, new world, sweet, fortified, etc. I am sure you get my drift here. Every critic’s wine notes and evaluation process is based on a different standard, therefore there is no frame of reference for the consumer. So, do the ratings have any real value, or are they just marketing ploys? Well, perhaps the intent is entirely marketing-focused, but I believe I have found ways the ratings can assist me in my wine purchasing decisions:

Assumptions

The majority of wine critics (AND fine wines collectors) have developed an educated palate. This assumption is important and I think largely true. I know for myself, I may not like a wine that others view as enjoyable, but that does not mean I cannot appreciate its quality. If the winemaker has produced a quality wine in its structure, balance and extracted flavors/aromas… I will not give it a poor score, even when I do not care for the wine personally. Again, I think this to be largely the case with the most (but not all) professional/semi-professional critics. the breaking point here for me is at 90. If the wine is rated 90, or over from several sources, odds are – it is a quality wine… but that does not guarantee that YOU will enjoy it. It is simply a place to start weeding out bottles not worth the investment. In my case, I know, I am missing many wines I might enjoy in the 85-89 range, but I try to visit wineries to sample what I can of those.

Callibrating Your Palate

Calibrate a particular critic’s palate to yours. Take a few minutes to taste wine and compare your impressions to the critics ratings and find one that generally matches your impressions. In my case, of the major critics, I think Stephen Tanzer is the closest to my palate. It is worth the time to find your match. I place a little more weight on an evaluation, when ST writes the note. Again that is just me personally.

Should the System be Changed?

I have read and many have explained to me that winemaking technology has improved tremendously over the last two decades and therefore there truly is no more “bad” wine… which is the reason why ratings do not drop below 80 any longer. I am willing to accept that, but if that is the case, then we MUST move to another system. I also believe a criteria for a new ratings system needs to be established. When I choose to purchase wines I have not tasted, here is my criteria:

  • Structure and balance: acidity, tannins, all the parts work together? Fuller, rounder wine with a mid-palate?
  • Fruit: fruit-forward, or not
  • Texture: wine coats your mouth, or crisp and clean
  • Terroir: the wine includes an expression of the local terroir?
  • Finish: flavors linger?

IMHO, if we rated each of these categories 1-10, that would provide a useful wine rating and evaluation!

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