Jeff Flowers on January 23, 2015 0 Comments Why not all wine ratings systems are created equally Everyone’s a critic these days. Log on to TripAdvisor, Yelp, or any number of the opinion blogs out there to see how many people are eager to voice their opinions about a certain product or service. That’s why companies like Fodors, Frommers and even Michelin have created guides to help weed out the novice notions from the industry pro’s picks. That’s the same theory behind wine ratings. Although many people spend according to those little numbers beneath the bottle of their favorite wine, not all wine ratings are created equal. Here’s why. Earning a Passing Grade Robert Parker, one of the most important wine critics of our century, developed the 100-point rating scale that has governed wine since the late 1970s. Parker created the system to mirror the grading systems used in schools where an “A+” is 95 or above, an “A” is 90 or above, a “B+” is 85 and above, and so on. During the rating process, wines are tasted blind — no labels shown, no prior knowledge given, etc. — by professionals who use their expertise to size up the different aspects of each bottle. Just for signing its name, a wine gets 50 points, and the grading scale goes up from there, earning up to five points for color, up to 10 for aroma, up to 15 for taste, up to 10 for its finish, and up to 10 for a wine’s overall experience. Wine ratings are used by a handful of trusted critics and publications, and are a subjective score given to a particular batch of wine (i.e., specific grapes and year for that bottle of wine, like a “2012 Chardonnay from Cakebread Cellars”). Ratings are assigned by a certain wine critic, or team of critics, and can be based on a number of different quality tests determined by each individual critic. Finding a wine rating you trust is like finding a personal shopper that understands your taste in fashion. You may not always see eye to eye, but for the most part, you can both agree upon what makes up a good or bad outfit. A wine rating is just that; once you find a critic you trust, those numbers will guide you toward a well-dressed bottle of chenin blanc or a complexly stylish glass of pinot. Ratings Experts Here are three of the most common wine-rating systems and how they each work: Wine Enthusiast This magazine only publishes wines scoring 80 points or higher from its panel of editors and panelists. Their tastings are performed blind, although reviewers may have context of a wine going into a tasting (i.e., vintage, variety or appellation, but never the producer or retail price). Scores: 95-100 — Superb: one of the greats 90-94 — Excellent: extremely well-made and highly recommended 85-89 — Very good: may offer outstanding value if the price is right 80-84 — Good: solid wine, suitable for everyday consumption Wine Spectator The editors at Wine Spectator review more than 15,000 wines each year in blind tastings before publishing anywhere between 400-1,000 reviews a year. Their rating system is very refined and their stringent standards are based on the two key qualities of expertise and integrity. While the team of editors work as a panel to rate the wines, the final say comes from each wine region’s primary editor. Also, wine ratings are based on how good a wine will be at its peak, no matter how far away that date may be. Scores: 95-100 — Classic: a great wine 90-94 — Outstanding: superior character and style 80-89 — Good to very good: wine with special qualities 70-79 — Average: drinkable wine that may have minor flaws 60-69 — Below average: drinkable but not recommended 50-59 — Poor: undrinkable, not recommended The Wine Advocate Published by none other than Robert Parker himself, The Wine Advocate rates its wines strictly with a motto of preferring to “underestimate the wine’s quality than to overestimate it.” Only wines with an “RP” on them have been rated by the one and only Robert Parker; other ratings are performed by his colleagues and staff experts. Scores: 96-100 — An extraordinary wine of profound and complex character displaying all the attributes expected of a classic wine of its variety. Wines of this caliber are worth a special effort to find, purchase and consume. 90-95 — An outstanding wine of exceptional complexity and character. In short, these are terrific wines. 80-89 — A barely above average to very good wine displaying various degrees of finesse and flavor as well as character with no noticeable flaws. 70-79 — An average wine with little distinction except that it is a soundly made; in essence, a straightforward, innocuous wine. 60-69 — A below average wine containing noticeable deficiencies, such as excessive acidity and/or tannin, an absence of flavor, or possibly dirty aromas or flavors. 50-59 — A wine deemed to be unacceptable. Other quality ratings come from Wine & Spirits magazine, Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar, JamesSuckling.com, PinotReport, Burghound.com, Connoisseurs’ Guide and James Halliday’s Australian Wine Companion. Should You Trust Wine Ratings? There’s no simple answer here. While the three rating experts listed above are generally pretty accurate, it’s unlikely that you will always agree with their assessment. The key to deciphering a wine rating is finding one you can trust, or even ones you don’t trust. Keep in mind, the best way to find a wine critic you trust, is to try a few different wines and see which one you agree with the most. Until you find a critic that you completely trust, take all wine ratings with a grain of salt and continue to taste the wines you believe are worthy of a chance. Santé!