There are more than 10,000 varieties of wine grapes in the world and 31.4 billion bottles bought and sold worldwide every year. Yeah we know; it can be overwhelming. That is why the wine world continues to use the numerical wine rating scale ever since it was first brought on the scene back in the 1970’s. Robert Parker patterned the rating system after a scale we are all familiar with, the American standardized grading system. This 50-100 scale is most commonly used but there are select critics that us a 0-20 scale or 0-5 scale (in terms of stars).
If you are making your wine purchasing decisions based off ratings then refer to this list of heavy hitters in the wine critique world (in no particular order):
So, let’s get into the nitty gritty of it all. If you were to walk into a high end wine store, there would normally be what we call in the wine industry “shelf talkers”. These cards state the score that the wine received and who gave it. Now, what do these numbers even mean to you? There is a general equation that 100 point scale raters use. 50 (if drinkable) + 5 (appearance) + 15 (nose) + 20 (mouth) + 10 (finish, other) = 100. Sometimes a score is given as a range (e.g., 89-91) and this indicates that it was based upon a barrel tasting of an unfinished wine so the score is considered “preliminary”. Most scorers taste blind to avoid bias. Each publication varies slightly on what the range of numbers equate to but for the most part you can follow this guide:
95-100: Extraordinary, classic, superlative (every synonym for amazing basically)
90-94: Outstanding, highly recommend
80-89: Very good to excellent
70-79: Average (wine scores won’t be published if they are under the 80 range)
Along with the numeric scores there are tasting notes that explain why the wine got the number it did. Generally, there are three main attributes that the pros look for while writing these notes: the wine’s balance, complexity, and finish. For example a wine can be considered unbalanced when the alcohol burns a bit too much going down or the fruit is overpowered by acid. Basically, it is an attribute that sticks out a bit too much on the palate. Complexity has to do with the layers. A lot of critics will use terms such as “depth” and “delightful” when describing a wine that has the level of complexity they are looking for. The finish is exactly what it sounds like. How long does the flavor stay in your mouth after you either spit or swallow? (hint, hint a good wine lingers).
Keep in mind that the act of wine tasting is not only personal but entirely subjective. So, just because you pick up a wine that has a 97 from a well-known wine critic does not mean that it will be a wine you will like. If you are a self-proclaimed “cork dork” then we suggest keeping notes for each wine you try and include the date you tried it, wine name, producer, region/appellation, grape varieties, vintage, color, nose/aroma, mouth/flavors, and finally your own personal score. Not only will writing these details down help you to remember the wine for the future but also putting words to the experience can heighten your overall senses. Happy tasting!