Wine Rating Methods Explained
Robert Parker's Wine Rating System
"However, there can never be any substitute for your own palate nor any better education than tasting the wine yourself." So ends Robert Parker's explanation of his wine rating system. A most interesting conclusion from perhaps the most influential wine critic today. We quote Robert Parker and his associate Pierre Rovani throughout our website. Their numerical ratings are used by many of us in determining the wines we purchase. Here is an explanation of Robert Parker's wine rating system, exherpted from his web site with permission.
Robert Parker's Wine Rating System
reprinted with permission from erobertparker.com
When possible all of my tastings are done in peer-group, single-blind conditions, (meaning that the same types of wines are tasted against each other and the producers' names are not known). The ratings reflect an independent, critical look at the wines. Neither price nor the reputation of the producer/grower affect the rating in any manner. I spend three months of every year tasting in vineyards. During the other nine months of the year, six and sometimes seven-day workweeks are devoted solely to tasting and writing. I do not participate in wine judgings or trade tastings for many reasons, but principal among these are the following: (1) I prefer to taste from an entire bottle of wine, (2) I find it essential to have properly sized and cleaned professional tasting glasses, (3) the temperature of the wine must be correct, and (4) I prefer to determine the time allocated to the number of wines to be critiqued.
The numeral rating given is a guide to what I think of the wine vis-a-vis its peer group. Certainly, wines rated above 85 are very good to excellent, and any wine rated 90 or above will be outstanding for its particular type. While some have suggested that scoring is not well suited to a beverage that has been romantically extolled for centuries, wine is no different from any consumer product. There are specific standards of quality that full-time wine professionals recognize, and there are benchmark wines against which others can be judged. I know of no one with three or four different glasses of wine in front of him or her, regardless of how good or bad the wines might be, who cannot say, "I prefer this one to that one." Scoring wines is simply taking a professional's opinion and applying some sort of numerical system to it on a consistent basis. Scoring permits rapid communication of information to expert and novice alike.
The score given for a specific wine reflects the quality of the wine at its best. I often tell people that evaluating a wine and assigning a score to a beverage that will change and evolve in many cases for up to 10 or more years is analogous to taking a photograph of a marathon runner. Much can be ascertained but, like a picture of a moving object, the wine will also evolve and change. Wines from obviously badly corked or defective bottles are retasted, since a wine from a single bad bottle does not indicate an entirely spoiled batch. Many of the wines reviewed have been tasted many times, and the score represents a cumulative average of the wine's performance in tastings to date. Scores, however, do not reveal the important facts about a wine. The written commentary that accompanies the ratings is a better source of information regarding the wine's style and personality, its relative quality vis-a-vis its peers, and its value and aging potential than any score could ever indicate.
Here then is a general guide to interpreting the numerical ratings:
90-100 is equivalent to an A and is given only for an outstanding or special effort. Wines in this category are the very best produced of their type. There is a big difference between a 90 and 99, but both are top marks. As you will note through the text, there are few wines that actually make it into this top category because there are not many great wines.
80-89 is equivalent to a B in school and such a wine, particularly in the 85-89 range, is very, very good; many of the wines that fall into this range often are great values as well. I have many of these wines in my personal collection.
70-79 represents a C, or average mark, but obviously 79 is a much more desirable score than 70. Wines that receive scores between 75 and 79 are generally pleasant, straightforward wines that lack complexity, character, or depth. If inexpensive, they may be ideal for uncritical quaffing.
Below 70 is a D or F, depending on where you went to school. For wine, it is a sign of an imbalanced, flawed, or terribly dull or diluted product that will be of little interest to the discriminating consumer.
In terms of awarding points, my scoring system gives every wine a base of 50 points. The wine's general color and appearance merit up to 5 points. Since most wines today are well made, thanks to modern technology and the increased use of professional oenologists, they tend to receive at least 4, often 5 points. The aroma and bouquet merit up to 15 points, depending on the intensity level and dimension of the aroma and bouquet as well as the cleanliness of the wine. The flavor and finish merit up to 20 points, and again, intensity of flavor, balance, cleanliness, and depth and length on the palate are all important considerations when giving out points. Finally, the overall quality level or potential for further evolution and improvement—aging—merits up to 10 points.
Scores are important for the reader to gauge a professional critic's overall qualitative placement of a wine vis-a-vis its peer group. However, it is also vital to consider the description of the wine's style, personality, and potential. No scoring system is perfect, but a system that provides for flexibility in scores, if applied by the same taster without prejudice, can quantify different levels of wine quality and provide the reader with one professional's judgment. However, there can never be any substitute for your own palate nor any better education than tasting the wine yourself.
Scores in parentheses indicate that the wine was tasted from barrel.
Wine Spectator's Rating Procedures
reprinted with permission from Wine Spectator
"we call 'em like we taste 'em, regardless of a wine's reputation or price"
In each issue of Wine Spectator magazine, we review and rate 400 to 800 wines with detailed tasting notes and analysis. The accuracy of our wine ratings is grounded in two things: the stringent standards we set for ourselves -- virtually all tastings are conducted "blind," for example -- and the proven ability and experience of our editors as tasters and critics.
Most important to the integrity of our tastings is that all of our regular wine reviews come from blind tastings. Our editors do not know who made the wine or how much it costs when they assign a score. This is your guarantee that we call 'em like we taste 'em, regardless of a wine's reputation or price.
We blind taste wines in our offices in San Francisco, Napa, New York and Tuscany, and in the vineyard regions of Europe. The tastings in Europe are usually done at the sources -- Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhone, etc. -- where fresh, well-stored wine samples are readily available. We organize our tastings at independent sites (not at the estates or offices of wine companies) and under conditions tightly controlled by Wine Spectator staff. We know of no other wine publication here or in Europe that sets up its own blind wine tastings in the wine regions on a regular basis.
The tastings are held in private rooms, under optimum conditions, where our tasting coordinators organize the wines in flights by varietal, appellation or region. The bottles are bagged and coded, all capsules and corks are removed, and other necessary efforts are made to conceal the wines' identity from the tasters. The tasters are told only the general type of wine (varietal or region) and the vintage.
Each tasting begins with a wine previously rated, which is tasted non-blind as a reference point. Other previously rated wines are inserted into the blind tasting to ensure consistency. Notes and ratings are entered directly into our database prior to the removal of the bags. Additional comments may be added to a tasting note after the identity of the wine is revealed, but the score is never changed.
Ratings are based on potential quality: how good the wines will be when they are at their peak. For ageable wines, we suggest a year or range of years to start drinking the wine, when the roughness of youthful tannins has resolved. Those who prefer very mature wines may wish to wait longer.
Price is not taken into account in scoring, although the notes are often edited after the scores are determined to include comments about price and value. All wines that taste corky, that show other major flaws or that score below 70 are blind tasted again from new bottles. We also retaste numerous wines that score highly, to confirm our impressions. The majority of wines we taste are submitted to us by the wineries or their importers, but we also spend tens of thousands of dollars to buy wines for tastings. Since Wine Spectator primarily serves a national audience, we prefer to review wines that are widely available.
Occasionally we report on vertical or horizontal tastings that are not blind, organized by wineries or wine collectors. We always disclose this in the articles. Also, when applicable, we make it clear when we are rating barrel samples instead of finished wine. Critics who don't make this distinction can mislead you because a lot can happen to a wine's quality between the barrel and the bottle, from filtering, fining and blending. Therefore, we always provide a range of scores for barrel samples.
Each category of wine is always tasted by the same editor. These beats, as listed below, generally remain constant since each editor has developed an expertise on the region's wines. If you're ever unsure who rated a wine, just check the magazine issue that the tasting report on that subject originally appeared in -- the author of a tasting report is always the lead taster for that area, and though other senior editors may have participated, the lead taster has the final say on the rating and description. The editors taste the wines, write the notes and provide the analysis and tasting report for each region or country. Their initials follow each tasting note.
Tasters for Wine Spectator score wines using our 100-point scale, explained below. Ratings reflect how highly our tasting panel regards each wine relative to other wines. Ratings are based on how good the wines will be when they are at their peaks, regardless of how soon that will be.
When you read one of our 30-plus annual tasting reports or search our on-line database, you should know that we took the time and spent the money necessary to ensure that the scores and tasting notes we publish indicate to the best of our ability the true quality of what's inside each bottle.