Side stepping the issue of whether or not one should care about wine ratings (and, if so, to what extent one should care), it is important to be aware of how wines are rated and earn their various scores (or points). Below, we're focusing on the most well-known critics and their scoring models (and ignoring regional wine competitions in which wines may be awarded medals or some other distinction).
Note: not all wines receive ratings. There are just so many wines produced. Globalization and increased importation has increased the influx of wines, some from more obscure regions and smaller producers. It's difficult to evaluate them all.
Why are wines rated at all? Isn't it all subjective? For the same reason that anything else is evaluated and ranked in the world. To keep it simple, scores can be helpful for consumers who don't have the time to gain the tasting experience necessary to separate good wines from wines not really worth the money. Taste is ultimately subjective, but not all palates are equal. Wine can be a fun hobby for most, but in order to produce wines that range from those merely worth drinking to those that are truly outstanding, understanding the art and science of winemaking is serious business and has been for thousands of years. Some choose to spend decades learning, traveling, studying, and tasting, tasting, tasting. From that pool, some acquire top industry credentials and certifications. Scoring is one way these individuals pass on their knowledge to the rest of us. For ratings to mean anything, wines have to be judged against commonly agreed-upon standards.
Generally based on the 100 point system introduced by Robert Parker's Wine Advocate:
- 95 to 100: Superb/Extraordinary
- 90 to 94: Excellent/ Highly Recommended
- 85 to 89: Very good / May be great value if the price is right
- 80 to 84: Solid / Good
- In the 70's: Average to slightly below
- 60's and below: Below average with some deficiencies to poor / not recommended.
Wines referred to as "highly rated" can mean wines with scores of 88 and above.
Some professional wine critics / publications:
- Robert Parker's The Wine Advocate (sometimes abbreviated to RP or WA)
- Wine Spectator (WS)
- Wine Enthusiast (WE)
- Wine & Spirits (W&S)
- Connoisseur's Guide (CG)
- James Halliday, Australian Wine Companion (JH)
- Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar (ST or IWC)
- JamesSuckling.com (JS)
- Allen Meadows Burghound.com (BH)
- Decanter (D)
- Wilfred Wong, Wine.com (WW)
- PinotReport (PR)
- The Tasting Panel (TP)
- Antonio Galloni, Vinous (V)