Scoring wine

Behind the Scores: Unveiling How Wines Receive Ratings

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). Wine ratings are a common sight for anyone exploring the aisles of a wine store or browsing online, often serving as a guide to discovering quality wines. But what entails a good score and who decides these ratings? At Triangle Wine Company, we delve into the meticulous process of how wines receive their ratings or scores, shedding light on the criteria and expertise involved in this fascinating aspect of the wine industry. 

[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.

  • The Rating Panels:

    • Wine ratings are often determined by panels of experienced wine critics, sommeliers, or industry professionals. These panels may be from wine-centric publications, independent wine competitions, or renowned wine critics. See a list of common ones at the end.
  • Tasting Methodology:
    • Wine is typically evaluated in a controlled environment to minimize external influences. Tasters often follow a systematic approach examining the appearance, aroma, taste, and finish of the wine.
  • Scoring Systems:

    The 100-point scale is widely used, where wines are rated based on various criteria, including clarity, color, aroma, taste, and overall impression. 
    • 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
    • In most retail settings, wines referred to as "highly rated" have received scores of 90 points (exceptional quality) or higher.
  • Criteria of Evaluation:
    • Balance, depth, complexity, and aging potential are among the key factors considered during the evaluation. The expression of terroir and the varietal character are also assessed.
  • Blind Tasting:
    • To ensure objectivity, blind tastings are common where evaluators are not privy to the brand or price of the wine they are rating.
  • Impact of Ratings:
    • Ratings can significantly impact consumer choice and the market value of wines. A high rating can boost a wine's reputation and sales.
  • Exploring Beyond Ratings:
    • While ratings provide a benchmark, personal preference and exploration are crucial for every wine enthusiast. Each wine carries a unique narrative, beyond its score.

Some professional wine critics / publications that review wines and may assign a score or rating:

  • 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)
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