Some Notes About Scoring

21 03 2011

It has been (correctly) pointed out to me that, in most cases, a wine’s rating or score is not an absolute value.  It’s not a direct measure of how good a particular wine is as matched up against every other wine in the world, but instead is a somewhat-relative reflection of how well a winemaker has created a wine of his or her chosen style, how well a producer has hit the vinicultural mark at which they were aiming.  So if you have two wines that are rated 90 points, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re equally matched to each other in every way in terms of flavour and quality; to properly assess these ratings, each wine is more accurately matched against others of a similar ilk.

My ratings don’t quite work that way.

If I ever run a wine mag I will do all my scoring like this.

I do my best, with the very limited expertise at my disposal, to rate wines based on objective (or quasi-objective) factors like complexity of flavours, overall balance and structure (whether the acidity, tannins, alcohol and other elements of the wine are all in sync and don’t overwhelm one another), length of finish, etc., and if a particular bottle is a well-made example of a certain style, I will certainly try to mention that, even if the style in question isn’t my favourite.  But I don’t pretend that the scores I give wines in this blog are anything other than the overall evaluation that my own palate makes of a specific bottle.  If I like or dislike a wine for “objective” reasons, I will try to spell them out, but if it just doesn’t subjectively do it for me, it may get a lower score here than in other, more reputable sources.  But I can only write what I know, and I’m hoping that I won’t needlessly slag too many wines just because I don’t like them, since there aren’t really a whole lot of styles of wine that I dislike (unless they’re 18% alcohol or just, well, suck).

You will have also noticed by now that I am scoring the wines I drink on the now-ubiquitous 100-point scale.  I’m actually not the hugest fan of this scoring system, because only on the rarest occasions involving the very worst wines do you ever see a professional wine reviewer score a wine below 80 points.  Why have a scale if you don’t use 4/5ths of it?  If 49% is a failing grade in every school I’ve ever been to, why is 79% a failing grade in the world of wine?  Do the reviewers not want to hurt people’s feelings?  Do they think that every wine has 78+ points out of 100 worth of redeeming quality in it?  I have no idea.  And yet I’m still using this bizarre, flawed scale in PnP, because it has come to have a generally-accepted meaning that most people reading up about wine come to understand.  Roughly speaking, this meaning, which forms the basis of my personal scoring system on this site, is something like:

  • Under 80 points: Horrible, embarrassing wine fail.  Burn all your vines and go back to school to learn how to do something else.
  • 80-85 points: Definitely not good, but not totally, abjectly awful.  I’m not impressed, but if the wine is really cheap, I might overlook (most of) its flaws.
  • 85-89 points: Now we’re getting somewhere.  More interesting, more high-quality, more serious, more oomph.
  • 90-95 points: Fantastic, complex, thoughtful, impressive juice.  Honour roll wines.
  • 95-99 points: Classic, unbelievable, collectible wines to be cellared and opened only on special occasions or if you’re made of money.  The creme de la creme.
  • 100 points: The Platonic ideal of wine.  Not sure if I’ll ever see one in my life, but never say never…

So there you have it.  Wine Spectator might put it in slightly different terms, but I think we all get to the same place in the end.



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