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Wine Ratings – The Good, Bad and Ugly

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What are Wine Ratings?

If you have been following this series for the last few weeks, we have talked about Seeing, Swirling, Smelling, Sipping and Savoring your wine. Hopefully, you have a deeper appreciation of wine and are taking the time to be Zen with your wine; in the moment. Now we are going to talk about likes and dislikes, points and rating systems.
Most people take a hedonistic approach to wine evaluation; they drink wine in pursuit of pleasure. Hedonistically it is easy to say if you like a wine or not; this is pretty self-explanatory, however not very technical.

You are a Pro:

If you have been following along with this series, you already have developed most of the skills to evaluate wine just like the Pros.
There are qualities of a wine that could be considered either good or bad. For example, a faulted wine that smells like cow poop probably wouldn’t rate highly; likewise, a thin, tasteless, off colored wine probably wouldn’t take Gold either.
Most wine judges, evaluators, and Somms have been taught or have developed a wine evaluation guideline that allows them to “objectively” evaluate a wine even if it isn’t their favorite. We will see that being “objective” isn’t really all that objective.

Objective Rating Systems:

So what are the critics looking for? Well, that depends upon the critic and the way they are evaluating wines. One of the most widely talked about wine critics is Robert M. Parker and his 100-point scale. Many magazines publicize Parker’s 100 point wines; but are they better than another wine? Well, that depends upon if your tastes align with his and you agree with his rating system.
You see, there are myriad rating systems out there, but in general they are all point systems where different attributes are evaluated and rated. For example, here is a partial of what I use for my evaluations:

Fruit Intensity:

1 – 10 points if the Intensity is None to very Light
11 – 15 points if it is Barely noticeable or Soft.
16 – 18 points if the intensity if Ample or Nice
19 – 20 points if it is Abundant
21 – 23 points if it is Powerful
24 – 25 points if it is Intense or Overwhelming

It is immediately clear that under my system if the fruit intensity isn’t Overwhelming then the wine won’t evaluate high on this scale. So clean whites or sparkling wines would rate poorly under this system; that’s the BAD of rating systems, there is always a bias.
Also, realize that wines are often evaluated based upon categories such as how the San Francisco International Wine Competition does it. They have separate categorizes for price brackets, location, country of origin, varietal and year. So in 2016, there were 34 Golds metals awarded to just Chardonnay; in my way of thinking, only one wins the Gold, but not always. Barefoot wines often win Gold at the under $7/bottle category, but that can’t be compared to a $50/bottle of wine.

The Ugly:

Shrewd marketers also know that highly awarded wines or highly rated wines command a higher price. Any 100 point Parker wine will immediately command a huge price, so there is motivation to get good scores. Some wineries even pay to play for higher ratings from some well-known publications though sponsorship and number of inches of advertisements, if not by other means.
There is one California Company that is famous for nickel sales. They know that a 90 point wine will command at least $10 more that an 89 point wine; so what do you do? I don’t know; maybe self-evaluate the wines you have in inventory? Or, maybe ask an employee of the company to evaluate the wine? Could be that employee was terminated/left due to conflict of interest? Who knows; interesting theory? But that is the UGLY of the system.
Wine ratings can be a great help, or they can be poor help and lead you astray. They can help but don’t bet your last dollar on a highly rated wine just because of a name.

But the lesson to be learned is to:
“Drink what you Like, Eat what you Like and Hang out with who you Like”

Cheers