Wine labels on all bottles of wine will detail key information about the wine. Insight into the brand, producer, vintage, and appellation, will always be available on the label. However, sometimes wine labels will also include another number in addition to the vintage. This is known as the wine score, meant to classify the wine based on a ranking system. The better the number, the better the quality and taste of the wine. But who decides this score? Is there a rubric that is used to determine the overall ranking, and are these numbers even to be trusted? Should a regular buyer use wine ranking as a sole determinant of whether or not to purchase a bottle? Let’s take a look into the complexities behind wine scoring.
Robert Parker: a history of wine ranking
Sommeliers and wine critics have long reviewed various wines for publication in wine magazines. These reviews usually involve lofty terms and jargon to describe the wine in detail. They almost always only appeal to fellow wine connoisseurs.
Today, this isn’t so much the habit anymore. But we do have Robert Parker to thank for the most commonly used wine scoring points system.
Robert Parker published reviews on The Wine Advocate magazine in the late ‘70s. He’s responsible for inventing the 100-point system to rank wines. How do wine ratings work? Bottles are given a score of anywhere between 50 to 100, with 50 being the lowest-quality wine. A wine that scores 90 or higher is considered to be exceptional.
This score is achieved through a blind tasting, usually by sommeliers and experts, and consider factors such as:
- Wine appearance
Wine Spectator 100-point scale
- 95 - 100: Classic
- 90 - 94: Outstanding
- 85 - 89: Very good
- 80 - 84: Good
- 75 - 79: Mediocre
- 50 - 74: Not recommended
By the ‘80s and ‘90s, Parker’s wine score became Bible in the wine world. It even started affecting the sales of different wine brands. The system of ranking wines across the board became known as Parkerisation.
The issue with Parkerisation
Despite being the guide for wine ranking for decades, Parkerisation came with a couple of concerns.
Even if the wines are evaluated by a group of sommeliers, every individual has differing preferences. What is tasty for some tastebuds may not be delicious for others. Parker’s system judged harshly, and there is no knowing whether or not these scores were being given objectively.
Additionally, Parker himself was known for having an affinity for bolder, ripe wines. Bottles which he scored high may not be appealing for others.
The rise of more scoring systems
Overtime, wine publications developed their own ranking systems. While the criteria being assessed are the same as the original, some publications make it a point to not judge in the same way Parker allegedly did.
Magazines like Wine Spectator have their own measure of what’s hot or not. They adapted Parker’s system but narrowed it down to 80 – 100 points instead of 50.
On the other hand, Decanter Magazine used an entirely different system. They adapted the following model to rank wines based on a 5-star system. This scoring was used until 2012.
Platter’s 5-star South African Wine Scale
- 5: Superlative
- 4: Excellent
- 3: Good everyday drinking
- 2: Casual quaffing
- 1: Very ordinary
Bringing it down to earth
For years, professionals were the only ones who could give input to publicized wine rankings. Platforms like Cellar Tracker and Vivino bring the wine ranking to the general public, who may be wine enthusiasts without the necessary background.
These platforms allow consumers to share their own observations about a particular bottle and rate it according to their own taste.
Use ratings as a guide
If you’re looking for a good bottle, it’s best to not use wine rankings as your sole indicator. Just as you would do before purchasing new tech, also do your research with your wine.
Here are a few things you can do:
Note the things you like about your favorite wine
As additional consideration to wine rankings, it’s good to note your favorite aspects from your favorite bottle.
Is it that the wine is medium-bodied or light? Is it acidic or more tannin-heavy? Is it the fruity flavors or the oaky notes that you appreciate?
Use these elements and try and find them in future bottles.
Find wine reviews online
Beyond just the number given, there are many reviews you can find online that dive into the details of the wine. See if what you read is actually describing a wine you might like!