Wine Ratings: A Beginner’s Guide

Valentine’s Day and wine go hand-in-hand. While you’re browsing the aisles tonight at your local wine shop or grocery store trying to find the perfect wine for Valentine’s dinner tomorrow, you may see something like what you see to the right.

Wine Ratings Example

         (Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons)

But what does it mean? Who decides if a bottle is rated 90 points or 5 points? We’ll start with that question and continue with more questions about the wine rating process.

First of all, the lowest wine rating you’ll ever see is 50. And even then, most stores don’t sell anything rated below 85 so you’ll probably never actually even see anything lower than that.

Where do the ratings come from?

Enter now the wild and wonderful world of the wine critic!

There are many publications such as Wine Spectator (shown above), Wine Enthusiast, Wine Advocate, Wine & Spirits, or International Wine Cellar that are independent of the wineries that create the wine. They cultivate relationships with the wineries to get bottles before they’re distributed to the public at large. Without knowing which wineries the wines come from, these expert wine tasters (often blindfolded) try several wines in one sitting. With each one they assess the aroma, appearance, mouthfeel, flavor, and finish of each wine, and assign numerical ratings based on their wealth of knowledge and culinary experiences. They then write articles and reviews in the publications for which they work, praising or panning the wines of that year’s vintage.

Who came up with this system? When did it start?

A notable wine connoisseur named Robert Parker developed the 50-100 point scale system in the mid-1970s as a way to make wines easily comparable. For ease of use he based his system upon the popular notion of a school’s grading scale where A+ is 100 and F is 59 or below.

What do the numbers represent in terms of quality?

A wine rating of 85 or above is generally considered good, and ratings of 90 and above signify outstanding wine quality (just like getting an A on a test in school.) A wine may receive a high rating for superior complexity of flavor, powerful or specific aromas, an appearance or texture that is a perfect representation of what the wine’s style is meant to be, or a exceptionally well-balanced wine. Honestly all of those things will probably have to come together to earn the 90+ points.

Wines will receive lower scores if they did not age well, or not long enough, are too sweet or too dry (bitter/rough), if the soil the grapes grew in resulted in a scorched flavor, or if the composite experience of the wine (appearance, aroma, mouthfeel, taste, finish) was completely uncharacteristic of what the wine is supposed to be (eg a Pinot Grigio tastes like Moscato, or Cabernet tastes like Shiraz).

Are there any perfect scores?

Yes! Every year a small handful of wines will receive the rare 100-point rating from critics. This includes the 2006 Cardinale Cabernet Sauvignon (Wine Enthusiast) and the 2010 Fortuna Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Wine Advocate).

So there you have it – an introduction to the world of wine tasting and ratings. See our Premium Wine Cellar and Wine Gift Basket pages for an extraordinary selection of 90-point rated wines and exquisite pairings. Happy Valentine’s Day!

1 Comment
  1. So glad I stumbled upon this!

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