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How is a Wine Rated?

Editorial on the 100-point rating scale

Standardized wine rating systems began as a simple way for critics to express their opinion to the public.

The most widespread system is the 50 to 100-point rating scale, originally known as the American system, which is based on the high-school grading system.
Although the score rests on a singular palate and that makes it subjective, the industry has been applying different methodologies in search of a certain objectivity to make rating a reliable and unbiased tool when it comes to choosing a wine.
Scoring is based on two primary areas of evaluation: production quality and typicality, the latter being linked to the varietal and the region. The score is usually supplemented by notes or reviews that describe the characteristics of the wine.
Wine & Spirits magazine carries out the evaluation in its own offices —Los Angeles for U.S. wines and New York for imported wines— in two steps, blindly and under controlled conditions.
At a first stage, an admissions panel, consisting of different industry players and therefore educated palates, selects wines that stand out from the average.
After the selection stage, a second closed bottle is given to the critic, who will determine the particular score and provide the notes.
Wines rated 95 points or higher are superlative and rare findings; wines ranging from 90 to 94 are exceptional examples of their type; 86 to 89 points indicate highly recommended wines; and wines rated from 80 to 85 are recommended as good examples of their varietal or region.
The qualitative correlation of the score indicates the following:
100: Transcendent
96-96: Astonishing, Rare
93-95: Exciting, Distinctive
90-92: Delicious, Compelling
88-89: Delicious, Representative
85-87: Balanced, Crowd Pleasing
The British Decanter Magazine —which has also switched from a 20-point system to the 100-point system— bases its scoring on the opinion of a tasting panel consisting of three experts in the category of the wine to be rated. The tasting is carried out in sets from 8 to 10 glasses, blindly and in a controlled environment (the magazine’s tasting room). At the end of the tasting, the judges share their notes, but are under no obligation to change the already given score. Then, the final score is the average of the three opinions.
Rated bottles can be awarded bronze, silver or gold medals during the Decanter World Wine Awards and the Decanter Asia Wine Awards.
The qualitative correlation of the score indicates the following:
95-100: Outstanding
90-94: Highly recommended
83-89: Recommended
76-82: Fair
70-75: Poor
66-69: Faulty

Wine Spectator also uses this rating system.
The blind tasting is headed by the leading publisher in the specific area, who is joined by ad hoc tasters in order to confirm the opinions.
The qualitative correlation of the score indicates the following:
95-100 Classic: A great wine
90-94 Outstanding: A wine of superior character and style
85-89 Very good: A wine with special qualities
80-84 Good: A solid, well-made wine
75-79 Mediocre: A drinkable wine that may have minor flaws
50-74 Not recommended

Robert Parker Wine Advocate, which was founded by the wine critic after whom it is named and who has made the 100-point rating scale popular as an industry standard, carries out the evaluation led by 9 professionals specialized in the region of the wine to be rated, and in some cases its founder is also involved. The website does not provide further details of its methodology.
The qualitative correlation of the score indicates the following:
96-100: An extraordinary wine of profound and complex character displaying all the attributes expected of a classic wine of its variety. Wines of this caliber are worth a special effort to find, purchase and consume
90-95: An outstanding wine of exceptional complexity and character. In short, these are terrific wines.
80-89: A barely above average to very good wine displaying various degrees of finesse and flavor as well as character with no noticeable flaws.
70-79: An average wine with little distinction except that it is soundly made. In essence, a straightforward, innocuous wine.
60-69: A below average wine containing noticeable deficiencies, such as excessive acidity and/or tannin, an absence of flavor or possibly dirty aromas or flavors.

James Suckling, who applies the same methodology as that used by Wine Spectator, is also a rater in the well-known major leagues, and has been in the industry for over 30 years. In his own words: “A wine that I rate 90 points or more is outstanding (A). It’s a wine I want to drink a glass of and is an outstanding purchase. If I rate a wine 95 points or more (A+), it is a must buy and a bottle that I want to drink in its entirety! If I rate a wine less than 88 points, it might still be worth buying but proceed with caution. I certainly wouldn’t recommend spending your money on anything rated lower than that.”

Authority, credibility and use
The three pillars that support the points system are authority, credibility, and use.
Authority comes from the industry players involved, who, given their expertise in the field, provide a valid opinion.
Credibility is a consequence of the methodologies involved, which seek to guarantee the impartiality of the ratings (pre-selection by a panel, blind tasting, and controlled environment).
Finally, use, originally aimed at the buyer who must make a relatively quick decision, is also linked to the growth of knowledge in the industry.
It has recently been criticized that the proliferation of raters has inflated industry scores, due to the need of the editorials to draw the audience’s attention.
Jamie Goode has been one of the first to point out this phenomenon: as wineries only publish the information when they get high scores, which results in advertising benefits for the rater; there is an incentive to give elevated scores so that wineries will eventually choose to publish the results as part of their marketing strategy.
On the other hand, regarding the general criterion of the rating itself, the great weight given to typicality creates a certain lack of flexibility in the ratings when it comes to evaluating wines that break the mold. This global and homogenizing factor can hide the particular regional traits, making the comparison impractical.

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Editorial on the 100-point rating scale

Standardized wine rating systems began as a simple way for critics to express their opinion to the public.

The most widespread system is the 50 to 100-point rating scale, originally known as the American system, which is based on the high-school grading system.
Although the score rests on a singular palate and that makes it subjective, the industry has been applying different methodologies in search of a certain objectivity to make rating a reliable and unbiased tool when it comes to choosing a wine.
Scoring is based on two primary areas of evaluation: production quality and typicality, the latter being linked to the varietal and the region. The score is usually supplemented by notes or reviews that describe the characteristics of the wine.
Wine & Spirits magazine carries out the evaluation in its own offices —Los Angeles for U.S. wines and New York for imported wines— in two steps, blindly and under controlled conditions.
At a first stage, an admissions panel, consisting of different industry players and therefore educated palates, selects wines that stand out from the average.
After the selection stage, a second closed bottle is given to the critic, who will determine the particular score and provide the notes.
Wines rated 95 points or higher are superlative and rare findings; wines ranging from 90 to 94 are exceptional examples of their type; 86 to 89 points indicate highly recommended wines; and wines rated from 80 to 85 are recommended as good examples of their varietal or region.
The qualitative correlation of the score indicates the following:
100: Transcendent
96-96: Astonishing, Rare
93-95: Exciting, Distinctive
90-92: Delicious, Compelling
88-89: Delicious, Representative
85-87: Balanced, Crowd Pleasing
The British Decanter Magazine —which has also switched from a 20-point system to the 100-point system— bases its scoring on the opinion of a tasting panel consisting of three experts in the category of the wine to be rated. The tasting is carried out in sets from 8 to 10 glasses, blindly and in a controlled environment (the magazine’s tasting room). At the end of the tasting, the judges share their notes, but are under no obligation to change the already given score. Then, the final score is the average of the three opinions.
Rated bottles can be awarded bronze, silver or gold medals during the Decanter World Wine Awards and the Decanter Asia Wine Awards.
The qualitative correlation of the score indicates the following:
95-100: Outstanding
90-94: Highly recommended
83-89: Recommended
76-82: Fair
70-75: Poor
66-69: Faulty

Wine Spectator also uses this rating system.
The blind tasting is headed by the leading publisher in the specific area, who is joined by ad hoc tasters in order to confirm the opinions.
The qualitative correlation of the score indicates the following:
95-100 Classic: A great wine
90-94 Outstanding: A wine of superior character and style
85-89 Very good: A wine with special qualities
80-84 Good: A solid, well-made wine
75-79 Mediocre: A drinkable wine that may have minor flaws
50-74 Not recommended

Robert Parker Wine Advocate, which was founded by the wine critic after whom it is named and who has made the 100-point rating scale popular as an industry standard, carries out the evaluation led by 9 professionals specialized in the region of the wine to be rated, and in some cases its founder is also involved. The website does not provide further details of its methodology.
The qualitative correlation of the score indicates the following:
96-100: An extraordinary wine of profound and complex character displaying all the attributes expected of a classic wine of its variety. Wines of this caliber are worth a special effort to find, purchase and consume
90-95: An outstanding wine of exceptional complexity and character. In short, these are terrific wines.
80-89: A barely above average to very good wine displaying various degrees of finesse and flavor as well as character with no noticeable flaws.
70-79: An average wine with little distinction except that it is soundly made. In essence, a straightforward, innocuous wine.
60-69: A below average wine containing noticeable deficiencies, such as excessive acidity and/or tannin, an absence of flavor or possibly dirty aromas or flavors.

James Suckling, who applies the same methodology as that used by Wine Spectator, is also a rater in the well-known major leagues, and has been in the industry for over 30 years. In his own words: “A wine that I rate 90 points or more is outstanding (A). It’s a wine I want to drink a glass of and is an outstanding purchase. If I rate a wine 95 points or more (A+), it is a must buy and a bottle that I want to drink in its entirety! If I rate a wine less than 88 points, it might still be worth buying but proceed with caution. I certainly wouldn’t recommend spending your money on anything rated lower than that.”

Authority, credibility and use
The three pillars that support the points system are authority, credibility, and use.
Authority comes from the industry players involved, who, given their expertise in the field, provide a valid opinion.
Credibility is a consequence of the methodologies involved, which seek to guarantee the impartiality of the ratings (pre-selection by a panel, blind tasting, and controlled environment).
Finally, use, originally aimed at the buyer who must make a relatively quick decision, is also linked to the growth of knowledge in the industry.
It has recently been criticized that the proliferation of raters has inflated industry scores, due to the need of the editorials to draw the audience’s attention.
Jamie Goode has been one of the first to point out this phenomenon: as wineries only publish the information when they get high scores, which results in advertising benefits for the rater; there is an incentive to give elevated scores so that wineries will eventually choose to publish the results as part of their marketing strategy.
On the other hand, regarding the general criterion of the rating itself, the great weight given to typicality creates a certain lack of flexibility in the ratings when it comes to evaluating wines that break the mold. This global and homogenizing factor can hide the particular regional traits, making the comparison impractical.