5 things to know about wine ratings
New to wine drinking and want to know how to get the best value for your money? Wine ratings can serve as a helpful guide for consumers, but which ones can you trust and follow? Three internationally renowned wine critics share their tips on making sense of wine ratings and how to use them for better wine buying decisions.
1. Different wine critics and publications use different scales.
The 50 to 100-point scale of wine ratings was popularised by Robert Parker who founded the Wine Advocate. This scale is still the standard used by Robert Parker Wine Advocate’s team of wine critics.
Other wine critics have their own rating systems, mostly using a 100-point scale or 20-point scale.
Generally, wines rated 90 and above are deemed excellent and those in the 95 to 100-point bracket are great wines.
But don’t be too quick to dismiss wines rated under 90 points. For some wine critics, an 85-point rating means the wine offers good value for money.
2. Wine critics do award 100 points to wines they deem worthy.
The 100-point score remains elusive but not impossible. Such wines are rare and usually command a high price. RPWA’s editor-in-chief Lisa Perrotti-Brown says, “To qualify for 100 points, a wine must be without ‘faults’ and of the highest quality, considering factors such as fruit ripeness, intensity, complexity, depth, balance, length and a singularity about the wine – a unique signature that not only interests, it excites.”
Founder of Vinous, Antonio Galloni says 100-point wines as those which “leave a burning impression on the mind and palate long after they have been tasted” and “are noteworthy for their ability to satisfy all the senses, from the hedonistic to the intellectual”.
3. A wine is usually evaluated based on how it compares to its peers.
Quality factors include the absence of faults in the wine, the fruit health and ripeness during tasting, its level of concentration, balance and complexity. Perrotti-Brown says critics may also look at a wine’s potential to age, how typical it is of its region, value for money, drinkability, compatibility with food and the uniqueness of the grape variety, style and region.
Galloni also considers subjective criteria such as the overall pleasure a wine offers.
New Zealand’s leading wine critic, Bob Campbell factors in intensity, texture and length of flavour when rating wines.
4. The same wine may receive different ratings from the same critic.
It is not uncommon for wine critics to retaste a wine they have rated some years before and give it a new rating. The new rating reflects the wine’s ability to age. Barrel tastings are held before the wines are bottled, ahead of their commercial release. But wines can change in aroma, flavour and colour over time. Great wines are estimated to evolve over 20 to 50 years or more. As Galloni explains, how a wine evolves is not always predictable. Wine critics retaste a wine several years later to provide retrospective tasting reports of the same vintage. They may also carry out vertical tastings which refer to tastings of different vintages of the same wine.
Perrotti-Brown says such reports help consumers understand how their purchases are evolving in the cellar and can be useful to those who wish to purchase wines on the secondary market
5. Use both ratings and tasting notes when buying wine.
With so many different wine ratings, how do you decide which to follow? For a start, try some wines and compare your own views to those of professional critics.
Campbell suggests: “Measure your enthusiasm, or lack of it, to that of each wine critic before deciding whose opinion best relates to your own taste.”
But remember, the score is only a summary. As Galloni says: “A rich, juicy Cabernet Sauvignon might earn a 96-point score from a critic, but if you don’t like the style, that wine is not right for you, no matter what its rating is.”
Reading the accompanying tasting notes can give you better insight into the wine.
8 influential names in wine reviews
Robert Parker Wine Advocate (RPWA)
Robert Parker founded The Wine Advocate, now known as the Robert Parker Wine Advocate. Lisa Perrotti-Brown took over as editor-in-chief of the publication and the online site in 2013. Perrotti-Brown has a Master of Wine and reviews wines from Australia, New Zealand, Sonoma & Oregon for the publication. RPWA has a team of wine editors and critics who use RPWA’s 50 to 100-point scale to rate wines.
Ms Lisa Perroti-Brown is the editor-in-chief of the Robert Parker Wine Advocate and reviews wine from Australia, New Zealand, Sonoma and Oregon for the publication.
PHOTO: ROBERT PARKER WINE ADVOCATE
Galloni is the founder and chief executive of Vinous, an influential wine publication. He was a lead critic at Robert Parker Wine Advocate before he left in 2013 and started Vinous. He covers the wines of Bordeaux, California, Italy and Champagne. Vinous acquired Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar in 2014 and also acquired wine app Delectable. Vinous uses a 100-point scale for wine ratings.
He is an influential American wine critic who focuses on wines from Italy, Bordeaux, Champagne, Australia, New Zealand, California, Chile, and Argentina. A former senior editor and European bureau chief of the Wine Spectator for 29 years until 2010. That year, he relocated to Hong Kong to be part of the growing wine culture in Asia and also launched his own online wine site.
Robinson is a British wine critic, prolific writer and presenter who shot to fame in 1984 when she became the first person outside the wine trade to pass the Master of Wine exams. In 2003, she was awarded an OBE from the Queen. Robinson is on the Queen’s Royal Household Wine Committee advising on the Queen’s cellar. Robinson is an editor for the Oxford Companion To Wine. Robinson has an online site where she publishes wine reviews and articles. She uses a 20-point scoring scale to rate wines.
Halliday is an Australian winemaker, leading wine critic and competition judge. He is the author of James Halliday’s Wine Atlas of Australia and The Australian Wine Encyclopedia, and has contributed to over 50 books on wine. In 2010, he was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for his service to the Australian wine industry. Halliday uses a 100-point scale but does not publish tasting notes for wines rated 83 points and below. He also uses a star system to rate wineries.
Campbell is New Zealand’s leading wine critic, wine educator and competition judge. He is the second New Zealander to hold a Master of Wine qualification. He has also contributed to the Oxford Companion To Wine and is a wine editor for Air NZ’s in-flight magazine. He uses a 100-point rating but doesn’t give ratings for wines below 84 points, that being his default score for wines that don’t make the cut. He also does not review wines that have not yet been bottled.
Mr Bob Campbell is New Zealand’s leading wine critic and holds a Master of Wine qualification.
PHOTO: BOB CAMPBELL
Wine Spectator’s team of editors review over 15,000 wines yearly, with each editor generally covering the same region or “beat” from year to year, allowing them to specialise in the region’s wines. Wine critics on the team include James Laube, Kim Marcus, Thomas Matthews, James Molesworth and Bruce Sanderson.
An American and former finance executive, Meadows left the banking industry in 1999 to write a book on Burgundy but founded Burghound.com a year later. This quarterly review covers wines from Burgundy as well as champagnes. Meadows’s coverage of Burgundy has been compared to Parker’s coverage of Bordeaux.