Wine Ratings - What the %^&$ do they mean?

Posted by John Clerides on May 02, 2019

When I first started in the wine business some 33 years ago, there were very few American wine writers & critics, most of the journalists were from England. Clive Coates, Michael Broadbent, Serena Sutcliffe and Hugh Jonson come to mind.

For those of you who have traveled to the UK the English have a far different palate than those of North Americans. Wines were rated out of 20 points.

So if a wine received say 15/20 and if my math is correct, that is 75% or 5 points from 20/20 apparent perfection. I would never be so arrogant to rate a wine as perfect but that is another story.

Along comes Robert Parker and he started to rate wines out of 100. We all understand the 100 point scale as that is how our school exams and final scores were based on. This became the industry standard.

So if that same 15/20 wine was scored via the 100 point scale it would rate 75 out of 100, another way of looking at it is that 15 point wines is 5 points from perfection, using the 100 point scale that same wine would have to rate 95/100.

Now, if I was still in school and I received 75% I would be thrilled(that’s just me folks) but when you trying to sell a $40 plus wine and it gets only 75 points versus 15, it's going to sit on the shelf.

Emerging wine writers and bloggers - and there are ton on them out there are all vying for your attention - the higher score they give a wine, the more attention they receive, the more samples they get, the more trips they receive... get the point here, folks?

While I have not confirmed this, one eastern Canadian importer I spoke with told me of a story of an up-and-coming journalist giving a $7.95 wine 94 points, this helped it fly off the shelf.

In my humble opinion a $7.95 wine would rate somewhere in the 86-89 point range - nothing wrong with those scores given the price.

Now take a wine that is say $40.00 and it receives an 88 or 89 points, how likely would you buy it versus the $7.95 wine?

I remember being at dinner years ago in Bordeaux, the wines were served blind. Consensus was the wine of the night was the Cambom le Pelouse, it sells for $40.00 or so and it was better than Mouton, which was served and several other wines that were five times the price. Past scores of Cambom are 2018-92 points, 2016 87 points, 2014-85 points, 2013-85/86 points, 2012-87 points, 2011 – 87 points. I know these wines well and I know how they age and I will recommend them all day long.

Historically wines that seemed to get bigger scores were ones that were over the top, lots of oak and high alcohol. Wines with nuance, spice, delicate aromatics and subtleness seemed to get lower scores. Interestingly enough, the latter wines I embraced and recommended to my clients and they were thrilled. Additionally it was easier to drink a glass or two of the latter wines. Hope this helps.