How-to: Score a Wine Using the 100 Point Scalethis article. This article also assumes that you're familiar with the basic method of wine tasting (look, swirl, smell, and sip).
The 100 point scale grades a wine by assigning it a number between 50 and 100 points. The scale was made popular by the renowned wine critic Robert Parker and was modeled after the U.S. high school grading system. Wines receiving higher numbers are considered better than wines receiving lower numbers.
In reality, the scale really operates between 70-100 points, with scores below even 75 not completely clear in what they indicate. For this reason, we will be talking almost exclusively about the 75-100 point range.
There are two fundamental ways in which a score is determined for a given wine:
- The taster simply chooses a number from the scale based on their past experience in tasting wines and intimate knowledge of the 100 point scale. This is the manner in which Parker and Wine Spectator review wines.
- Points are awarded on a strict "per item" basis. The wine always starts at 50 points regardless, then you add up to 5 points for color, 10 for nose, 15 for taste, 10 for finish, and 10 for overall impression. While more scientific, most reviewers have the background to arrive at a similar point total using the first method.
- Parker: 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.
- Spectator: Classic, a great wine.
- Vinquire: Extraordinary. A wine of finesse, complexity, and expression. True to variety and region. Perfect balance of flavors with a long finish.
These are simply put, the best wines in the world. Out of hundreds of thousands of wines, Parker rated only ~150 wines a perfect '100'. Spectator has given only 55 perfect scores. If you are new to reviewing or tasting wines, it is unlikely that you have tasted wines in this range. If however you are tasting wines from top French Chateaus, or from the top California Cabernet producers, it is possible that they will touch this range.
Scores in this range also tend to be slightly murky: the differences between a 96 point and 100 point wine would be difficult to pin down. Robert Parker himself is quoted as saying
"I've always tried to explain it saying that, you know, I'm a very passionate person and an emotional person. I really think probably the only difference between a 96-, 97-, 98-, 99-, and 100-point wine is really the emotion of the moment."
- Parker: An outstanding wine of exceptional complexity and character. In short, these are terrific wines.
- Spectator: Outstanding: a wine of superior character and style
- Vinquire: Excellent, true to variety and region, with terrific complexity and balance. While not a wine for the ages, a superior example.
These are wines that in general, knock your socks off. Upon tasting wines in this range, I typically swirl and smell, and immediately know that I'm in for a ride. Wines in this range are near perfect examples of the grape -- for whatever style of wine you are drinking. While wines in the 90 and 91 point range are usually available without too much work, as you climb to the 93/94/95 point range, these wines do begin to approach superstar status and can become very difficult to obtain for a reasonable price. If you are new to wine reviewing, use these scores with caution as they signify a stellar wine.
- Parker: A barely above average to very good wine displaying various degrees of finesse and flavor as well as character with no noticeable flaws.
- Spectator: On the high end, very good: a wine with special qualities. On the low end, good: a solid, well-made wine.
This range deserves a finer grain breakdown as the majority of wines fall between these numbers:
- Vinquire: Meets your expectations, with sound flavors and balance. Might have limited complexity or be short on the palate. A sound wine.
Wines in this range are generally considered high quality wines. Especially on the upper end, 88 and 89 point wines are very tasty, enjoyable wines. Oftentimes, these wines are also a good deal as many connoisseurs focus exclusively on wines that are 90 points or above. Wines in this range showcase the characteristics of the varietal, are clean, and typically well balanced. This finish may not be super long but does exist and is pleasant. The nose and taste are harmonious and the wine progresses from initial impressions to finish in a pleasant manner. If you are a beginning wine reviewer and really enjoy a wine, chances are that it belongs in this range.
- Vinquire: Average, drinkable, might not have as much varietal character. Simple flavors, no flaws, but nothing special.
In general, these wines are commercially acceptable and show no major flaws, but are possibly unexciting or "tame" wines (especially on the low end). You will never see a wine advertising itself with a score of less than 84 points in a winery or retailer for this reason. In addition, despite what Parker and Spectator officially say about wines in this range, the reviews may begin to note negative aspects of the wine for these scores. Phrases like "a little artificial", "simple, one dimensional", "a bit tart", "light body", sometimes surface in reviews. On the positive side however, reviews in this range consistently indicate the wine is still very much drinkable. Reviews are often times short for these wines and professional reviewers almost invariably indicate that wines in this range are ready to drink now.
- Parker: An average wine with little distinction except that it is a soundly made. In essence, a straightforward, innocuous wine.
- Spectator: Mediocre: a drinkable wine that may have minor flaws
- Vinquire: Below Average, Might contain one flaw, simple straight-forward flavors, off-balance, unpleasant.
Despite how it sounds, rating a wine 79 points or below is typically insulting. It indicates that the wine, while commercially viable, is not performing to the capacity that it should. Its flavors or body may be very soft. Tasters may be struggling to define what aromas the nose of the wine displays. The finish may be weak or non existent. Flavors may boldly change directions on the palate, leaving a taster confused. Still, the wine is drinkable, but it would be something that you would be hesitant to serve to friends.The scale below 75 points is murky. Professional tasters rarely release reviews in this range, making it hard to define. If you are a beginning reviewer, it is best to avoid rating wines below 75 points. For all practical purposes, the scale stops at 70 points.
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Need more info on rating systems? The links below should start you in the right direction:
- Vinquire's 100 point synopsis
- Robert Parker's 100 point breakdown
- Corkd's 100 point synopsis
- Fantastic comparison of differences in various wine scales (PDF)
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