The Problem with Wine Ratings

What's wrong with them and their affect on how we buy wine



I’ve been thinking about writing up my thoughts on this issue for some time, but I had always thought it was just too simple an issue; something that might be summed up in a few sentences, but perhaps I was wrong.

The issue of course is wine ratings, we hate them and we love them, but are they really worth anything? It would be sad to realize that something so many people become emotionally invested in is actually not worth the effort, but to a large extent that is what I believe.

Before going any further, let me just say that I use the 100 point scale, or about 30 points of it, when I rate wines and I find that it is a useful way to gauge how much I like one wine versus another wine of similar type. I don’t believe it is some absolute scale, and have always felt that its accuracy was something better than plus or minus 5 points. That is, my 90 point wine could be your 85 point wine or your 95 point wine. Now, considering that most people use about 20 points of the 100 point scale, scoring wines between 80 and 100 points, that also means that they are not of much worth, and that my friends is entirely true.

In the abstract they are generally worthless. You can have two 90 point wines that are qualitatively equivalent, but so completely different as to make their equivalency useless. And you can also have two tasters, each with a different palate, assign points scores that are so divergent that you really have to ask who has lost their mind. Might it be us, those of us who use point scores to begin with? Maybe we have lost a bit of our minds.

Wine Critic image via Shutterstock
Now why would I say that, besides believing it, of course. Well, for starters, it’s because the scoring of wine has undergone a huge compression over the past two decades or so. The argument goes that wines are just getting better, so it’s no surprise that scores continue to rise. But even if wines are getting better, there are levels of quality that these scores should reflect. Perhaps there is another reason, perhaps it has to do with the business of wine criticism (and make no mistake about it -- it is a business.)

Robert Parker, the world’s preeminent wine critic recently sold a controlling stake in his company, The Wine Advocate, causing endless lamentation on internet wine boards, and speculation bordering on anticipation that this spells the end for both the Wine Advocate and the hegemony of the 100 point score for wine. Nothing could be further from the truth. You see, wine reviews are a type of currency, used by retailers to buy consumers. The higher the value, the more efficiently it works. Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate has one type of value, that of name recognition, but as always there are many people nipping at the leader’s knees.

There is a second type of value: the point scores themselves. While The Wine Advocate has that name recognition, higher scores tend to sell more wines, and retailers recognize that. Retailers promote high scores and the critics that award them, giving aspiring wine writers a platform enabling them to gain some of that name recognition. The higher the score, the bigger the platform. Don’t believe me? In that case, check out these examples. As you can see, retailers almost always feature the highest known score for a particular wine when promoting its sale. It’s not only standard operating procedure, it’s also good business for the retailer. What about for the critic?

While being listed at the top is good for the critic, it could be argued that being listed amongst these recognized names would be good for any brand, but how much better is it to be listed before these well-known names? A point, maybe two?



I am saying that grade inflation is endemic to the wine industry. I think there’s no knowing exactly why, but being number one is a very powerful motivator, even subconsciously. You really have to ask yourself, after tasting all these high scoring wines, just what some of these critics were thinking.

That would lead me to critique the critics, which is easy. They seem to have an unnatural tendency to believe their own bullshit, think that rating wine is somehow closer to calculus than alchemy, often lack humility, and trust that they are the final arbiter of what a wine may, and may not be. If they never smelled rosemary in a malbec then it simply can not exist. Certain aspects of wine, such as tannins and acidity are empirically knowable, and they are perfectly tuned instruments that will tell you how acidic or tannic a wine is. Forget the outside influences that challenge mere mortals, wine reviewing is objective, they’ll tell you. I will laugh in their faces of course but that won’t stop them, won’t even slow them down because they too are in on the scam.

Wine ratings have become a scam my friends. People have spent the better part of three decades training their palates to align with those of the major critics. People go out and buy a 95 point and when they can’t find those 95 points they start making excuses. The wine’s too young, it hasn’t been allowed to breath enough, my palate’s not as good as the critic’s.

Bullshit. 95 points doesn’t mean 95 points, that’s the only broadly applicable answer.

And 95 points no longer means 95 points, not that it did for long, because wine reviews are subjective and personal, and scores are vomited in order to sell stuff. Issues of magazines, subscriptions, events, and yes wine as well. The entire industry is complicit; retailers and producers who excessively promote the scores, consumers who rely on the scores, reviewers who dole out the scores. We would need only one part of this puzzle to drop out for the whole house of cards to come tumbling down, but it’s not going to happen. We are humans, and that ladies and gentlemen makes us lazy.


It’s laziness that drives all of this. We want to know how good a wine is by reading a number. We want to sell more wines without having to taste them or even talk with the consumers, we want to sell more subscriptions but don’t necessarily have the resources or desire to put in the effort. Higher scores are the answer!

Yes, this is the several hundredth time this issue has been discussed, and it will be far from the last. The bottom line is that the importance assigned to point scores is out of whack with the utility they actually provide, maddening the situation. Well, that and the fact that simply assigning high scores, as opposed to accurately describing a wine’s attributes, seems to be the definition of being a successful wine critic these days.

It’s all a crazy system we’ve put in place, and we now have to live with it. It’s driving prices up on many wines, providing an easy shorthand for people with more money than wine knowledge. That is probably the worst of this scam’s effects, but in this case it’s not really a scam -- the highest scores are still reserved for the best wines in almost all cases, highest now being 96 and above while just a decade ago those wines might have been awarded 91 to 95 points. You see, it’s always a good idea to keep something in reserve. If in fact the wines are getting higher scores because they are getting better, is something imminent going to happen that will arrest that process? I think not, so the logical conclusion is that we are coming perilously close to running out of points. Our very own debt ceiling-style crisis, and I am afraid of the grand bargain we’ll devise to extricate ourselves for this pile.

I’m not sure how to end this rant, because honestly that is what it has become, though I like to think of it more as a rousing warning shot. Nothing is going to change en masse. People have to have faith in their own palates to a degree, but we all can’t taste everything we want to buy, so the lazy reliance on shorthand is in fact something of a necessity. People, smart people at that, believe that the proliferation of wine writers in this modern age will somehow have a tempering effect on the prevalence of the 100 point scale. Something tells me that that the greater the competition, the greater the effort to differentiate oneself. Everyone wants to come out on top, and we’ve seen where that path takes us.

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Comments

  • Snooth User: rojoloco
    142416 30

    You make many good points. I would only add that scores are helpful to those of us who don't get to taste many wines before we buy them.
    I have learned to calibrate my own tastes to Parker reviews so I know an Aussie Shiraz he gives a 95 might be lower for my taste. That is particularly true for high alcohol wines which limit the tasting experience at least on a week night.
    I would argue that reviews do give amateur collectors some sort of scale to gauge the value of a wine. Why would I pay 50 dollars for a 90 point California Cabernet when I could get a lovely and tastier Spanish wine for half that much? So ratings play a role but as you suggest, consumers should not be blindly driven for scores given by someone whose taste -- and pocketbook -- may be very different.
    I love red Burgundy, for instance, but will not pay 75 dollars for a so-so wine just because land is expensive there when I can get something I like almost as much from Oregon or California?

    Jan 09, 2013 at 12:32 PM


  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 204,561

    Thanks for the great comment.

    I admit it's a complicated subject, and as i say I use scores so I do feel there is value in them. The point where everything breaks down for me, as it seems to for you, is the idea that a 95 point wine is somehow better than a 90 point wine, when I might very well prefer a 90 point bottle of Bordeaux to a 95 point Napa Cabernet.

    Every so often I feel like I have to write something like this just to keep the conversation top of mind, and to make sure I'm not slipping into the wine ratings swamp myself!

    Keep drinking what you like!

    Jan 09, 2013 at 12:47 PM


  • Snooth User: bgaduffy
    458784 1

    Kinda like a movie critic, having a movie critic that likes the same movies I do is terrific. Instead of seeing all movies, I know that if the critic liked a movie so will I. Saves me a lot of time and frustration. Unfortunately I have yet to find that wine critic. I find some 80 point wines better than some 90 point wines. Where is that wine critic that would agree with me on those wines? Oh well.....................

    Jan 09, 2013 at 12:55 PM


  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 204,561

    So, what are some of those 80 pointers?

    Jan 09, 2013 at 1:06 PM


  • Snooth User: marivilen
    564775 96

    I stopped reading wine reviews and "ratings" a long time ago! I've been drinking wine for many years now and I've found that I've become very proficient in my knowledge of wines. I guess what I'm saying is that nothing beats the simple method of "trying the wines" - it's the best way to learn about wines and to ultimately know what you like and don't like. My one and only method for rating wines now is to simply buy them and drink them! Also, I've found that my taste in wines is almost never the same as the critics and experts. In my humble opinion, the highest wine ratings and all the critics in the world aren't going to make me buy a wine. So, for me, it simply doesn't matter. I just love to drink wine and to discover new ones along the way.

    Jan 09, 2013 at 1:13 PM


  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 204,561

    Good for you marivilen.

    You know what you should do is share your preferences, there might be someone out there looking for the guidance you have to offer.

    This is such a fascinating topic, and one that applies so differently to many levels of consumers, based on value of wines purchased, experience, and comfort zones.

    Jan 09, 2013 at 1:17 PM


  • Snooth User: marivilen
    564775 96

    Well...I've become very comfortable with my personal level of knowledge about wine and I have thought about sharing some of my preferences....guess I didn't want to come across as a "wine snob". I'll tell you what though....I've sure had fun along this learning path and it really proves that experience is the best teacher! By the way, I really, really enjoy all your articles and I read each one...keep up the great work - hopefully some day I'll know as much as you do about wine!!

    Jan 09, 2013 at 1:23 PM


  • Snooth User: IzzyN
    1176190 18

    Great article Greg. You hit many excellent points here. as a matter of discussion, I use scoring for my own personal use. Of all the critics out there, I have felt that the one that best correlates with my personal taste is...me. I do my best to avoid shelf talkers, focusing my buying on producers I have some experience with, appellations I like, and then experiment ing with vintages. Getting to that baseline knowledge took alot of time and bad bottles but I have developed my own identity over time and that is what counts. Even the bad bottles were a learning experience and invariably someone tasting with me actually liked it so win win for everyone!

    This method plus the ongoing consumer driven scoring will continue to change the practice of scoring, especially for those of us nerdy about wine.

    Jan 09, 2013 at 2:04 PM


  • Snooth User: ichito
    46202 101

    Over the years I realize that I have acquire my own method, I also stopped reading "reviews" and ratings, I do listen to peoples preferences, means nothing to me if somebody rates one Cab better than others. I go through stages, not by design, just what appeals to me. So Merlot for awhile, then perhaps Tempranillo, etc. In the process kind of establish my own preferences, and then rediscover a grape that I had not tasted in a long while, always fun. The articles are very helpful even the ones I may not agree.Best.

    Jan 09, 2013 at 2:18 PM


  • Snooth User: ddingley
    395920 5

    I think they have some value as just another small data point when looking at buying a wine that you don't have the opportunity to taste. At least somebody liked it and usually there is a small explanation with it, so after you develop your own knowledge base of what you like, it's better than nothing. I prefer the composite of Cellar Tracker reviews to a single professional review just because there are so many more opinions involved, which provides some extra value, and there are no subtle agendas that inflate the ratings. That seems to be the growing trend (the "wisdom of crowds").

    Jan 09, 2013 at 2:27 PM


  • Snooth User: Sheriff1
    176868 1

    Whenever I see a wine touted by Wine Company, Winery or rating Organization that I think I may like I go to Cellartracker. I like to see what a number of people that have tried these wines has to say about it. If a wine is rated "92" and I see that 15 drinkers have given it an average of 88.1 this tells me it's most probably not a 92 rated wine. Then again I see a 92 that's rated lets say an average 91.8 then we are talking business. Some wine sellers overate the wines they sell. It's best to do your home work before you buy. Also everyone has different tastes like this article states.

    Jan 09, 2013 at 2:30 PM


  • Snooth User: SleazyOtto
    290020 51

    Another great read, Greg - I really enjoy your writing. I get the sense your reviews focus more on why you liked (or didn't) certain wines, and that certainly has far more value than a point system.
    However, the point system has a place, too. When I'm "exploring", I'll look at point/price ratios; I've never tried a certain wine, but it's on sale for $15.99, and someone rated it 90+ points - it's worth a try. There's another similar(?) wine over there, it's $34.99, and I know nothing about it, there's no rating/review displayed ... I probably won't chance it. That's my "wildcatting" mode - like drilling for oil, you never know what you'll get, or if the economics are favorable.
    I greatly prefer when my local stores do tastings; it's very rare that I leave one without a few purchases in hand - and those are nearly always totally devoid of any point ratings nonsense. But stores can't offer tastings of everything, and I'd hate to deprive myself of the wonderful finds from point-system inspired exploration.

    In conclusion, though, thank you for calling "BS" on the system, where it's so deserved.

    Jan 09, 2013 at 2:48 PM


  • I have come to realize that the benefit of ratings is the establishment of some benchmark of quality. That is, if Spectator says this Loire Cab Franc is 89 points, well then it's probably not plonk. I'll always trust the recommendation of my local wine merchant more than a score, but the score is indicative of some level of quality.
    As so many people above note, where it gets ridiculous is when you start parsing 88 vs. 92, as though there is a quantitative difference.
    I'll also note that my favorite wines are from beaujolais, but because these are generally deemed unserious, you never see them receive more than 92 points or so, and that's awesome for my wallet.
    Give me a good cru beaujolais over some parkerized Napa cab almost any day of the week. I write brief reviews of wines I drink (http://realwinetalk.wordpress.com/) and use a letter grade rating, but it's no better than points, and is obviously calibrated solely to my palate!

    Jan 09, 2013 at 3:13 PM


  • Snooth User: snoman
    229582 202

    Greg, you and the commenters all make valid points. Obviously, nothing that "rates" wines is going to be perfect, and the different rating sources all have their levels of perfection, so to speak. CellarTracker, as pointed out above, is the breath of fresh air as well as the Great Arbitrator in this discussion. Too bad that ratings drive market pricing in many instances as well, but again, "unintended consequences" is the likely culprit here. For the average consumer, ratings (if honestly done) have great value, for those with more experience and greater wine knowledge, there may be different values for ratings as well, such as the Burgundy lover above, and one looking for typicity versus extraction.

    In any case, kudos to you for getting a vibrant discussion point on your website. Cheers!

    Jan 09, 2013 at 3:32 PM


  • Snooth User: zinfandel1
    Hand of Snooth
    154660 994

    For years I let the wine critics control what I bought. And during those years at least a good amount of their highest ratings (88-98) were not enjoyable for me.
    Over the last 10 years or so, I try to go to as many wine tastings as possible. This puts me in the drivers seat and lets me decide whether or not I like a particular wine.
    I will also purchase wines from certain wineries that I have been buying from regularly over the years.While doing this, I also keep a check on these wineries to see if the winery has been sold to new owners and/or wine maker changes. Either of these changes may or may not make any difference to the final product, but I would be cautious and try to taste before I buy.

    Jan 09, 2013 at 3:32 PM


  • Snooth User: eron
    634924 3

    I think one step forward is going to be the retailers — Place like Wine Expo (in Santa Monica, CA) are making a huge step in the right direction by refusing to post scores or canned-tasting notes. Instead, the staff has invested the time to write up and post, fun, elaborate notes for every wine they stock. Those notes are emphasizing pairings, historical interests or unique grapes. They also have an on-site win bar where they feature tasting flights of wines from there store across all price ranges. Their employees know most of the wines they sell too. Having the ability to try wines and having a knowledgable wine merchant preempts the need or desire for scores most of the time now.

    Jan 09, 2013 at 3:36 PM


  • SOCIAL MEDIA: I strongly believe you need to taste the wines, when available. This new way of communicating is also better than rating (meaning, twitter, facebook, whatsapp, chats, mobile, photos, etc)..why? I ask my friend in Spain if he has tasted the wine for example, he might ask his close circle, I get a better "point system" or review, and probably will enjoy better a wine than if I went for the pointing system someone states. Suddenly (21st century) Chateaus count but not as primary, Parker and other as well, but what is important is WHO YOUR EXPERT or person of trust is. If I have someone I can communicate to get a better understanding of a wine (if I can taste it myself as you mentioned, we've become lazy, or we can't afford it) I can probably get great insight from my circle of connected friends: Thus the importance truly of social media, not the hype. We personally help vintners from Mexico and this has helped people make a leap, and taste Nebbiolos that rock, but a traditional wine rating associate will not get into. Great Article!

    Jan 09, 2013 at 6:22 PM


  • Good article. My husband and I are quite addicted to the James Halliday ratings of wine in Australia, and I've often thought how silly it is - even though we've been rarely let down by his recommendations. Yet as some of your other readers point out, it is a good guide to buying when you don't necessarily have the time or money to be out in the wine areas tasting all the time, yet are keen to keep trying different winemakers and varieties. But the one thing that remains true for me is that I've never been disappointed by a wine I've tasted at a winery and decided to buy because I liked it. Here's an idea.. if I had more time and didn't have to work I could start my own ratings system!

    Jan 09, 2013 at 6:48 PM


  • Wine ratings are for the herd mentality, taste a wine, if you like it, then enjoy and perhaps be bold and buy some of it. One person's 100 point wine is another's plonk, trust your own judgement, not that of someone who probably has not purchased wine for themselves for quite some time.

    Jan 09, 2013 at 6:56 PM


  • Snooth User: jamessulis
    Hand of Snooth
    426220 1,483

    OK, lots of hoopla. Wine ratings are excellent, no matter how you scale them, 1 to 100 or 1 to 5. It's like anything else in life, we want to be heard so we attach ratings to various things, food, wine, women, men, vacations, desserts. So what is the proper rating that works for you, well you pick, choose your weapon. My weapon is 1 to 5 with an explanation 1=sucks won't purchase again, 2= was ok but probably unless on sale, won't purchase again, 3= nice, I liked it will buy it again, 4= this stuff fits me, love it and will definitely purchase it again and finally 5= holey s--t, where has this been, got to go out and get some more. That's it in a nutshell for me and in closing, I recently had a bottle of 2009 Frei Brothers Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and it almost got a 5 but I'm stingy.

    Jan 09, 2013 at 7:45 PM


  • Snooth User: EMark
    Hand of Snooth
    847804 5,601

    Gee, it's unfortunate that nobody has an opinion on this. ;-)

    Some very excellent comments, here. I don't know if my opinion will be taken seriously, but there is a fun factor involved here. Rating wines does give us a "line in the sand" that encourages comparisons and conversations. I think that is fun.

    I make no bones about the fact that I do read reviews, and I do notice ratings--in the media and on shelf talkers. I have bought wines solely because they are highly rated--sometimes I'm rewarded and sometimes I'm not. I have also bought wines soley on the recommendation of somebody I may have met in a coffee shop or, in the old days, at work--sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn't.

    JonDerry, a regular Snooth poster over on the Forum proposed a very easy-for-me-to-understand binary rating system: a wine that I would buy again is a 1 and a wine that I would not buy again is a 0.

    Jan 09, 2013 at 8:14 PM


  • Snooth User: Stevern86
    909211 36

    Great article Greg! And hey, I like a good rant now and then. That shows passion. I agree and identify with Marivilen. I have had a life long interest in wine from the time my mother "weaned" me with water in a little red wine at around age 10. I too am comfortable with my level of knowledge of wine, having picked grapes and made wine with my father as a kid. There is too much for anyone to know it all, and that is what makes it a lifelong experience. I agree that ratings are not gospel. I do think they appeal to the "lazy", and those with less confidence. I had a bottle of Justin Isosceles reserve over the holidays that was rated only 83 by a prominent publication and it was vastly more enjoyable to me than other wines they scored over 90 points. I think true wine enthusaists that have invested in their own wine education and tasting experience should just compare what the "experts" say with their own impression of a wine without thinking that the experts carry more weight than their own palatte.

    Jan 09, 2013 at 8:17 PM


  • Snooth User: timjim
    582104 26

    Toss out the numbers. Support your local wine sellers. Get to know their wine staff. Know what you can spend, splurge when you can. Buy something different EVERYTIME

    Jan 09, 2013 at 9:30 PM


  • Snooth User: JSIGLOBAL
    1161320 33

    Very well written and expressed. We have all tried Wines with high points and found some disappointing.
    It is a sellers tool.
    I trust only reading articles on expensive wines to find those that sound like they might
    fit my taste. You never really know till you taste for yourself.
    There aare wines that are not rated and those I search for to discover that hidden
    one with excetional taste. It is fun and enjoyable hobby. After 50 years of enjoying wines I have a good idea of regions that might reward me.
    The end result is we still need a Rating System but Develop your own Taste Rating and pass the information on to the readers at SNOOTH and please don't overdue the description with the banned words. Happy New Year and many good bottles to all.

    Jan 09, 2013 at 9:43 PM


  • Snooth User: jamessulis
    Hand of Snooth
    426220 1,483

    Of course another thing that should be mentioned is that everyone does not like the same thing as we all know. Wines fall into that category just like everything else we consume. I am a Cab lover, I know some of my relatives would not even accept a glass of red wine, they prefer white and that's fine, it's what's in their palate mind. Whatever your rating may be, sophisticated or simple like "that tastes great, I like that kind" it's still a rating of enjoyment and a barometer of what to look for in future wine purchases.

    Jan 09, 2013 at 10:58 PM


  • Snooth User: Brian Mack
    108176 25

    Sounds like it is time the ratings systems got overhauled, though I agree it's probably too entrenched in the marketing and promotion machine. We all buy our wines for a range of reasons - drink or keep, consume or resell, drink with friends and/or food - and though it's less of a bet as to whether the wine will be good at opening (thanks to plastic corks) it's still a bet as to whether we will be in a position to appreciate and like it. Maybe there's a need to develop ratings that recognise other aspects and motivations behind our wine purchases. Start from the proposition that no wine is bad and can become better in a variety of circumstances - ambience, company, time in bottle, versatility in getting paired with food, level of sophistication of the people drinking the wine - and assign marks for these. Is it a good expression of the varietal or is it thin? Drink it now or will it bear time in the bottle?

    Whatever, most of the ratings mean little to me since they get assigned to wines that I can rarely afford or gain access to. Word of mouth, sharing knowledge and democratisation of opinion via sites like Snooth is the way forward!

    Jan 10, 2013 at 12:20 AM


  • Snooth User: pikeman
    1060341 42

    Great article!!
    Everybody pretty well expressed anything I could add. I'm into the binary system too. I've found the staff at the places I buy wine to have good taste in the lower-priced wines I buy. I'm very cautious about buying higher-priced wine and expect that if it's expensive, it ought to be good. Of course, that's not always the case and my biggest pleasure is enjoying a cheap wonderful wine.

    Jan 10, 2013 at 8:49 AM


  • I had run into a similar situation with grading students in college. When the university awards only full letter grades A, B, C, then the cost of receiving a C is devastating to the grade point average and issuing a C would most likely result in a conference with the student and the dean to discuss the basis of the grade. So the addition of +A, A,-A, +B, B, -B having a range associated with a 100 point scale was introduced to further judge the quality of the student's performance. When the student's evaluation for college or graduate school is being based on the grade and competitive pressure, teachers and professors began to inflated or curved scores over the past two decades where the value of an A is questionable; and is an A in Introduction to Education equal in value to an A in Introduction of Chemistry. My point ... I have tasted and judged many Riesling which were excellent. In numerous competitions, several Rieslings from the NY Finger Lakes AVA have received double gold, yet the best rating I have seen is a 91 whereas Merlots, Cabernet Francs, Cabernet Sauvignons ... fine red wines in general have no problem achieving a +90 score routinely. The industry may have reached the point in time where due to the increasing quality of wines being produced that the point scale should be set within the wine's varietal only. As a consumer, I don't choose between buying a bottle of Zinfandel and Chardonnay, but which one from each category. The ultimate score will be based on your own taste, so take advantage of wine tastings offered and regularly visit wineries when possible. Cheers!

    Jan 10, 2013 at 9:47 AM


  • Snooth User: jdmunter
    362981 1

    while reading this, i kept thinking about a book that a friend suggeasted called, "for the love of wine." i apologize but i cannot recall who the author was. alice something. great story and a good view on the hypochrisy of the ratings system. as these are so subjective, like the rest of you, the ratings give me one view and only narrow the field a bit. thanks for the thoughts.

    Jan 10, 2013 at 9:54 AM


  • Snooth User: djlevin
    478367 156

    100 point system really has five ratings:

    96-100: Damn good juice.
    90-95: You can't go wrong.
    85-89: Not bad with food. Gift it to your uncle.
    80-85: It's barely drinkable, but cheap. Keep it in a brown bag while serving.
    1-79: It's loosely called wine. Don't let your cat drink it. It will kill him/her.

    Jan 10, 2013 at 10:33 AM


  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 204,561

    BING BING BING

    We have a winner!

    Though in all honesty I love most of those 85-89 pointers and keep them for myself. I've long said that 88points might just be the perfect score for a wine.

    Jan 10, 2013 at 11:31 AM


  • I sent a comment in, a good one I thought, but it is not listed despite being sent earlier than some newer ones. Please tell me why. sschafersman@gmail.com

    Jan 10, 2013 at 1:09 PM


  • Wine ratings are essential since few of us can taste every wine before buying it. As with many of your commenters, I have tasted (and rated) wines for many years and have developed a palate I trust. I have written and talked about wines to students, and I always tell them to develop their own palate and choose the wines they like to drink. But they have to start somewhere. Color, aromas, flavors, mouth feel, finish, complexity, and balance are subjective only to an untrained taster, so with experience, study, effort, and record-keeping, these wine factors become increasingly objective. Price and varietal are known factors that, when combined with an evaluation, allow one to reach a fairly objective wine rating.

    I recommend the Wine Spectator ratings, since to reach them several wine WS experts evaluate the same wines in a blind tasting and then compare and average results. This method removes a great deal if not all of the inherent subjectivity. I certainly have aligned my palate with WS ratings and find I can evaluate wines in a blind tasting and usually come within a point of any WS rating. I consider this a good thing and it allows me to choose the best wines I can afford. I enjoy paying less than $20 for a 90-93 point wine and these can be found in most wine stores. I also avoid the 80-85 point wines that sell for $35 . . . or more!

    Gregory is correct that wine ratings of some authors have been increasing in the last two decades or have always been inaccurate, but this hasn't been the case with WS. Twenty years ago my friends and I trusted Robert Parker and the Wine Advocate, but today I rely only on WS and my own palate. Once one studies wine for some time and has been able to taste several hundred wines, one can rely on one's own palate to evaluate and rate wines you are able to taste before buying. For many other wines, the ones you can't taste before buying, a rating or endorsement by someone you trust is essential.

    Jan 10, 2013 at 1:13 PM


  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 204,561

    Hi Scafers. No idea why your post did not show up previously. I don't delete responses here, perhaps you only pressed the submit button and not

    Jan 10, 2013 at 1:17 PM


  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 204,561

    the confirm button? Sorry I just tested out that hypothesis.

    Jan 10, 2013 at 1:18 PM


  • That must have been it. Sorry. I saw the post with a time stamp and thought that was it. I just decided to try again. Please feel free to delete my question and this conversation.

    Jan 10, 2013 at 1:22 PM


  • Snooth User: EMark
    Hand of Snooth
    847804 5,601

    Schafersman, I assume you had to re-key your comment. Thank you very much. I found your contribution to be very insightful. Specifically, the first paragraph is outstanding.

    Jan 10, 2013 at 2:41 PM


  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 204,561

    Yes, he makes a very good point.No pun intended. Points do help us, there is no doubt about it but the slavish devotion to point is what I find troubling, along with there sometimes indiscriminate nature.

    It seems to be that many people have lost sight of what 85 points means. 90 has slowly become the new 85 and so many wines either get overlooked, or over-rated because of it.

    Tasting wine is a deeply personal experience, and the professional business of wine criticism is quite the opposite and fundamentally flawed in my opinion, but there are few options. Many people need to take a step back from this whole business and start drinking wine again, as opposed to points. And to that point people need to stop seeing their own palates as flawed when the don't enjoy a highly rated wine and remember why they are drinking wine. Because it's fun and gives us pleasure, something points tend to suck out of the equation!

    Jan 10, 2013 at 9:06 PM


  • I like the points made above about Cellartracker. I have been a member for 7 years and have posted quite a lot of notes; and I never post scores. I also use it as a reference when making a purchase of perhaps a more expensive bottle; for inexpensive ones there should really be no great expectations. I do find some statistical significance can be obtained from a wide group of evaluations, even if there may be some wide variations in the set. Intuitively I find this more reassuring than a single "professional" rating; the irony there being that Cellartracker advises readers that these "amateur" notes are no substitute for a professional one.

    Jan 11, 2013 at 2:51 PM


  • Snooth User: hestamm
    1176940 24

    Interesting read and so are the comments. I use numerical ratings to assist my purchase choices. But I also use qualitative reviews. If it says too oaky or buttery and it's chardonnay, it's gonna be high on my must-try list. Elegant, food-friendly--these terms signal mean avoid to me. I like big, chunky, alcoholic, oaky, over-the-top flavors. So what a reviewer describes is just as helpful to me as the number. Over the past 40 years, I've learned the kinds of flavors I like & what I don't like. Like many have said, if it rates 85-89 and hits my descriptive criteria, I'm probably going to try it. I generally can't afford higher-rated wines regardless of descriptions. Anything above $15 is the real limiting factor in my selection choices (although I will spend $30 or more for a great big, oaky, alcoholic & buttery chardonnay simply because those are the only kinds of chardonnay that I find worth the time to drink).

    Jan 11, 2013 at 6:02 PM


  • Let me second what hestamm said: a qualitative description should always accompany a quantitative point rating. In fact, I would say the description is more important than a rating. I am pleased to observe that the little notes attached to the wine racks almost always include both a source-identified description and a point rating. Both are essential since a prospective wine buyer can't possibly taste each of the hundreds to thousands of wines in a store before purchasing. This is just good marketing.

    Jan 11, 2013 at 6:26 PM


  • I agree completely that a thorough qualitative description is essential in a note, regardless of the numerical score. In my own notes I try to paint a small picture of the wine, the context and a portrait of its features. I lack the ability to detect a thousand unique components in any wine; but sometimes I find those long lists of exotic adjectives a bit off-putting; sometimes less is more.

    Jan 11, 2013 at 7:30 PM


  • Snooth User: thomi
    279153 3

    I do not understand the concept of using a 100 point scale when in reality, it's only around 30 points you'll ever differentiate between... If I had to, I would rate using about 20 points. Trouble is, once I begin drinking and liking the wine, I usually begin enjoying the wine and forgetting to rate it.

    Jan 12, 2013 at 2:56 AM


  • Snooth User: Craig Bilodeau
    Hand of Snooth
    1042687 1,237

    This is a great article, Greg, though, as you state, a bit of a rant. It must be frustrating for someone in the wine industry, who is opposed, yet forced, to play the game. It would be like a person who really wants to improve the lives of others by going into public service, only to find that most of the others in public service play the game of politics to the extent that all benefit for the greater good is eroded to the point of non-existence. What's a person to do?

    Jan 12, 2013 at 11:24 AM


  • GDP, once again, you have gained (retained) my ultimate respect as the finest taste talent in the industry. Although I have long favored Quilceda Creek Cab, with several 100 point scores from Robert Parker, I have always felt that something in the world MUST be even better. Anyway, great rant; I'm happy to see others do it as I have done many times and paid the price. Keep up the great work.

    Jan 13, 2013 at 8:32 PM


  • The retail wine shops also add to the mischief. Shelf takers mention the rating of vintage X but vintage X + 1 year is often on the shelf. .. it makes one wonder if maybe the performance measure 'carried over' or not. And, in NJ where wines must go thru a distributor channel, a large shop(chain) can get a significant commission discount from the distributor on certain wines. This improves the store margin and is clearly a driver for the owner. If two taxonomically close reds are priced the same but one has a zero full cost margin (loss leader) and the other a buck fifty profit per bottle, you'll always see the latter at eye level in the store with loud rating shelf talkers while the former's description might bot even be listed.

    Jan 14, 2013 at 9:42 AM


  • There are a lot of salient points here. Suggestion for Mr Dal Piaz. You sent us several lists of the readers favorites at the end of the year. They are our FAVS because we can find them, and they are in our budget. Please go out and buy the lists, taste them, and write to us what you "point each wine at". Its cool then to upscale us on your fancier wines that go our favorites 'one better'
    I used the list in a panic buy for my/our 36-38 year anniversary. Its somewhere in there, if it doesn't end in 0 or 5, its really been celebrated enough. Anyway- Cupcake Red Velvet, a dozen roses and on sale scallops may have saved the marriage for just one more year. I loved it, she can almost drink me pretty with it, so we've bought about a case little by little until the vintage year is kaput. I bought in to your post on flavors and styles more than points, so I won't be hurt if you give it one point for each year of marriage. IF you say vibrant red fruit, tangy, but not a zin burn, no oak, best drunk the first night, I'll look for those descriptors because I've tasted that wine "with you'.

    Jan 14, 2013 at 10:12 PM


  • Snooth User: Maguno
    482958 61

    Bravo Mr. Gregory Dal Piaz... IL mio rispetto per questo articolo davvero interesante! Mr. Piaz thanks for professional insights and explaining the notion of Point giving.

    I want you to assure you that even though people like me follow-up reading this article... it is influencial I may say.

    I also agree that literacy level of any individual in wines reflects the actual credibilty of wine tasting and rating. I'll be honest with you even though I am from one of the countries that are deemed to a cradle of wine making Georgia (The Caucasus state washed by the Black Sea), I think twice before recommending Gergian wines to someone else.

    All in all market trends and rules of consumerism are rather powerful and realistic. However, wine business folks must realize also the fact that we are working with human being, deluding the consumers don't always work... Today we have internet, travel opportunities are vast to big wine supplying countries as Italy, France, Australia, the USA etc. In modern global village (I mean the earth) consumers are prone to self-education techniques.

    Anyway, I enjoyed reading the article... I am sure some of you points I'll use my self-enology quest.

    Jan 25, 2013 at 7:03 AM


  • Snooth User: Kovas 50 States Of Wine
    Hand of Snooth
    1278950 407

    I'm not a big fan of ratings, just because of how individual tastes are from person to person. I've found that I even change my mind if we open a second bottle of the same wine in an evening -- not sure if the difference is in the bottle or in my response, but in either case it shows the fallibility of assigning a score to a product that is changing from moment to moment.

    May 28, 2013 at 7:10 PM


  • Snooth User: BigBooyaw
    1039647 6

    Those ratings are bias, and I agree to your statement regarding laziness.

    Jul 10, 2013 at 5:13 PM


  • Really good

    Aug 03, 2013 at 12:14 AM


  • Snooth User: Mydietarea
    1328028 33

    Great article Greg.

    Aug 03, 2013 at 1:31 AM


  • This is a great article.

    Aug 03, 2013 at 1:39 AM


  • Its useful :)

    Aug 03, 2013 at 1:49 AM


  • Its incredible :)

    Aug 03, 2013 at 6:15 AM


  • Highly informative...

    Aug 05, 2013 at 4:42 AM


  • Great prospect

    Aug 05, 2013 at 4:58 AM


  • This is awesome!

    Aug 12, 2013 at 2:08 AM


  • Snooth User: hollydray
    1331306 37

    Its nice

    Aug 13, 2013 at 4:43 AM


  • Snooth User: hollydray
    1331306 37


    Thats superb...

    Aug 13, 2013 at 5:00 AM


  • Another great read, Greg - I really enjoy your writing.

    Aug 14, 2013 at 12:20 AM


  • wonderful!

    Aug 16, 2013 at 11:07 AM


  • Thats superb...

    Aug 17, 2013 at 1:56 AM


  • Tremendous...

    Aug 20, 2013 at 2:33 AM


  • great

    Aug 20, 2013 at 4:21 AM


  • Its useful :)

    Aug 30, 2013 at 6:07 AM


  • Snooth User: WesZemel
    1338755 33

    brilliant

    Sep 04, 2013 at 11:26 AM


  • excellent

    Sep 05, 2013 at 5:22 PM


  • awesome

    Sep 06, 2013 at 12:54 AM


  • fantastic

    Sep 06, 2013 at 8:33 PM


  • Its nice

    Sep 07, 2013 at 12:44 AM


  • Good one

    Sep 07, 2013 at 4:40 AM


  • Snooth User: irategoal
    1339624 38

    Awe-inspiring...!!

    Sep 07, 2013 at 4:57 AM


  • Thats cooler...

    Sep 07, 2013 at 5:53 AM


  • excellent

    Sep 08, 2013 at 10:44 AM


  • Snooth User: lumpyflink
    1339865 37

    fabulous

    Sep 09, 2013 at 4:12 AM


  • tremendous

    Sep 10, 2013 at 12:04 AM


  • Snooth User: gunsblack
    1341059 34

    Incredibly good...!!

    Sep 11, 2013 at 12:59 AM


  • excellent

    Sep 11, 2013 at 4:36 PM


  • Incredible...!!

    Sep 12, 2013 at 11:55 PM


  • Splendid

    Sep 13, 2013 at 10:27 AM


  • Personally I will read a wine rating but I won't buy according to them, I have this believe of trying everything ones and keeping the good... It is all about personal taste and then also affordability.

    Sep 17, 2013 at 2:51 AM


  • Splendid article, so informative.

    Sep 18, 2013 at 4:06 AM


  • Fascinating article, thank you!!

    Sep 19, 2013 at 3:10 AM


  • Tremendous...!!

    Sep 19, 2013 at 3:28 AM


  • fabulous

    Sep 20, 2013 at 1:23 AM


  • Snooth User: MatildaEva
    1368891 18

    Oh wow, fabulous article, so amazing.

    Sep 20, 2013 at 3:52 AM


  • fantastic

    Sep 20, 2013 at 10:47 AM


  • Snooth User: panelgrove
    1370044 33

    Thats beneficial

    Sep 23, 2013 at 12:52 AM


  • Snooth User: ToSLawyer
    1369283 31

    Good one

    Sep 23, 2013 at 4:51 AM


  • Snooth User: winkscete
    1372394 30

    Tremendous...

    Sep 24, 2013 at 1:07 AM


  • Spectacular...!!

    Sep 26, 2013 at 1:53 AM


  • tremendous

    Sep 26, 2013 at 3:41 PM


  • Thats superb..

    Sep 27, 2013 at 4:59 AM


  • Thats outstanding

    Sep 30, 2013 at 2:21 AM


  • Snooth User: samoangrid
    1379445 33

    Fabulous...!!

    Oct 07, 2013 at 12:08 AM


  • Snooth User: knotbirds
    1380229 34

    You know what you should do is share your preferences, there might be someone out there looking for the guidance you have to offer.

    Oct 09, 2013 at 3:16 AM


  • This is so great!

    Oct 09, 2013 at 10:51 PM


  • Snooth User: cornempty
    1380622 37

    extraordinary

    Oct 10, 2013 at 2:04 AM


  • Snooth User: burlypear
    1383363 35

    Its outstanding

    Oct 17, 2013 at 7:13 AM


  • Snooth User: baldytrip
    1385272 33

    Splendid article, so informative.

    Oct 21, 2013 at 11:03 PM


  • Snooth User: languidbox
    1385782 33

    Another great read, Greg - I really enjoy your writing.

    Oct 23, 2013 at 5:18 AM


  • Snooth User: wildunique
    1390221 33

    Schafersman, I assume you had to re-key your comment. Thank you very much. I found your contribution to be very insightful. Specifically, the first paragraph is outstanding.

    Oct 31, 2013 at 12:03 AM


  • This is so great!

    Nov 04, 2013 at 3:15 AM


  • I have come to realize that the benefit of ratings is the establishment of some benchmark of quality.

    Nov 05, 2013 at 12:57 AM


  • the confirm button? Sorry I just tested out that hypothesis.

    Nov 05, 2013 at 12:57 AM



  • Spectacular...!!

    Nov 07, 2013 at 4:18 AM


  • Snooth User: poleerst
    1400658 33

    Another great read, Greg - I really enjoy your writing.

    Nov 08, 2013 at 12:21 AM


  • Thats very good...

    Nov 08, 2013 at 4:58 AM


  • Striking

    Nov 09, 2013 at 5:06 AM


  • Snooth User: purrflimsy
    1400671 35

    Outstanding

    Nov 11, 2013 at 1:34 AM


  • Brilliant!

    Nov 13, 2013 at 1:23 AM


  • Snooth User: tribezeal
    1409982 34

    incredibly good :)

    Nov 19, 2013 at 12:38 AM


  • Snooth User: jmacstory
    1410141 35

    Good one

    Nov 19, 2013 at 4:57 AM


  • Extremely good...!!

    Nov 26, 2013 at 1:34 AM


  • This is awesome!

    Dec 11, 2013 at 4:43 AM


  • Snooth User: dullmagic
    1422725 26

    Magnificent...!!

    Dec 11, 2013 at 4:47 AM




  • Thats really good

    Dec 12, 2013 at 12:58 AM


  • Good one

    Dec 12, 2013 at 1:39 AM


  • Nice...!!

    Dec 12, 2013 at 11:15 PM


  • Its tremendous

    Dec 13, 2013 at 3:55 AM


  • Thats breathtaking...

    Dec 15, 2013 at 11:13 PM



  • Its brilliant :)

    Dec 16, 2013 at 12:29 AM


  • Snooth User: fitssling
    1426660 33

    very good :)

    Dec 17, 2013 at 11:57 PM


  • nice

    Dec 18, 2013 at 12:07 AM


  • Its useful

    Dec 19, 2013 at 11:35 PM


  • Fascinating article, thank you!!

    Dec 20, 2013 at 5:23 AM


  • great

    Dec 21, 2013 at 1:02 AM



  • Outstanding

    Dec 21, 2013 at 2:21 AM


  • Thats superb

    Dec 28, 2013 at 1:39 AM


  • Snooth User: kaputscrub
    1451630 33

    GOOD...

    Jan 09, 2014 at 11:58 PM


  • Its tremendous

    Jan 15, 2014 at 11:34 PM


  • Tremendous...!!

    Jan 16, 2014 at 4:31 AM


  • Terrific...!!

    Jan 16, 2014 at 5:04 AM


  • Snooth User: nicemind
    1454655 32

    Excellent...!!

    Jan 16, 2014 at 10:07 PM


  • Its astonishing :)

    Jan 17, 2014 at 2:09 AM


  • Spectacular...!!

    Jan 21, 2014 at 11:07 PM


  • Snooth User: bluffpole
    1456192 32

    interesting

    Jan 22, 2014 at 5:35 AM


  • Thats great...

    Jan 23, 2014 at 5:04 AM


  • Snooth User: alertable
    1460203 33

    Thats great...

    Jan 29, 2014 at 2:17 AM



  • Its breathtaking :)

    Feb 01, 2014 at 1:38 AM


  • Snooth User: tokcowboys
    1461497 33

    Its incredible

    Feb 01, 2014 at 4:52 AM


  • Amazing...!!

    Feb 04, 2014 at 12:24 AM


  • Tremendous...!!

    Feb 04, 2014 at 12:55 AM



  • Thats fascinating

    Feb 06, 2014 at 1:01 AM


  • Its breathtaking :)

    Feb 23, 2014 at 10:47 PM


  • Thats magnificent

    Feb 24, 2014 at 12:20 AM


  • Snooth User: friedtoys
    1471719 32

    good

    Feb 24, 2014 at 12:59 AM


  • Snooth User: bryanchen
    1474329 33


    Its astonishing :)

    Mar 03, 2014 at 4:00 AM


  • Snooth User: mistywax
    1475372 33


    This is beautiful.

    Mar 06, 2014 at 2:27 AM


  • Snooth User: luckjoiner
    1475796 33

    Really good

    Mar 07, 2014 at 4:54 AM


  • Snooth User: wesguthrie
    1476154 33

    Its brilliant :)

    Mar 08, 2014 at 1:23 AM


  • Snooth User: hamgreasy
    1476950 33

    super

    Mar 10, 2014 at 12:02 AM


  • Its good

    Mar 11, 2014 at 12:59 AM


  • Snooth User: popcornpop
    1484172 33

    Its wonderful

    Mar 28, 2014 at 3:11 AM




  • Useful...!!

    Mar 28, 2014 at 4:37 AM


  • Snooth User: SpikeyGH
    1447498 19

    OK, so why am I seeing this only after buying nearly 50 assorted bottles using points and reviews as my judge. Thanks towards my next wiser purchase :-)

    Mar 30, 2014 at 12:49 PM


  • Thats helpful

    Mar 31, 2014 at 5:36 AM


  • Thats magnificent

    Apr 04, 2014 at 12:51 AM


  • Snooth User: jumboneedy
    1487285 34


    Its wonderful :)

    Apr 04, 2014 at 2:40 AM


  • Snooth User: aloofhill
    1487781 34

    Really good...!!

    Apr 05, 2014 at 4:44 AM


  • Snooth User: cofflesour
    1488585 33


    Hip

    Apr 07, 2014 at 1:13 AM


  • Snooth User: pullriding
    1488598 33

    Thats really good

    Apr 07, 2014 at 2:22 AM


  • Snooth User: markflock
    1488586 33

    Tremendous...!!

    Apr 07, 2014 at 2:30 AM


  • Snooth User: beerbetter
    1489014 34

    Thats impressive...

    Apr 08, 2014 at 4:42 AM


  • Snooth User: grimtooth
    1493754 32


    Its helpful

    Apr 19, 2014 at 2:07 AM


  • Snooth User: rabbitspot
    1493740 33

    Its wonderful :)

    Apr 19, 2014 at 3:02 AM


  • Thats brilliant

    Apr 20, 2014 at 11:41 PM


  • Impressive

    Apr 21, 2014 at 1:25 AM


  • Snooth User: brothgoose
    1494537 34

    great

    Apr 21, 2014 at 2:58 AM


  • Snooth User: pasttile
    1496873 33

    Interesting

    Apr 26, 2014 at 1:10 AM




  • Phenomenal

    Apr 29, 2014 at 3:03 AM


  • Thats outstanding

    Apr 29, 2014 at 4:35 AM


  • Snooth User: furiousloo
    1498002 33

    OK, so why am I seeing this only after buying nearly 50 assorted bottles using points and reviews as my judge. Thanks towards my next wiser purchase :-)

    May 01, 2014 at 11:10 PM


  • Snooth User: rainmagma
    1501318 36

    nice

    May 08, 2014 at 2:33 AM


  • Its tremendous

    May 08, 2014 at 6:05 AM


  • Snooth User: burylot
    1501708 36

    great

    May 09, 2014 at 1:29 AM



  • Thats astonishing...

    May 19, 2014 at 11:11 PM


  • Snooth User: roastspry
    1506225 31

    Thats superb...

    May 21, 2014 at 11:55 PM


  • Great

    May 22, 2014 at 3:21 AM



  • Its extraordinary

    May 27, 2014 at 1:38 AM


  • Snooth User: tilegroin
    1510117 33

    Thats astonishing..

    Jun 05, 2014 at 5:50 AM


  • Thats helpful...

    Jun 10, 2014 at 6:07 AM


  • Neat...!!

    Jun 11, 2014 at 12:40 AM


  • Its tremendous

    Jun 12, 2014 at 1:26 AM


  • Snooth User: hoopssnow
    1511940 50

    Its extremely good

    Jun 12, 2014 at 1:45 AM


  • Snooth User: hoopssnow
    1511940 50

    Thats marvelous...

    Jun 12, 2014 at 2:02 AM


  • Snooth User: baronto
    1511972 32

    Its ideal :)

    Jun 12, 2014 at 2:09 AM


  • Its brilliant

    Jun 13, 2014 at 12:26 AM


  • Snooth User: lackriding
    1512506 63

    This is so great!

    Jun 16, 2014 at 12:16 AM


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