Wine of the Week

The Ultimate Guide To The Wine Rating System

The difference between a 94 point wine and a 95 point wine will shock you.

Have you ever walked into the wine section of a liquor store and seen the shelves lined with different numbers? What the heck do these numbers mean? Should we even consider these numbers when purchasing a wine?

Your gut would say that the higher the rating, the better the wine. But, how true is that?

Here’s everything you need to know about who rates these wines, how they’re rated, and what the points mean.

90 point wine score explained

What’s The Purpose of the Wine Score?

The most obvious answer is that the wine score is used to help consumers decide what to buy. If I’m stuck between two wines that are similarly priced, chances are I’ll go with the one rated 91 Points over the 89 Point wine. 

The wine score is also a great way for wine critics to express their opinions of these wines in a quick and readable way. Other than judging a wine based on its label, how do you know you’ll like it? I usually look up reviews if there’s no note description, but the point system is a good indicator of if a wine is high quality or not.

The third purpose of the wine score is to market wines. The score system is universal, meaning if a wine is rated 100 points in your local wine store and you gift it to a friend, they will also know it’s an 100 point wine because it’s not your local wine store owner rating the wine. So that brings us to our next point…

90 point wine score explained

Who’s In Charge of the Wine Score?

For some reason, I always thought the wine score was based off of the same couple of people sitting in a dark room drinking wine every day and determining a wine’s rating. However ridiculous my imagination may be, I may not be too far off.

The point system that we all know and love was introduced by Robert M. Parker, Jr. and has been the standard for a couple decades. It’s a scale that goes from 50-100 points. The ratings that we see on our shelves could be based on his personal rating, or ratings used in publications like Wine EnthusiastWine Spectator, and Wine Advocate. Another thing to keep in mind is that these tastings are usually blind to avoid any type of bias.

90 point wine score explained

What do the Points Mean Already???

Like I just “point”ed out (pun intended), the point system doesn’t start at 0 but rather begins at 50. So here’s the most popular translation of the point system:

  • 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
90 point wine score explained

So…The Higher The Rating, The Better The Wine. Right?

Nope! But that’s great marketing for you. The scale doesn’t rate based on taste. It actually rates the wine based on quality and typicity, or how well the wine fits the characteristics of the style of wine and the region it’s from. That means a 95 Point Riesling is different from a 95 Point Cabernet. 

In fact, most wines are never even tasted and rated. And there’s even a whole debate in the wine community that during Robert Parker’s heyday, wine companies altered their wines to fit his very public taste and preference. This even has a name, “Parkerization”. Although some close to him claim that this is a total myth, one thing’s for sure: the alcohol levels soared in the wine areas he specialized in, like Bordeaux, Burgundy and California Cabernet Sauvignon. Thanks Bob Parker!

90 point wine score explained

How Do The Critics Even Come Up With The Points?

Contrary to my previous belief, critics don’t just swish around a wine, taste it and say “yup, that’s a 92-er all right”. There’s an actual scoring method that they follow that looks like this:

90 point wine explained

Although this doesn’t look like rocket science, you need a very refined palette to be able to create these distinctions. Notice how “flavor” is just the tasting notes and how long the finish lasts, it has nothing to do with the deliciousness of the wine.

90 point wine score explained

The Problem With Wine Ratings

At this point, you can probably guess that this isn’t a foolproof system. Some issues that I mentioned before are that there are tons of unrated wines out there, and that wines with the same points are rated very different. In fact, there’s tons of other criticism towards the wine rating scale. 

First off, critics have different opinions. My Wine of the Week column for example, features mostly dry white wines and roses. So if I were rating a sweet Riesling or Moscato, fuggedaboutit. They just wouldn’t score as well. Also, some critics are known to be crabby and always rate low so just keep that in mind.

Second, have you ever seen anything score lower than 80 Points? That’s because low ratings are almost never advertised. You won’t see your local wine store boasting a 73 Point wine. In fact, most score between 85-100 points, which means they’re either very good, outstanding or a classic wine.

The final criticism that this rating scale receives is that is discourages individuality. Remember “Parkerization” from earlier? Well, global winemakers lean towards producing a homogenous style of wine so that they can rate higher because our brains are programmed to pick the higher rated wine without knowing the backstory of how they’re rated.

90 point wine score explained

So How Do I Pick Out A Good Wine???

Now that I’ve scrambled your brain and made a seemingly innocent point system seem completely unreliable, here’s how to pick a good wine:

1. Taste it.

2. Is it good?

3. Congrats! It’s a good wine.

With anything, there’s gonna have to be some trial and error especially if you’re new to wine. There’s types of wine that I steer clear of because I know I hate them (so you wont see me picking up an 100 point Moscato anytime soon). So I stick to the types of wines I like. And if you find a really good wine, find out the region it’s from. Over time as you sample around you’ll be able to figure out your own flavor profile and what your prefer.

Another great way to determine if a wine is good is by looking up reviews online from real people like you! I like Total Wine and Vivino the best for on-the-go reviews, but there’s thousands of wine bloggers like me that review wines regularly. 

What other wine questions do you guys want answered? Let me know in the comments below. Cheers! 🍷

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