What do “Wine Ratings” mean?

What do “Wine Ratings” mean?

We often hear about “wine ratings” or see the tags on bottles, wine lists and package goods store shelves. Without a basic understanding, these ratings could seem daunting. Basically, though, it’s pretty simple: the higher the rating number, the better the wine according to the editor(s).

Two major influencers in the world of wine ratings are Wine Spectator and The Wine Advocate, Robert Parker. To help us understand how wines are rated and by whom, below are excerpts from the two sources describing their process of developing their ratings.

Wine Spectator

Each wine region is the sole jurisdiction of one editor who has developed an expertise in that region’s offerings. Other editors can offer opinions, but the final say comes from the region’s primary editor.

Reviewers & Regions:
James Laube -California (primary taster)
Harvey Steiman – Washington State, Oregon, Australia, New Zealand
Bruce Sanderson – Burgundy, Champagne, Germany, Italy
Kim Marcus – Portugal (including Port), Languedoc-Rousillon(Southern France), Austria, Greece
Thomas Matthews – Spain, New York
James Molesworth – Bordeaux, Loire Valley, Rhone Valley, South Africa, Argentina, Chile, Finger Lakes (NY)
Alison Napjus – Alsace
Jo Cooke – Veneto region of Italy
MaryAnn Worobiec – California
Tim Fish – California
James Suckling, retired as of July 2010 – former beats: Bordeaux, Italy, Port

All tastings are conducted “blind.” Tasters are told the type of wine (varietal or region) and vintage. Flawed wines or wines that score very highly are re-tasted. European wines are sometimes tasted in the districts that yield them, where fresher, perfectly stored examples will be readily available. Wine ratings are based on how good a wine will be when it reaches its peak, regardless of how soon that will be. If barrel samples are being rated rather than finished wines, that is revealed.

Wine Spectator’s 100-Point Scale:
95-100 — Classic; a great wine
90-94 — Outstanding; superior character and style
80-89 — Good to very good; wine with special qualities
70-79 — Average; drinkable wine that may have minor flaws
60-69 — Below average; drinkable but not recommended
50-59 — Poor; undrinkable, not recommended

The Wine Advocate

Robert Parker is a renowned wine critic and publisher of The Wine Advocate. Parker is not the only critic at the Advocate and many wines are tasted by colleagues at the publication. Note that an RP next to a wine means that it was rated by Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, not necessarily Robert Parker himself.

Reviewers & Regions:
Robert Parker – Bordeaux, Rhone, California (until late 2011)
Antonio Galloni – Italy, Burgundy and California (starting late 2011)
Jay Miller – Oregon, Washington, Spain, Australia, South America and Vintage Ports
Mark Squires – Israel, Greece, Lebanon, Cyprus, Bulgaria and Romania
Neil Martin – Some Bordeaux & other regions
David Schildknecht – Germany, Austria, Eastern Europe, America’s Eastern & Midwestern wineries, Alsace, Burgundy, the Loire Valley, Languedoc-Roussillon, Champagne, New Zealand and South Africa
Other contributors include Karen MacNeil, Lisa Perrotti-Brown, MW and Kevin Zraly.

Tastings are conducted in peer group, single-blind conditions, which means the same types of wines are tasted against each other and the wineries’ names are not revealed, so niether price nor the reputation of the winery influences the rating in any way. If tasted several times, the scores represent a cumulative average. Overall, the score assigned to a specific wine reflects the quality of the wine at its best. Parker encourages readers to rely on the score with the written notes rather than the score alone.

The Wine Advocate’s 100-Point Scale:
96-100 — Extraordinary; a classic wine of its variety
90-95 — Outstanding; exceptional complexity and character
80-89 — Barely above average to very good; wine with various degrees of flavor
70-79 — Average; little distinction beyond being soundly made
60-69 — Below average; drinkable, but containing noticeable deficiencies
50-59 — Poor; unacceptable, not recommended

While ratings can be very helpful in selecting wines, as always, drink what you like!

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