For reference I've included the Parker ranges below. Generally, as their website states: "Wines rated 85 and above are very good to excellent and any wine rated 90 or above will be outstanding... " This puts everything below 84 to 'average or barely average' and for 70 points, wines 'with little distinction', then below 70, 'flawed to undrinkable'.
- 96 - 100 An extraordinary wine of profound and complex character displaying all the attributes expected of a classic wine of its variety. Wines of this calibre are worth a special effort to find, purchase, and consume.
- 90 - 95 An outstanding wine of exceptional complexity and character. In short, these are terrific wines.
- 80 - 89 A barely above average to very good wine displaying various degrees of finesse and flavour as well as character with no noticeable flaws.
- 70 - 79 An average wine with little distinction except that it is a soundly made. In essence, a straightforward, innocuous wine.
- 60 - 69 A below average wine containing noticeable deficiencies, such as excessive acidity and/or tannin, an absence of flavour, or possibly dirty aromas or flavours.
- 50 - 59 A wine deemed to be unacceptable.
Variations of WARS or completely new systems are often used. For instance, the Wine Access tasting panel uses a slightly changed 100 point system putting a flawed wine below 80. This tends to push average wines, in the 70 to 79 WARS range, into the 'above 80' range. Consequently it's not surprising to see more 70+ wines given 80+ in their reviews.
Wine Access uses:
- 95 - 100 Outstanding qualities and exciting to drink. Defines grape and origin with exquisite harmony, fascinating, complexity and great depth.
- 90 - 94 Excellent quality, providing great pleasure to drink. Exemplary expression of grape and origin, and offers very fine balance, complexity and depth.
- 85 - 89 Very good quality and enjoyable to drink. Expresses its grape and origin well, and provides good complexity, balance and depth.
- 80 - 84 Good quality and drinkable. Recognizable grape and origin, perhaps masked by minor flaws. Balanced and basically correct, but simple.
- Below 80 Has flaws that compromise character.
VINES magazine uses:
- 5 Stars Exceptional quality. Simply superlative.
- 4 Stars Very good example with solid style and character.
- 3 Stars Good wine, well worth trying.
- 2 Stars Drinkable wine, with sound commercial qualities
- 1 Star Poor or substandard wine, best avoided.
- 5 Stars Wines achieving nirvana
- 4 Stars Wines of excellence
- 3 Stars Wines well worth trying
- 2 Stars Wines below average, but drinkable
- 1 Star Wines better avoided, unless desperate
- 5 Stars It’s hard to imagine better quality (94-100 points)
- 4.5 Stars Excellent quality (90 – 93 points)
- 4 Stars Very good quality (87-89 points)
- 3.5 Stars Good quality (85-86 points)
- 3 Stars Well-made but without distinction (82-84 points)
- 2 Stars Not used
- 1 Star Not used
Two quite different and interesting systems are the Wine Spider (shown) and The Three Stooges.
Things to exclude when rating a wine:
- Price is not involved.
- Style is not involved. E.g. don't rate a riesling differently because it's a kabinett.
- Grape is not involved. If you don't like a grape don't rate it. For instance, Foch and Pinotage are not big on my flavour parade. Rather than rate these I skip them.
- Incidentals don't count. E.g. It doesn't matter if a 'flying consultant' has blessed the grapes or if the vines are a century old, etc.
- There is nothing about how the wine is presented: artistic rendering of the label or the foiling or cork detail. I don't choose a wine for its packaging but for its appropriateness to an event or meal. Maybe this condition gets warped if there's a wedding or other nuptial where the overall presentation could be a higher priority.
In the following I've summarized the WARS components as a series of questions. The system is the same as above except for the changes to Potential and an emphasis on Typicity or trueness. Whether red or white, bubbly or still, they equally apply. Each trait is stated in a general context not influenced by an actual instance of the trait.
- Base : 50
- Colour: 5 Are natural tints reflected cleanly? Does it glisten with clarity?
- Nose: 15 Do the aromas correspond to the fruit and terroir claimed for its origin?
- Flavour & Finish: 20 Is the wine a simple presentation or are there extra nuances expressing the varietal or blend? On the first sip, does the texture and body reflect the labelled process and/or blending? How does the wine leave your senses? Whether fading slowly or quickly, with marked change in any of the traits you've sensed, or are new facets of the varietal or process introduced? Do the changes detract or add to your enjoyment?
- Potential: 5 Will the wine improve in character and value with long term (5 - 10 years) cellaring?
- Typicity: 5 How closely does the wine represent the varietal or blend it represents? Tartness, tannin, sweetness, process influences all contribute to a balanced sensation on the palate. Each contributes its own distinct sensation not interfering with the contribution of others but complementing them. How balance affects overall enjoyment can be the most difficult to assess, and easiest to overlook, but often makes the difference between 'average', 'good' and 'excellent'. Is the wine balanced or is it missing some varietal texture - ie. is it lopsided?
Next time you are tasting a recommended wine tabulate your own evaluation. How closely does your rating come to that of the reviewer? And don't forget... your ratings are the correct ones for you.
Ww (updated July 9, 2008)