Wine Scores: What they’re all About?

Before I reveal the magic number, a few observations about wine scores. British wine critic Jancis Robinson MW, who uses a 20 point scale, has commented that she’s “not a great fan of the conjunction of numbers and wine. Once numbers are involved, it is all too easy to reduce wine to a financial commodity rather than keep its precious status as a uniquely stimulating source of sensual pleasure and conviviality.”

Robert Parker Jr invented the 100 point scale for wine

Her view is definitely not shared by Robert Parker Jr, the inventor of the ubiquitous 100 point scale, which was based on the American standardised high school grading system because it was familiar and easy to understand. On his website Parker emphatically states: “While some have suggested that scoring is not well suited to a beverage that has been romantically extolled for centuries, wine is no different from any consumer product. There are specific standards of quality that full-time wine professionals recognize, and there are benchmark wines against which others can be judged.”

While he goes on to say “that the numerical ratings are utilized only to enhance and complement the thorough tasting notes, which are my primary means of communicating my judgments to you,” he acknowledges that “scoring permits rapid communication of information to expert and novice alike.”

The Importance of Wine Scores

Indeed! Parker’s Wine Advocate, together with other influential publications like the Wine Spectator and James Halliday’s Australian Wine Companion, which both followed Parker’s lead in embracing the 100 point wine scoring system, have been enormously important in broadening appeal and appreciation for fine wine over the past 30 years. And for Australian wines to be awarded high scores, especially when judged against the world’s best, proved a real boon to exports and international recognition.

How Parker Scores the Wine

Parker’s high-scoring wine reviews are sometimes criticised for driving up wine prices and influencing or, even, homogenising wine styles, but his knowledge of his subject and rigorous approach to tasting wines has earned him a legion of fans who have placed an enormous amount of trust in his judgement.

By way of example, for a wine to receive a heady 100 points, it must achieve a perfect score of 50 against the following criteria:

  • up to 5 points for general colour and appearance
  • up to 15 points for aroma and bouquet
  • up to 20 points for flavour and finish
  • up to 10 points for further evolution and improvement

With few exceptions, tastings for wines above $25 per bottle are done in peer-group, single-blind conditions (ie. the same types of wines are tasted against each other and the producers’ names are not known). Further, many of the wines are tasted again over the years so the Wine Advocate reviewers can re-look at how the wine is evolving. The score next to the wine represents a cumulative average of the wine’s performance in tastings to date.

The Magic Number

In fact, the number of Australian wines which have earned a spot on the coveted 100 point list would have been higher than 20 except for the fact that at least one wine, the Chris Ringland (formerly Three Rivers) Shiraz 1996, was re-rated at 98 points in 2010.

Next, we’ll take a look at the Aussie wines that made the grade. A few of the entries may surprise you!

Merrill Witt, Editor