Reading through the wineanorak blog,
I came across Jamie’s comments on the Decanter tasting panel’s use of
the 20 point scoring system versus the Parker/Wine Spectator 100 point
Having started my wine qualifications in South Africa
through the Cape Wine Academy, the norm was always to use the 20 point scoring
system. Namely 3/3 for colour, 7/7 for Nose and 10/10 for Palate, giving you a
score out of 20. To be absolutely honest, I always felt that this scoring system
lacked sufficient means of personal (though of course objective) expression.
Scoring out or 20 was like giving a wine a very basic summary score without
being able to allude to anything more intimate or descriptive. At a glance, you
could see a wine made 17 or 17.5 out or 20 and you knew it would be pretty good.
But that’s about all. Even though at the time I was a total novice, I was just
not content with the 20 point system.
Apparently devised at UC Davis (though I bow to
anyone’s better knowledge), the 20 point system was widely adopted in South
Africa and continues to be the main method of scoring wines in competitions and
for wine guides. I fondly remember attending the Cape Wine Master’s 1996
Claret Tasting in Johannesburg and tasting for the first time in a long while,
some of the best classed growth clarets from Bordeaux. I of course eagerly
scored the wines out of 20. However, when individuals were asked to comment on
certain wines, I remember the boyfriend of one of the younger female Cape Wine
Masters standing up and describing his notes on the 1996 Pichon Longueville
Baron, and more interestingly, scoring it 96 out of 100. Several people did a
‘double-take’ including myself.
Even though I was too scared to attempt this scoring
method, I was intrigued by the extra expression that this scoring seemed to lend
to the person’s description and evaluation. From then on, I decided that the
100 point score would have to be the way forward and whatever my personally
inadequacies or lack of experience, I would have to make a start sooner or later
with the 100 point system.
Funnily enough, at first I found it easy to score
wines rated say, between 85 and 95, but hesitated with making scores above or
below this mark. But eventually I discovered that this was merely because most
wines ARE indeed well made these days and rarely crack a 75 or 80 unless they
are very boring and a bit deficient in some way. Also, you can’t look to push
a score over 90 or 95 if the quality is not there. The subtleties become so much
While today I like to feel that I am a lot more
proficient using the 100 point scoring system, I still pause for added thought
when I taste a shocker that could just be a 78 or a 79 pointer! However, when I
taste a potential 98 or 100 point wine, it hits you between the eyes and there
is no doubting the quality and comparative step-up in complexity.
But sometimes it is possible for an extraordinary 100
point scoring wine to make this system seem like it is lacking another 10+
points to do the wine justice. My favourite illustration of this was at a
tasting in Oberhauser in the Nahe, Germany, with Helmut Donnhoff in 2003. After
rating his entire range of 2002s we finally ended with his prized Eiswein 2002.
Amazing!! Nothing else left in the repertoire but to score it 100/100 points
based on the quality and comparative scores of the Auslese and other Gold
Capsule wines. So that was it, my first 100 point score, or so I thought.
That’s when Helmut pulled out a solitary bottle of his 1998 Eiswein! The extra
age and tertiary development made for a wine of incredible, breathtaking
complexity. Hence the problem. Even though the 1998 was at least 10 to 15
percent better than the younger more primary 2002, and yet another step up in
complexity, balance and concentration, this wine had to score the same as the
2002. If the scoring system had allowed it, this could easily have been a 110
Perhaps it is time wine writers, wine journalists and
industry commentators took a moment to try and make sure there is greater
uniformity in scoring procedures around the world – for the sake of the
consumer, towards whom all of this written media is targeted. In fact, I still
feel a little awkward when I read Jancis Robinson’s scores out of 20. They
seem to lack expression as the jump between a 17 point wine and 19 point wine
can be so large in reality.
Take the ongoing saga of Chateau Pavie 2003. She
scored the wine 12/20 and Parker gave the wine 96–100/100. Hang on a second I
hear you say, they both can’t be correct! Well, if they are scoring the wines
subjectively, then they can both be right. But I have always been led to believe
that ‘professional’ wine evaluation and scoring should be as objective as
possible. Otherwise, how else could a person who perhaps dislikes sweet wines
(I’m not referring to myself!!), taste a bottle of Donnhoff Eiswein and score
it 100 points, or taste a bottle of Chateau d’Yquem and score it equivalently,
regardless of their personal preferences? It can only be done with a certain
level of experience and objectivity. When reading tasting scores, consumers want
to know about the relative quality of a wine within a given context, not whether
one or another taster personally liked it! In the Pavie case, it comes down to
personal preference. And that’s all. Parker’s evaluation is perhaps a more
realistic or objective score, regardless of preference to this overly ripe style
of classical Claret.
Listed below are Robert Parker’s 100 point rating
criteria. It’s really not that complicated or long winded. Once you start
using the 100 point scale, there will be no looking back. Trust me!
put my call for more scoring uniformity into context, we should not forget that
there are also other scoring methods in addition to the 100/100 point and 20/20
point scoring systems, including the 3 Bicchiere (3/3 Glasses) used by the
Gambero Rosso, the Italian wine bible, and also the standard 5/5 Star rating
used by many wine guides including the South African John Platter Wine Guide.
Just think of the great comparative analysis one could make if everyone used the
100 point score. It would be a real opportunity to reveal regional or even
national preferences by just comparing an individual wine’s score from all
around the world. But like Parker’s scores and the Wine Spectator’s
scores, they are generally speaking fairly similar and consistent as they
probably should be if review professionally, objectively and consistently!
Well, so much for the relevance and importance of
tasting and scoring - you make up your own mind. Or perhaps I should leave the
last words to Mr Parker, speaking about the Pavie-gate Saga…. “That is her opinion (Jancis Robinson), and she will have to answer
for it as all of us do that practice this rather whimsical craft.”