Should wine scores be absolute?


Should wine scores be absolute?

Another article about wine scoring! It’s such a tedious topic, I know, but it’s an important one. Let’s recap:

  1. Scoring is flawed but it is useful. A tasting note without a score doesn’t tell us how the wine stacks up. If I give a score and you are familiar with my scoring patterns, you can tell how much I liked the wine.
  2. There has been rampant score inflation in recent years. Wineries don’t quote the score from the critic they most respect, they quote the highest score. So many critics are dishing out ludicrous scores. In Australia, 95 points is no longer a score to crow about.
  3. Scoring isn’t an exact science and shouldn’t be taken too seriously.
  4. Scores shouldn’t be the result of a reductionistic, complicated method but should simply be an overall, holistic assessment of the wine as it tastes now.

So the point of this piece? Should wine scores be absolute?

That is, should a 95 point Bordeaux be the qualitative equivalent of a 95 point Douro red or a 95 point Chilean Cabernet?

I think: yes. I can’t see a sensible alternative. Should a critic use a relative scale, where the best in each region, or style, or grape variety gets the top score, but where scores are not comparable across classes? No, that would be complicated and a bit silly.

If a wine scores 95 points it is an amazing wine, and in the same peer group as other 95 point wines. This would mean that when I visit a classic, well established region I might be dishing out more high scores than a region that’s only just finding its feet.

This absolute scoring creates a level playing field for all wine. It means a wine from Portugal can be seen to be the qualitative equivalent of a classic from Burgundy or Barolo. That’s egalitarian, although some critics are still biased towards the famous established regions.

Of course, when I say my score is absolute, it is only absolute for my palate. Other critics have different preferences. You find the critics who resonate with you.

11 Comments on Should wine scores be absolute?
wine journalist and flavour obsessive

11 thoughts on “Should wine scores be absolute?

  1. A different day may lead to a different score……..

    50th Parallel Pinot Gris 2017 Okanagan, Canada
    80% stainless steel, 20% oak. 13.5% alcohol, 6 g/l residual sugar. This has a slight waxy, plastic edge to the grape and citrus fruit. Slightly unusual with mint and herb characters under the fruit. 86/100

    50th Parallel Pinot Gris 2017 Okanagan, Canada
    Bright and expressive with nice citrus fruit, and notes of grape and mandarin. So attractive, with nice purity and presence. 90/100

    So much depends on what was in your mouth before etc. Still within 4 points

  2. Good spot. I’m uncomfortable with 4 point differences like this. Different contexts, different bottles, but should be much closer. I hope I normally perform better than this.

  3. Those two 50th Parallel scores are presumably both from tastings done within a few months of bottling, when wines are stlll shifting around a lot. I don’t read too much into the 4 point spread, though would be interesting to know which tasting was done later – that is probably the more reliable one…

  4. If ‘qualitative’can be said to include value for money then for me the 95 point Bordeaux should be scored far less than the 95 point Chilean or Douro wine. I make my own adjustment by checking the latest prices on Wine searcher!

  5. Thanks Jamie! For those of us who scan posts for the most important information, go with this 🙂

    “Another article about wine scoring! It’s such a tedious topic, I know, but it’s an important one. Let’s recap:

    You find the critics who resonate with you.”

  6. Steve Heimoff, chief CA wine reviewer for Wine Enthusiast for many years, said on his blog that his scores for a given wine could vary by as much as 4 points, depending on context, mood, what else was being tasted, etc. So the 4 point diff. does not surprise me.

  7. Since just about everyone agrees that wine scoring is not a scientific exercise and is dependent on an array of variable factors, why do the people who score it not use a more realistic bracketing scoring system?

    Let’s say a bracket of five points. In other words, one would score a wine 90-95 or 86-91 or 94-99. Then the First Growth that one scores 97 sighted and 93 blind, is covered. So is the wine that perhaps deserves a fair 92, but it’s in a bit of a shut-down phase and you’ve received a traffic ticket on your way to the tasting (plus you had something in your mouth earlier that does not agree with this particular wine, the wine was served three degrees cooler than what is ideal and your underwear shrunk in the tumble drier without you realising) – so you score it 89 instead of 92.

    Surely, a bracket scoring system would be more fair to wines, wine judges and the readers of these scores alike? It would also mitigate this nonsense that a 95-point wine is necessarily better than a 94-point wine. People will still have a good idea of how much the taster liked the wine, without the absolute focus on points.

  8. Honestly, whatever people say, I don’t believe wine critics are capable of giving absolute scores. The permissible scoring range is just too narrow, and the context of tasting the wine is too important. In your last blog post you scored this “Beso Negro” wine from Chile at 93 points. My guess is that’s probably about what you would score a good second growth Bordeaux like Pichon Baron, Leoville Barton, or Leoville Poyferre in a solid but not great year (say 2004, 2008, 2014, etc.) But without even having tasted this “Beso Negro” stuff, I don’t believe it’s really as good a wine as Pichon Baron or Leoville Barton in a solid year. And I wonder if you do. But you go to Chile and you taste a wine that’s excellent compared to other Chilean wines, what are you going to do? You can’t score it at 89 points, that’s an insult to the nation of Chile. And you can’t score Pichon Baron or Leoville Barton in a solid year above 93 points, because if you give them 95 or 96, what scores will you have left to assign to Lafite or Latour in a great year? Wine critics work with like a ten point scale and they can’t be seen as writing off whole wine regions. So absolute scores kind of become a practical impossibility.

  9. Rather like the low hanging fruit question in an exam paper I couldn’t resist this one!
    Your terms suggested in 1. above are the only relevant terms; they are the only ones that are declared in advance as subjective and it is incumbent on the user of value given by the taster to reference it against their own taste.
    All I ask is consistency. But I need to have benchmarked your values with my own expectations. Variation is unavoidable but statistical averages essential.

    I read the notes here and decide whether I’m going to make the effort to find a relatively obscure Canadian wine and make a comparative judgement or delve into my piggy bank to buy some no doubt delicious burgundy or claret and create my own interpretation of the notes.

    The reality is I will choose something more pedestrian and affordable and, subject to my own preconceptions, will compare.

    In truth, if I think the ascribed value is too high or the merit of the wine political rather than scientific, I will suitably amend my interpretation and, by association, all future values from this source.

    Make a choice of taster- decide whether you r taste and theirs coincide – and use the result. Even better use two.

    And apart from the speed of light little is absolute.

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