Thursday, January 20, 2011


Many modern, warm-blooded young males will be familiar with the 'Out of 10' system, yet the perhaps more thorough, astute and less hormonal wine critic typically prefers either a 100 point or 20 point system, or a rating out of 5 stars.

Before this new year gets too old there's just a few points I wanted to raise in regards to wine scoring, in particular how I perceive and relate to it. If it's a personal opinion piece you don't wish to read then read elsewhere.....

To some extent, I score wine because I've always been a numbers and stats man, but I also love having a definitive assessment of wine quality attached to my notes, expressed in a blunt, numerical form which I can look back upon. I guess my love of scoring dates back to the 1980s when I religiously read British video game magazines, who used to break down their game reviews into 5 different criteria for scoring, finalised by the most important score; overall. Even today, when I'm at casual gatherings drinking wine in the most relaxed sense, a numerically scored judgement will subconsciously, or perhaps automatically, enter my mind. This could be a problem!

However, this isn't to say scoring wine is either easy or automatic, as I regularly find designating a score the hardest part of completing a review for Australian Wine Journal. On numerous occasions, long after a 'tasting note' has been completed, I'll find myself going back to a wine, time after time, mouthful after mouthful; racking my brain thinking; 'how good (numerically speaking) is this wine?' In these instances I really understand those who use a scoring range, e.g. 88-91pts or 88/89pts, because this broader style of scoring is starting to make more and more sense to me across a number of wines, even though I've always stuck to a single score evaluation myself.

At present I really respect the approach taken by Wino Sapien, who will issue a single score, a score range or sometimes no score at all, depending on what fits best. I consider it; 'scoring without boundaries'. Personally I continue to issue a single score, largely because I can be a stubborn man stuck in his old ways, but also because I hold concerns a scoring range might confuse or narrow an already confusing and narrow scoring system (almost all my reviews fit within the 85-96 point bracket). Or perhaps it would simplify and widen it...

Additionally, there are also instances where I feel a wine requires no score at all, particularly at the lower end, where I'll often leave a note out altogether. Increasingly, it is the wines I would rate at 84 points or less that I find difficult to pinpoint a single score on. This stems from my lack of experience with sitting down at home evaluating highly unsatisfying wines, which itself is probably a direct result of me buying most of the wines I drink myself. Whether a wine is worth precisely 83, 80 or 77 points can be difficult, or perhaps even pointless to conclude, but the bottom line remains the same; don't buy it again Chris!

Due to my (fortunate) lack of experience with such wines, bottles like Jorgensen Hill's 2008 Shiraz prove as difficult as any for me to score. At time of assessment I quizzed myself; 'should it be 75, 77 or 79 points?', but I also asked; 'at that score range, does anyone; including me, actually care?'

Onto another note. As I see it, there are four types of wine critic who score wine:-
1. Those who overrate wine
2. Those who underrate wine
3. Those whose scores make little sense to me
4. Those whose judgement seems about right (this isn't to say I agree with everything these critics write, it's just that even when I disagree with their scores I can generally see where they're coming from)

Due to the objectivity of wine reviews, almost all critics are capable of traversing 3 of the 4 categories here, but all the same, there are some critics who seem harder to please than others and some who seem easier to please.

I actually appreciate and enjoy reading reviews from critics whom I might consider to be overrating wine (in certain cases of course). The reason being I can almost feel the enjoyment experienced by the writer whilst drinking, and actually enjoying wine is something very important to the root of its consumption. Whether I unanimously agree with these critics or not, on many occasions their unbridled enthusiasm gained through genuine satisfaction of a wine, relayed to me via text, has put a smile on my face. It's pleasing to read positive news from positive people. Most importantly, critics enjoying wine encourages consumers to enjoy wine.

As for those whom I consider to be underrating wine (compared to my tastes of course), I feel they play an important part to the industry, so long as their criticisms or harshness can be justified. If critics went around saying everything was just great and fine all the time, then more producers would be content to rest on their laurels. It is often the critic who puts down, whether fair or not, that stirs up the motivation within us to improve. As humans we have a natural tendency to remember the negative more than the positive. Although I personally draw some form of satisfaction from most of the wines I buy, I have tons of time for the critics who are willing to publish a wine's deficiencies in the face of other's glowing appraisal. So long as it's appropriate and in no way malicious of course.

As much as I try to keep an open mind about all subjective views, I still encounter the occasional assessment which makes little sense to me at all. Generally, these opinions show a collection of results I'd consider to be both under and overrating wine, as well as grouping wines whose quality might be yards apart (in my opinion) under the same score. To be honest, wine rating such as this rarely comes from individual critics. They are usually the results gathered from large tastings where a panel of judges assess hundreds/thousands of wines in just a day or so. I don't for a second believe my inability to comprehend such results relate to a lack of ability by critics (more likely me!). Rather, I believe summarising these tastings reflect the difficulties of not just trying to assess too many wines in too short a time frame, but also the difficulties of merging a group of people's opinions into one.

As for the final category, those who score appropriately, I obviously feel I fall under this category :), as should all proud critics. I imagine most people who read wine reviews would find the writers whose opinions best reflect their own and stick to them. We're quite fortunate in that as many different points of view there are on wine from a consumer side of things, there are almost as many different points of view from the critics themselves. Find whose opinions are right for your tastes and stick with them. Thanks in part to a commonsensical wine scoring system, the team at The Wine Front has done a wonderful job of connecting with Australia's modern wine consumer, with an approach that is at once contemporary, educational and entertaining.

From a blogger point of view, if there's only one critic you believe to be correct, then it has to be yourself. I don't think too many people out there would be knowingly under or overrating wines. If you're constantly disagreeing with your own opinions, then your mind probably isn't too in touch with your senses (or you're the least lucky person in the world when it comes to bottle variation!).

However, the more I read and compare the opinions of experienced critics to my own, the more a little voice tells me I might be on the overrating side of things. I believe there could be two main reasons for this.

Firstly, I personally buy (or pay for) almost all the wines I review on Australian Wine Journal. I've read enough and drunk enough wine over the years now to know what wines I'll probably like (which isn't to say I can tell if I'll like a wine before I drink it) and funnily enough, I tend to buy them. You don't think I'd purposely buy a bad wine do you? It's also fortunate I have fairly broad tastes...

Secondly, although I attempt to begin every note with a blank palate and clear mind, I actually look to extract enjoyment from every bottle of wine I drink, before I drink it. I enjoy drinking wine and sure as hell intend on continuing to enjoy it. This optimism and positivity could sometimes lead to a (slightly?) inflated score, but if I liked it, I liked it, and that's it. If I ever get to a point where the majority of my notes are harshly worded and matched with low scores, then that'll probably mean I'm not enjoying wine, in which case, I would have to ask myself; 'what the hell am I doing?'


  1. Some really valid points here Chris :)

  2. Chris,

    Thanks for the mention. Like you I think about the quality of what I am drinking, I find it impossible not to. Even if it is just placing it into a hierarchy of recent experiences or assigning decimal points!

    Still I can see why some people strongly object to the use of seemingly precise rating scales. Can we honesty say we would give the same wine the same score on multiple occasions. . .

    I like the idea from another blogger who writes Rockss and Fruit. He has wines which are POME (perform above my expectation) and PUME (perform under my expectation).

    I keep scoring wines - most of the time, partly as I think this lets people judge my call. They can or may have tasted the wine and are likely to have made their own quality assessment. Does it match up - as you mention, or is it under or overdone.

  3. Very interesting post Chris - the scoring of wine is a very contested space. I am finding our 5 star scoring sysem limiting and am starting to score both in stars and points - using a conversion scheme very simmilar to that on the Winefront (and I am sure similar to your ratios). One problem I face is that a majority of wines I review I buy myself (as many of us do). Aside from the odd exception where I want to taste a wine I know I probably will not like in order to review it and also get more perspective, most of the wines I buy I am interested in and keen to taste. Therefore, the number of 84/2 star wine and below that we review is not that high. However, I was finding it increasingly frustrating scoring too many wines 3.5 and 4 Stars, when in my head I was thinking of a score out of 100.

    It is all so subjective and contested, but if you can create an internal metric to judge your wine, the points ratings can be very useful when used in conjuncton with the tasting notes.

    PS - there should be many more wine-related personal opinion pieces on the net!


  4. Thanks Jesse :)

    I think the initial points I was trying to get across (which inspired the post) were; I might be struggling to put a definitive score on terribly unsatisfying wines, and I think I might be overrating some wines (comparatively speaking) but that's only because I like them :)

    Chris P

  5. Ed,

    Definitely a good point about scoring the same wine the same score on separate occasions. I score wines at numerous tastings, buy a bottle, come home, drink it in the comfort of my own home and re-score it completely differently.

    I personally devised my 'tick+, tick, nought and cross' system to try and simplify wine scoring, or put it in a simpler, four-rating system. This system refers more to value for money though, as opposed to ultimate quality (which the 100pt score is) or anything based on the taster's expectations.

    Interesting about the taster's expectations though Ed. 5 years ago a lot of Great Southern and Tasmanian rieslings were exceeding my expectations, mainly because I expected them to sit beneath Clare and Eden rieslings, but a bit more experience with drinking the WA and TAS wines and now I expect the best to perform at a standard equal to SA's very best. I guess that it's a very personal interpretation, and the more experience the better. I'm sure there are still a lot of people out there who think South Australia is the be all and end all of Australian shiraz...

    Chris P

  6. Thanks Brown,

    I have noticed you're going to a split score and to be honest, I don't mind it :) Even pre-scoring days I always understood what was being expressed on RedtoBrown though.

    Interesting to hear you are willing to buy wines you might not like to gain a perspective of taste (I assume you're talking about wines like that Rosemount savvy?) - you are a team player, aren't you? :) Personally when spending even $5 on a wine I look for something I might like (doesn't necessarily work though), which is a challenge I always enjoy :)

    PS I was hoping you'd like the personal sidepiece ;)

    Chris P

  7. I'm the same as Chris and Brown- I'll try a wine to make my own mind up. 99% of the time, my pre-notions are correct though :)

  8. We generally over-rate most wines but it doesn't really matter. What matters most is consistency of approach. And I'd rather have some sort of score than no score - although I dislike non-standard scoring systems instinctively. So much wine out there to read about's nice to have some sort of feel for pecking order.
    The way we use it, ignoring the value of the numbers, is simply a word based system with three sub-grades.
    One could use a wider range but it's even more of a nonsense. I'm pretty happy with
    Good (Bronze)
    Excellent (Silver)
    Outstanding (Gold)
    Exceptional (Diamond Crusted Bling)

    Chatting with Burghound last night and he made the point (and it's a school to which I subscribe) is you have to rate and treat different styles fairly, even if not to your taste - assuming you are a professional. If amateur or doing your own thing you can just go with taste.

    Keep up the good work. There's a few really good wine sites out there - this is one of them...and Eduardo, for whom my admiration knows no bounds!

  9. Thanks GW :)

    Your kind comment means a lot to me. Really. A lot. :)

    Sounds like you suffer the same concern I do (feeling you might over rate), which really, could just be a sign you're enjoying wine - nothing wrong with that is there? Your approach is certainly consistent, but most importantly, between you and CM, anyone who reads your stuff can feel a passion and enthusiasm for the subject that is just so contagious.

    Good points about pecking order and treating different styles fairly as well. You might have noticed I've yet to write a note for a moscato, which is a style I generally don't like, and therefore, I don't think I could come up with a truly 'fair' note. Not yet anyway. Still, I'll keep tasting moscato when it's free, under the optimistic premise that one day I'll come round to the style and actually buy a bottle I like. :)

    Chris P

    p.s. Eduardo is a class act isn't he?

  10. At the lower end, I often chuckle when I see a score such as 72 given. Below a certain level, probably 80, scores just seem so arbitrary (like some corporate CEO salaries in the other direction). Just pick a number. Either that or substitute with 'NR'.

  11. Definitely good points Decca :) Although sitting at opposite ends of volume, both are numerical values of little, almost ridiculous regard.

    I would be interested to see how one comes up with a CEO's worth exactly, just like an awful wine :)


    Chris P

  12. Excellent piece Chris full of lots of interesting inside information on scoring wine from a wine scorer himself. The girls at least a 9 by the way. :)