Do Wine Scores Matter?

Yes and no.  How is that for an answer?

As a wine educator, writer, and judge, I can speak out of both sides of my mouth on this one.  The first thing to consider is the audience.  Are you someone who is happy as long as it is wet, red, and has alcohol?  Fuggetabout it.  You like wine but can’t imagine spending more than $12.99?  These wines are rarely scored.  There is no need.  They are what they are and they fill a large niche.  Catchy names and funky labels play a big role at this level.

The $14 to $19 range appeals to a lot of people and this ‘cheap and cheerful’ category often holds some very pleasant surprises and this is likely where most people feel comfortable shopping.  Personal recommendations play a big role here and some will show scores, usually in the 87 to 89-point range.

Those of us who have at least some degree of wine education and appreciation often look for wines that have some distinctive quality and are willing to pay more for something that stands out at least to some degree.  Here, we are looking for wines with some degree of complexity, something out of the ordinary.  We may buy wines that are usually in the $20 – $35 range, though we all like a ‘bargain’ or a wine that over-delivers for its price point.  Wines here typically will have scores of 89 – maybe 93 or 94.  For wines with higher scores, you can expect to pay $40 and up to thousands and ideally should show harmony and elegance, at least when aged to their best.

Are more expensive wines worth it?  Yes and no.  For many average consumers, they may seem strange or complicated.  “Give me something simple that I like.”  Others will see and appreciate the differences, “Wow!  I can’t afford to buy these very often, but boy are they good.”

Now a little bit about scores.   As a judge, I was trained on the 20-point modified Davis system.  Many English wine reviewers also use/used 20-point scales.  Robert Parker was one of the key players to popularize the 100-point system which you will see on many store shelves.  The fact of the matter is, no scoring system is perfect.  There are good points and bad points with all of them.  For example, the 100-point system really isn’t out of 100 points.  As Wine Spectator explains:

“Wine Spectator tasters review wines on the following 100-point scale:

  • 95-100 Classic: a great wine
  • 90-94 Outstanding: a wine of superior character and style
  • 85-89 Very good: a wine with special qualities
  • 80-84 Good: a solid, well-made wine
  • 75-79 Mediocre: a drinkable wine that may have minor flaws
  • 50-74 Not recommended”

(Note: A four-year study found an average Wine Spectator score of 88 points, with few below 81 and not many over 94.)

Most 100-point systems start at 50 points and wines that score lower than 85 points are seldom reviewed.  From above, you can see that 80 to 89-point wines are not bad at all. They can be perfectly fine and great for burgers or pizza on a Monday night.  Sadly, many people overlook them saying, “I only drink wines over 90 points”.  Sometimes that can be the same as saying, “I only read books that are over 400 pages long.”  OK, c’est a la vie, however you may be missing out on some very good wines.

The good news is that generally speaking, wines are better than they ever have been.  For a multitude of reasons, there is more good/very good/excellent wine than ever before.  We are living in the best of times.

Yes, it is true that some wines are better than others.  As a wine judge, I am often tasked with evaluating and scoring a flight of wines and selecting those that truly stand out from the rest.  It is like comparing one note on a piano to a full rich chord.  Better wines show richness, complexity, and superior quality.  However, that doesn’t mean you will like them.

The important takeaway here is two-fold.  One, drink what you like.  Don’t let a wine score or the lack of one stand in the way of enjoying a good wine.  One wine might be rated much higher than another, but if you don’t like it, don’t drink it.  On the same hand, don’t get stuck in a rut and always buy the same old familiar labels.  Always be ready to step out of your comfort zone.  If you are in a store where someone is pouring samples, say ‘Yes, I’d be happy to try that.’  If a friend offers you something new, give it a try.  Ask for suggestions in wine shops.  Wine scores can be a help in that they encourage you to try new wines.  Consider forming or joining a wine tasting group.  Tour wineries.  Don’t be afraid to broaden your palate.  I can assure you, some of your new favourites are out there waiting for you to discover them.

Learning about and appreciating wine is a life-long journey.  None of us knows it all, but it is a delightful adventure and you will meet lots of great people along the way.

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