In this age of increasing grade inflation I believe the commercial marketing of wine, vis-à-vis the professional reviewer/critic, has gotten a little carried away with itself. While I use the 100-point scale, it’s basically an arithmetically incorrect scale in so much that it ranges from roughly 75-100.
Over the past five to eight years 100-point scores have started popping up everywhere you look. Daily email offers flow like water offering incredibly high scores at amazingly low prices. Reviewers escalate their scores beyond reason to become the most widely quoted critic in those offers. You know the drill: he or she who rates the highest gets their scores and reviews quoted in offers, on shelf talkers, etc.
A score ultimately boils down to assessing the overall presentation: the fruit component, balance, acidity, freshness, tannin, finish, completeness of the package, etc. Obvious wine flaws will generally be identified in the review, and bottles that are not sound – i.e. improperly stored, heat damaged, bacterially infected, TCA flawed, poor/clumsy winemaking, etc. – will be identified in my reviews. The written review is as important as the score. Please, take the time to digest both aspects before making a wine purchase.
My views are aimed at bringing a sense of sanity back to the world of wine reviews. Which is not to say that I won’t grade some wines with that lofty 100 point score, but they will be few and far between. Scores at that level should be reserved for only the most sensational wines on planet, and for many wines only proper cellaring will bring out that level of detail, finesse and character. Overall, I tend to err on the side of scoring conservatism.
My Scoring System Defined:
98-100: defines an epic wine that hovers somewhere in the stratosphere of vinous delights. I will rarely rate a new release wine at 99 or 100 points. Why? Because my philosophy dictates that cellaring a wine is a vital part of a wines’ best evolutionary track. Allowing the complex chemical reactions that take place in the bottle over time is something only proper cellaring allows, and it brings out the best in world class wines.
94-97: includes wines that are world class examples of their variety and origin. These are bottles that can light up your world and put an ear-to-ear smile on your face. Fabulous winemaking and premium quality grapes are a requisite for wines of this caliber. In most cases cellaring is recommended, but your personal palate preference is always most important.
90-93: beautiful expressionistic examples of the respective grapes, excellent winemaking, and a deft vinous touch is required to craft wines of this caliber. Many wines in this quality range benefit from cellaring, although not all. There are an incredible number of wines in this range that offer amazing drinking enjoyment.
86-89: good to excellent wines in this category can offer a highly enjoyable and affordable experience. For example, many top roses are found in this category, as well as delicious whites and reds, both pure varieties and blends. Most of the wines in this category are intended to be consumed at a young age and will rarely benefit from cellaring.
80-85: in this category the wines struggle for varietal identity and depending on how well developed your palate is, will likely not provide much drinking satisfaction. Many wines in this category reflect poor wine making, or poor vineyard location.
75-79: here the quality of goods falls off sharply making most wines in this group not too enjoyable and are generally not recommended. Almost no wines that I review will fall into this range.