My Philosophical Views and How I Apply the 100 Point Scoring System
In this age of aggressive marketing, I believe the scoring of wines, vis-à-vis the professional critic/reviewer’s role in marketing wine, has gotten a little ahead of itself. This phenomenon is known as Grade Inflation. Over the past five-to-eight years increasingly lofty scores and 100-point wines have started popping up everywhere. Daily email offers from retail merchants flow like water offering incredibly high scores at increasingly lower prices. Wine Critics have begun escalating their scores beyond reason in an effort to become the most widely quoted critic while at the same time promoting their own publications. While this practice may benefit the individual wine critics and more broadly the industry, it short changes the reality of relative wine quality for the discerning wine consumer.
Like other critics, I also use the 100-point scale, but I practice a more conservative application of it than most. 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 rather, I apply a conservative scoring philosophy that is steeped in the understanding that upper-90-point lofty scores are only earned in dark, cool cellars where tertiary development, over time, can allow the wine to blossom, expressing its full potential. Scores at that level should be reserved for the most sensational wines on the planet, and for many wines only proper cellaring will bring out that level of detail, finesse and character. Overall, I err on the side of conservative scoring.
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 Scoring Methodology Defined:
The modern wine rating system is an arithmetically incorrect scale in-so-much that when applied in a practical sense, ranges from roughly 85-100 points. The system does go lower, even into the 70s by some critics, but I don’t consider wines below 85 pts worth investing your hard earned dollars in. NOTE – my ratings are marked with the acronym RT, followed by the numerical rating
- RT 98-100: defines an epic wine that hovers in the stratosphere of vinous delights. I will rarely rate a new release wine at 99 or 100 points, but I have been known to give out a 98 point score for the very best-of-the-best of new release wines. Why no 99s or 100s on release? Because my philosophy dictates that cellaring a wine is a vital part of a wines’ complete evolutionary development, and that evolution is only complete after proper cellaring. Allowing the complex chemical reactions that take place in the bottle, in the cool cellar, over time, is what brings out the ultimate in world class wines. I do award 99 and 100 point scores to mature, cellared wines, as you can glean in my “From the Cellar” reviews.
- RT 94-97: includes wines that are world class examples of their variety and place of 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.
- RT 90-93: beautiful expressionistic examples of the respective grape varieties, 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 of them do. Some can be enjoyed now! There are an incredible number of wines in this range that offer amazing drinking enjoyment at exceptionally affordable prices.
- RT 85-89: good-to-excellent wines in this category can offer a highly enjoyable and affordable experience. For example, many top roses are found in this quality range, as well as delicious whites and reds, both pure varieties and blends. Most of the wines in this group are intended to be consumed at a young age and will rarely benefit from cellaring.
- RT 80-85: I rarely rate a wine in the range, rather, I simply prefer not to review and recommend them to my readers. 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, and/or poor vineyard management.