So you’re standing in the bottle-o, trying to choose a bottle of wine. You pick one up and see it has a small sticker on it that looks like a tiny medal, and you think Wow! This must be a fucking great wine. It’s won a gold medal at the Wine Olympics! But then you look around and you realise pretty much every bottle has at least one medal sticker on it. So are they all elite level competitors? Or is someone just going around slapping stickers on everything so you’ll buy their shit? What does it all mean?
Let’s start with who’s giving out the medals.
Wine scores are generally awarded by a posse of wine judges (although it can be done solo) who get together and basically blind taste a fuckload of wine by sniffing, swirling, sipping and spitting (they always spit now because before they were just getting smashed and giving everything a gold medal, which was kind of defeating the purpose. JK, I made that up but how fun does it sound?). The judges then compare scores and try to come to a consensus about a rating for each wine.
There are some well known wine critics around now and you might see their names and a score on bottles, such as James Halliday or Huon Hooke. These guys are like the Pete Evans of wine, but less paleo and presumably more likeable. Halliday seems to stick to judging Australian wines, Hooke does Aussie and some international. There are also international only judges, so if you are looking for an Italian wine, for example, keep an eye out for scores from someone like Luca Maroni.
The thing to remember is that all judges have different palates and look for different thing, so scores can vary when tasted by different judges/judging panels. Wine tasting is subjective, which is one of the most beautiful things about it – no one else will taste wine in the quite the same way as you do.
(BTW – I would seriously like to become a wine judge, anyone recruiting? I am enthusiastic and punctual so despite my inability to actually differentiate flavours in wine I think I could be a real asset to your team. PM me).
The Scoring System
Most wine judges are moving towards using a score out of 100, generally broken down as follows.
|0 – 59||Probably made in someone’s bathtub. Not recommended for human consumption.|
|60-69||Wines are flawed and not recommended. Consider drinking water instead.|
|70-79||Wines tastes average. I’d probably have a crack though.|
|80-84||Wines are above average to good. Definitely give it a go|
|85-90||Wines are good to very good. Get stuck in.|
|90-94||Wines are superior to exceptional. Two big thumbs up.|
|95-100||Wines are benchmark examples or classic. Do yourself a favour and drink this RIGHT NOW.|
This is how the points are allocated:
- Actually making wine (not milk, orange juice etc) – 50 points
- Colour and appearance of the wine – 5 points
- How the wine smells (I believe wine geeks call this bouquet and aroma) – 15 points
- Flavour and finish (the taste that stays in your mouth after you have swallowed) – 20 points
- Overall quality (subjective score – how much did I like what I just drank) – 10 points.
Just to Confuse Things…
Rather than giving a score out of 100, some judges like to give a score out of 20. Tricky bastards, aren’t they?
Also, wines that are judged as a part of a wine show are generally awarded a medal – gold, silver or bronze – instead of a score. For example the Perth Royal Show has a wine judging section, and many of the wine regions around Australia have annual awards events eg the Orange Region Wine Show.
So what’s better – a medal? A rating?
Is a gold medal at the Orange Region Wine Show better than a gold medal at the Blackwood Valley Wine Show? It’s probably worth thinking about this in the context that the medal or score was awarded. A regional wine show will have less wines entered in it than, for example the Perth Royal Show, which will have wines from all over the state. The Halliday Wine Companion Awards reviews wines from all over Australia. The Decanter World Wine Awards reviews wines from all over the world. So its not saying that any of these awards are ‘better’ than any others, but if you think about context you start to get a feel for how competitive that wine is when its compared to its peers in the same wine region, in the same state or country, or how it stacks up against similar wines from around the world.
If a wine receives a high score, will I like it?
Perhaps. Achieving a high score means it is “a good representation of that style of wine from that region”. However, if you think Riesling tastes like fart, you will probably think a high scoring Riesling still tastes like fart. A high score from some Wine Judge mofo just can’t remove that taste of fart from your mouth….
But if you love Riesling you may REALLY love a high scoring Riesling. It seems the best thing to do is try and find a wine judge who’s palate matches yours. That way when you see a wine reviewed by that judge you’ll have a pretty good idea that it might be worth a quaff.
So does a score of 92 mean it’s a better wine that one that scored 90?
Not necessarily. For example it’s difficult to compare different types of wine, so a 92 point Pinot Noir from Tassie is not the same as a 92 point Chardonnay from Margaret River. In fact, a 92 point Tassie Pinot isn’t even the same as a 92 point Pinot from anywhere else as it is so hard to compare the different flavours that infuse a wine from where the vine grows. Confused yet? Me too.
However, remember a 92 pointer (or a 90 pointer, or even an 85 pointer for that matter) is a pretty great score. Somebody has put a huge amount of effort and passion (and likely literal blood, sweat and tears) in to creating that wine. Chances are, you’re going to think it tastes pretty great.
I’m looking at a wine without a rating. What does this mean?
It’s hard to say. If a wine gets a low score the winery is obviously not going to advertise it. But many wines are just never scored. It could be from a small winery, a small batch of wine, or the winemaker just couldn’t be arsed submitting it for review…. This doesn’t mean it isn’t a good wine. It simply means it hasn’t been scored.
Just drink it…
So, in short, fucked if I know what the answer is. Its sorta BOTH a clever marketing ploy and a handy way to figure out if you might like it. Drink the wine anyhow. Only you will know if you enjoy it or not and some judge giving your wine a score isn’t going to change your enjoyment level. Cheers!
What are your thoughts on wine ratings? Do you have a preferred wine judge that you look for? Or do you buck the trend and buy unscored wines? Let us know in the comments or join in the conversation on Facebook or Instagram…
For more info, check out this article which shows that us novices can actually be pretty good at rating wines (caution, contains statistical graphs which may cause boredom or blindness in some readers. JK, no one’s been bored yet)