Friday, July 07, 2006

Why a wine scoring system? - and which one??

Over the last few months I have come to realise that I really need to start providing some objective measure of the wines I am tasting. If for no other reason than to provide myself with a means of comparing wines with each other (ie horizontally) and over time (ie vertically).

This is quite a pain in the a*se!! Prior to this I was happy just to drink every wine placed in front of me, liking some and not others. It was simple! I just never bought the wines I didn't like again.

Two things have happened to wreck that simplicity. I have realised that I like an almost limitless number of wines but unfortunately do not have a limitless supply of money with which to buy them, or time with which to consume them. I want to maximise the remaining 40 or so years I have left (not long enough) and drink as well as I can with the budget I have.

Secondly, I have realised that some wines that I didn't like when I drank a 1999 vintage, and never bought again, can be absolutely different in the 2004 vintage (This makes sense as wine-makers are always looking to improve and some seasons are better than others). So I now cannot just write off a wine based on one vintage that I didn't like - darn! Therefore, I need to know (objectively) how one vintage rates against another.

I have discovered there are a number of rating systems and an equal number of views as to which one is the best. There are 5 star, 5 point, 10 point, 20 point and 100 point systems, 1 -3 glasses, A - D rating, and in the case of
Wine Girl - happy faces.

Murray from
Winetastic uses a 10 point scale, Cam from Appellation Australia and Gary from Winorama use a 100 point scale. Ed from Wino-Sapien used to use a 10 point scale until he was bullied into also adding a 100 point score, by Cam and Gary.

Which is best - how would I know? I am not a mathematician (like Jancis Robinson - with her 20 point system) or a wine expert (like Robert Parker - with his 100 point system) but I have the same problem with some of these systems that I have with the
marketing hype of some wines. There are not as advertised!

If you look at
Steve de Long's site, as originally directed by Dr Ed, you will see a brief summary of various scoring methods.

The first thing you notice is that the Real World US 100 point scale is really a 40 point scale, as is Robert Parker's. They really only score from 60 - 100 and the rest aren't worth scoring at all. The Real World French and UC Davis 20 point scale is really a 10 point scale in disguise, and Jancis Robinson's 20- point scale really only scores out of 6 (from 14 - 20). I say this because once you slip under 14 - forget it!! - you may as well have scored a zero. Therefore 14 = 0. This is called Wine Amateur new math.

What will I use as a scale?I still haven't decided but I am willing to take advice from the more expert among you. Please postulate your theories and arguments (they don't even need to be logical) and post them as a comment by 14 July and I will aggregate them and respond. Who knows what we will come up with.

It is like a blog
on ! It is over to you.


Blogger Edward said...


Your an accountant - you should be a wizz with numbers!!
There is also the Hugh Johnson scale which goes somthing like this

1 sniff is enough
1 sip is enough
1 glass
2 glasses
1 bottle
etc etc.

1:23 AM  
Blogger Mal said...

Not a bad one! The lower scores are instantly recognisable and are easy to equate with - sort of like when you have 1 sip of Mateus Rose (sorry GW)!

The upper scores don't easily translate though - sorry for being so serious!

9:05 AM  
Anonymous GW said...

Huon Hooke has started using the 100 point scale. Jeremy Oliver started a while ago (last year I think). Halliday, Tim White, Campbell Mattinson etc etc. All use 100 point scale. It is the defacto standard (for better or for worse) and yes although the interpretations are sometimes individual you just get used to 'the generosity scale' of a given individual. Some are points misers, i.e. they see no problem with 86 points literally meaning a 'very good wine'..some are more compressed.
Don't build your own roads, use mph and then drive on the right hand side in this county. Use the standard.

I sense the force is strong within you Mal. Close your eyes when you next drink wine and let the points come to you. Do not force it or panic. I can supply you with a wine tasting training helmet if you like and a robot that squirts Sauvignon Blanc into your eyes (or mouth - whichever is worse) when you get it wrong..

10:57 AM  
Blogger Tannia said...

GW can I have one of those wine-tasting training ehlmets too?

I too recently started blogging on my wine endeavours purely for myself. However, my friends constantly call me and ask "what was that wine we drank at such and such event three years ago?" The unfortunate thing is...I generally remember. I decided to place it somewhere they can all go look and leave me alone! But really if it is to be of any value at all I need to say more than "I like it - so be it!"....don't I"


1:19 PM  
Blogger Mal said...

Thanks for the tip Yoda! However, I sense there may be some emotion in the argument - emotion leads to anger and anger to the dark side! Wait, is that Yoda or ...........Robert Parker??

What happens if I find out my mother is really Jancis Robinson?? The pull of the 20 point system would be strong. If she is my mother then shouldn't I have a wealthy, connected (may be even a princess) and good looking twin sister somewhere as well?

I don't know how we got there but it is appearing that the 20 point system is being equated with the dark side. In my line of work the 'dark side' is reserved for employees of the Australian Taxation Office.

1:23 PM  
Blogger Tannia said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

1:30 PM  
Blogger Mal said...


Thanks for the comment - and welcome!!

That is exactly how I used to do it when I started out and it has only been the last 6 months or so that I have really come to the realisation that I must have some sort of objective measure for the wines. Any measure or rating I give a wine is more for myself than for others.

PS - I like your blog and I will add a link to it. I also see that you like Eight Songs - beautiful wine!!

1:33 PM  
Anonymous Cam Wheeler said...

100 points is the one true scoring system Mal - search your feelings, you know it to be true.

Seriously though, as GW stated, 100 points is the standard (among non-UK based writers anyway).

I don't think there is anything wrong with the other systems, it's just that people are used to seeing scores out of 100 now.

2:00 PM  
Anonymous GW said...

Do you want to be popular? ...or a 20 point loser??? I think you know the answer...

You have one too many n's in your name for a wine tasting helmet. BTW. I remember every wine I have ever Rainman. Very good driver. :)


7:31 PM  
Anonymous The Wine Commonsewer said...

Mal, my friend, the 100 point scale is really only a 15 point scale (possibly 20 if you stretch hard) because no wine rated less than 85 or so is worth drinking. Now I could be pushing it and maybe something between 80 and 85 is okay, but definitely figure that under 80 is a waste.

I started to leave a comment the other day that it was tough to rate wines and come up with anything coherent. I don't do it myself because it's like rating the music you like. You start looking back later and saying things like I musta been drunk to rate that song 5 star. Okay, Okay,sometimes I will toss in Parker's or WS rating and let you know if I agree or not.

But I understand the desire to keep it all straight and to be helpful to your fans and readers and I commend you on taking the plunge and working it.

You've got a first class blog here.

6:07 AM  
Anonymous Murray said...

GW has actually convinced me that the 100 point scale is the way to go for now, mostly because more people are familiar with it.

Ill be moving over to the dark side soon...

9:39 AM  
Blogger Edward said...

Do I get a light sabre, I've started putting a 100 point conversion in you see. GW, as the jedi master - I'd like a green one please!

2:50 PM  
Blogger Mal said...

The Empire is certainly looking safe for now, hey GW?

3:36 PM  
Anonymous gw said...

Light sabres and tasting helmets all round! The empire has been saved.
Do or do not...there is no try.

3:57 PM  
Blogger Tannia said...

I had a good giggle at The Opinionated Red Bigot's scoring system :)

That one sounds MUCH more like something I could relate to :)


6:26 PM  
Blogger Mal said...


I agree! - somewhat at least. His lowest two scoring levels of 'Barely Drinkable' and 'Cat's Piss' are instantly and appealing and relatively easy to relate to. We have all 'been there'.

Although, I do struggle with the concept of three levels above that of "Highy Recommended". I, for one, would struggle differentiating between them and telling the difference - however that is because I am, for once in my life, trying to be serious (and not succeeding terribly well!)

Seriously speaking, I am really coming around to the whole Star Wars approach to wine tasting. I have been most impressed that Cam and GW somehow think the 'force is strong with me'. The not-so-altruistic side of me is also impressed by promises of helmets and light sabres. The transition to the dark side is almost complete. I am only glad they didn't start calling me Anakin (if that is how you spell it).

7:55 PM  
Blogger Tannia said...

I am glad that I stumbled across you all....I'm feeling much more edumacated already....

I honestly couldn't wear a helmet....I have enough bad hair days as it is. But a light THAT'S appealing!

9:14 PM  
Blogger Mal said...

I am thrilled we could assist in your edumaction (sic) and I, for one, will endeavour to continue to strive for excellence in wine information and debate - as evidenced by the sterling level of comment.

I have just reread my last comment. What a poor show - one conjunction too many, a spelling error and one tautology - see what the dark side can do to you.

May the force be with you! And thanks for coming back!

10:03 PM  
Anonymous TORB said...

It will probably come as no surprise that I am 100 percent completely against the hundred point system for more reasons than I could ever begin to describe here; in fact I have written a number of articles on the subject, however I will summarise a few of the salient points.

Tasting wine is a subjective experience, and from my perspective is completely asinine to assign an absolute score to something it is completely subjective. It's like saying, "this Brett Whiteley is a 92 point picture and it is not as good as that one by Stretton that worth 93 points."

To further confuse the issue, not all hundred point systems are the same.

Whilst I do have a rating system, there is no attempt to be scientific. For example if I find a wine to be "okay, well and truly drinkable" it will be rated as Agreeable. If it is a "faultless high-quality wine" it will be rated as Highly Recommended et cetera. In theory, if you are using the hundred point system you should assign points based on various characteristics of the wine; the same applies to the 20 point show system.

There is one other point which needs to be made here. Many wine lovers and enthusiasts rate wines based on how much they like the individual wine. In reality, the wine should be rated on their inherent qualities, whether the taster likes the wine or not really should be immaterial. Unfortunately we all have our own prejudices and this is very hard to do that it is one of the basic premises underscoring any absolute point system.

For one moment please consider wine “A” which is designed for long term ageing and needs many years to show its best, and for the purposes of this exercise, let's assume the wine is rated 93 points on release. That contrast that with wine “B” which is a softer and gloriously drinkable wine that should be consumed within a few years of its release, and it scores 94 points. Do you seriously mean to tell me that wine “B” is better than wine ‘A” when wine “B” will be dead and buried 15 years before wine “A” reaches its glorious peak.

10:12 PM  
Blogger Mal said...

Well everyone (& members of the Jedi Council) - I think Torb has thrown down the gauntlet!! Is anyone going to take it up??

7:44 AM  
Blogger Mal said...


Thanks for your comment and apologies for not responding sooner! It appears you may have a kindred spirit, as far as scoring wines goes, in Torb (the opinionated red bigot).

I do agree with you on the 100 point scale really only being a 15-20 point scale. You would be disappointed buying a wine that on tasting would only rate an 80-85 and one you get below 80 - forget it!!

7:49 AM  
Blogger Mal said...


Thanks for the comment!! I understand what you are saying and I agree that any system (even show-judging) is going to be somewhat subjective. Therefore any rating or score we place on a wine will be 'our' rating and not necessarily how others see it.

When I was just starting out (not very long ago - about 5-6 years) I quickly discovered Halliday's Wine Companion. I found that I could almost totally rely on his rating. I found that the ones he rated highly I really enjoyed and I could tell a difference between them and some of the lower ranked wines. In my ignorance I thought "great" here is someone whose taste buds are similar to mine (sorry Mr Halliday for bringing you down). I think there was real value, to me at least, of the scores he gave. But I do understand that they are 'his' scores and I might see them differently - so I agree with tasting being subjective.

However I am not sure I agree with you on your example. I don't mean to offend (as I am just an amateur), but I am sure that even I (of untrained palate) can recognise a wine that may not be drinking well now but has enormous potential in 10-15 years time. The true difficulty in rating such a wine against one drinking beautifully now is trying to accurately estimate what wine 'B' will be drinking like in 10 years time.

I see the example you give as being a problem with any rating system - ie the rating of the two types of wine you mentioned - at a point in time now. In your system you might say wine A is "Outstanding" and wine B as "The Ultimate" but to the average punter wine B might taste right now as "cat's piss". The point I am trying to make is that, from what I can see, most people who rate wines will rate a wine B very highly but add a 'rider' comment that it would be best drunk in say 10 years time.

Isn't this how it is supposed to happen? I am not asking blithely, I really would like to know!

8:05 AM  
Blogger Edward said...


Just put a drinking window with your score and also your feelings as to whether the wine will improve or whether it is at is peak.

Just to add to the confusion some people score wines 93 (95), ie 93 points now and 95 points at its peak in a few years.

As to the example about giving a painting a score - fair enough. But I think faced with 10 great works of art, I would still have no problem creating a personal pecking order.

The point system is just a way of expressing your preference. That you prefer this wine more than another. This is the same thing with a verbal classification, just in a numerical format.

As to looking at it in parts and assessing a wine in parts. This is for beginners. Does it helps to deconstruct a wine into colour, smell and taste and assign points accordingly? Who does this in the real world?

10:36 AM  
Anonymous The Wine Commonsewer said...

Mal, To clarify, I'm not even against the 100 point scale per se, just pointing out that for our purposes it isn't really a 100 point scale. While not as extreme, it's almost like judging Olympic gymnastics (I like the women best). There's a 10 point system which is really only a 1 point systen. 9.3, 9.5, 9.9, 9.8, 9.7........

In addition I would say that my comment about the 100 point scale could be used in defense of your 20 point scale.

And really, until your post I hadn't given it a whole lot of thought, just knew in the back side of my mind that I couldn't afford anything rated 95-100. That if I could find a wine for $15.00-$20.00 US rated 92-93 it was likely a score. Most decent wines were 89-92. And occasionally there were some sleepers that were under-rated. Thus illustrating that even though I don't use the scale I do.

I still love the Hugh Johnson scale and the Cat Piss scale. The reason they both work is because they get the message across into terms that I can understand. I've had a one sip wine and so have you.

10:56 AM  
Blogger Mal said...

The empire AND the republic are looking shaky

11:31 AM  
Anonymous gw said...

Oh rubbish. Highly Recommended and all that is just another rating system and one that I find difficult and asinine.. It speaks volumes that most people use the 100 point scale and practically no one uses the WineWise scale as above. I rate wines to style not how much I actually like them too which adds some interest..
Wine is not art. It is a consumer product and rating it is fine. There is so much wine, so many reviews, the numbers just help in the choice.
It is easy...that being said any rating is better than none at all. Even the highly ambiguous Recommended, Highly Recommended, Excellent...why would you highly recommend something that is not excellent?? I am out of energy on this for now. It has been done to death.

1:29 PM  
Anonymous TORB said...

I will just make a few brief points here.

Firstly, what does it matter if a wine scores 100 points if you don't like the style? There is far to much importance placed on the score, as evidenced in this debate about liking wines that Halliday had rated highly.

The information in the tasting note is the important part; what does it tell you about the wine and is it sufficient to know if it is likely to be to your taste. I have enjoyed low 80's point wines and not liked 96 point wines.

GW, if you took the trouble to look at the "logic" behind my rating system rather than dismissing it out of hand, you may find it makes sense.

Now let me ask you a question; why would you not recommend something that is not excellent? Isn't a "recommended" rating i.e a wine that is "a good quality wine" worth recommending and drinking? Why does it have to be "excellent" i.e a benchmark wine to get a recommendation?

I can play semantics too, but that does not add anything to the logic fo the debate.

9:51 PM  
Anonymous gw said...

TORB IS EVIL and must be stopped at all costs. Only you can save us Mal!!!
Use the force and follow your instincts. It is the only way. :)

10:59 PM  
Blogger Mal said...

WOW!! I did't expect the Spanish Inquisition!! (must be read with John Cleese's voice - for all the Monty Python fans out there) Whilst the debate has become serious, I have really appreciated it - as it has clarified my thinking in a number of areas - so thanks to all!

In my original post I did give everyone to the 14th to post a response so I will stick to that date as it is only two days away.

However, unless you have been secretly preparing the ultimate tasting manifesto or the argument to end all arguments (sounds like World War I - the war to end all wars) and plan to post it by 14th, we probably need to move on and get back to talking about the beautiful creature we all love - wine (Quick lads, back to the Millenium Falcon).

If you want to make a different point than has been made to date - please feel free to do so - but do it by the 14th.

I will then consider the arguments, weigh all matters and collect on all bribes. I hope to aggregate the comments, give my take on it all and outline, for better or worse, the direction I am going to take. It may be a mistake, but at least it will be mine to make.

Thanks again to all for contributing!

8:47 AM  
Anonymous Cam Wheeler said...

The thing I don't get about your argument TORB is that your system is essentially a numeric rating system as well - instead of 20 or 100 though your system is out of 9 different word ratings and it is still totally subjective - you are still saying, well this wine is the Ultimate and it is a 9 but this one is Outstanding but not quite as perfect and is worth an 8. I don't see how different that is from the things you don't like about the 100 point scale?

I agree that the tasting note is the most important part but a score (be it numeric or word based) does have some merit.

I also agree that some people rate on personal likes rather than style - I don't really like sparkling shiraz, but I still appreciate it for what it is and do give good scores to the better examples.

I think the only way to settle this is for Gary and Ric to have a pistol (lightsaber?) duel at dawn.

1:59 PM  
Anonymous TORB said...


It is not a numerical rating at all and that is a false interpretation.

If you have a look at the way the Parker 100 point system is supposed to work, the wine gets 50 for turning up, up to:-

5 points for colour and appearance
up to 15 points for aroma
up to 20 for flavour and finish
and up to 10 for quality and evolution.

In theory you are not meant to pick up a wine and go "89 points" - you are meant to get to 89 using the break up.

So the starting point on the Parker (and many other) 100 point system is to assign numerical components to each part, add them together and come up with a final absolute score.

My system looks at the wine in total and says "is this a benchmark" (=Excellent) or is it "a good quality wine" (=Recommended) or is it a "ho hum wine" (=Acceptable.)

There is no attempt to be objective by dissect the wine into it's component parts in order to rate it; it is purely a subjective rating.

As to duelling light sabres, I would be disqualified as the light reflection from my chrome dome would blind GW; -:) but it was a good idea.

4:09 PM  
Anonymous gw said...

Here is a very easy conversion scale from the Winorama 100 point (similar to Halliday and others) and TORB as I see it so you can apply the 100 point system easily to his scale.

Cats piss (not devoted to NZ Sauvignon Blanc.) 70-74 points Poor winemaking or fruit, not faulty, water anyone?
Barely Drinkable (probably flawed or just plain very ordinary) 75-79 points Average wine, no discernible fault but bland
Acceptable (ho hum wine) 80-84 points Good, pleasant to drink though unexciting
Agreeable (ok, well and truly drinkable) 85-87 points Very Good wine with a modicum of class
Recommended (good quality wines) 88-89 points Very Good wine with a modicum of class
Highly Recommended (faultless high quality wines) 90-92 points Excellent wine of style and character
Excellent (benchmark wines) 93-94 points Excellent wine of style and character
Outstanding (few and far between)95-97 points Exceptional wine, a benchmark of its class
The Ultimate (almost as rare as rocking horse... 98-100 points Perfect, faultless, an absolute rare classic r

4:25 PM  
Anonymous Cam Wheeler said...

TORB, you used both the 100 and 20 point scale converted from your scale in a previous article, so I would think that you should see that there are links and similarities between the systems, even if you use words then you had a way to link that into points somehow.

I can't speak for anyone else, but my score out of 100 is generally not broken down into points for colour etc but it is just an overall impression of the wine as a whole.

4:47 PM  
Anonymous TORB said...


You can't convert my scale to the 100 point scale. Adair tried with page after page of logic and it didn't wash.

Weather you like it or not, and this is something that keeps getting ignored, the foundation stone of the 100 point system is based on assigning points to the various segments.

The fact that many people ignore the basis on which it is founded and come up with a final number just adds to the lack of credibility of the "system."

Cam, you are right, due to circumstances beyond my control, I have tried to convert it twice. The first time showed me how hopeless the task was and so prior to the second tasting where I was compelled to use it, even though I was very uncomfortable with the thought, I used the 100 point system (as it was designed to be used by assigning points for each component.)

When tasting the wines the first time, I tried not to think in terms of my system and just scored out of 100. At the completion of the tasting, I went back and had a second look at the wines and rated them on the TORB scale. Believe me, there was not a straight correlation between the two systems.

8:03 PM  
Anonymous gw said...

The hundred point scale is not a points for colour, aromas etc etc thing (unless you are Nicks). No one uses it that way - just like wineshow judges don't really do that for 20 point scales. The way I use it is the same as your word based system i.e. excellent wine but it is more sophisticated because (applying the direct correlation to your scale and there is one as far as I can see) I can have a range from 90-92 on excellent - so in this way it is a better tool than just the word based. And numbers strike deep into humans heads for some reason.

8:57 AM  
Anonymous TORB said...


Parker invented the 100 point system and on every issue of his Wine Advocate, it spells out the basis of the 100 point system i.e. points for various items.

The fact that many people choose to take a short cut and ignore the basis upon which it was founded, further reinforces the folly of the system.

I agree that points do strike a cord with many people, but it is a lazy system that encourages an over-reliance on an inexact shortcut to the wines character.

Just because many people believe in it, that does not mean there is not a better way.... Lots of people love fast food too, but that does not mean that it is the be all and end all.

IMO from here will will just be going round in circles (again -:) ) so this will be my last post on this subject, and more importantly, tomorrow I have to head to Sydney for Plonk Oz 2006!

9:30 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

TORB et al,

Parker did not invent the 100 point system. (Unfortunately I’m at work so I don’t have access to my wine library, but I believe there is at least one version of a 100 point scoring system in Dan Murphy’s “A Guide to Wine Tasting”, 1977). Parker used a 100 point system because it would be easily understood to those familiar with 100 point exams in American schools, or so the story goes. But it is split up in a way that is similar to wine judging.

As for TORB saying that his method of “scoring” wines is subjective and the important bit is all in the tasting note I will just add this. The tasting note is written after TORB looks at the wine, smells the wine, and then tastes the wine. None of these steps are done in isolation. In fact if Ric does use the tasting sheet he has on his site then he takes extensive notes on any individual wine. Once Ric convinces me that all the information he crunches under that chrome dome of his is subjective, truly individual, his alone and not relevant to any of the rest of us. Then I’ll believe him, but by then his comments on wine will be of interest to him alone – such is the problem of subjective knowledge.


6:16 AM  
Blogger meshmarketer said...

I have used the AWS 20-point scale, but I am more partial to a 100-point scale which is used very commonly where I buy wine.

I hope you don't mind that I am going to share with you my own wine scoring sheet. I developed this because I was offering in-home winetastings and I wanted my audience to be able to remember what they liked and why so they could go back and re-order. One nice thing about it is that it's customizable. Enjoy! Winetasting Score Sheet

1:57 PM  
Blogger katty said...

I think the good wine feels from the first sip. I love to drink wine in a dinner or an speciall reason. Actually i am reading about it . This blog is very interesting. costa rica investment opportunities is a site that i wanted to share with you.

12:29 PM  
Anonymous Casino? Games said...

It do not agree

2:15 AM  

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