Amy Mumma, coordinator and instructor of Central Washington University’s World Wine Program, demystified the wine rating game during recent wine industry talks to help make sense of the different types of wine scores published in various wine trade magazines and found in wine shops.
Today, nearly all wine trade publications use the 100-point scoring system to rate wines, a system created by renowned wine critic Robert Parker. However, the Wine Press Northwest uses its own system, rating wines "outstanding" and "recommended" instead of using numbers.
The following are the key points in understanding wine ratings, explained Mumma:
• For critical review, the winery submits at least two bottles of wine to the publication or wine critic. More bottles are submitted for a competition that includes a panel of judges.
• Scores given as a range, for example 85-90, mean wine was tasted from the barrel, and the score is the anticipated quality.
• If initials do not follow the rating, two tasters rated the wine.
• Some magazines do not publish wines scoring below 80 points, putting the "kiss of death" on average wines scoring 79 or below. Wines scoring 85 to 90 are expected to be good-value wines; wines scoring above 95 are considered exceptional.
• A wine taster should taste no more than two flights of wines per day (each flight is 20 to 30 wines).
• Some wine scores are based on points: 50 base points are given to all wines, followed by 5 points for color, 15 points for aroma and bouquet, 20 points for flavor and finish, and 10 points for overall quality and potential aging.
• Double-blind tasting means that tasters do not know the producer or variety of wine.
• Judging panels used at wine competitions comprise four judges.
• Consensus is key to judging panels that look for the same qualities in wine as wine critics of publications, but use the 20-point European system. Gold equals 19 to 20 points, silver is in the 16 to 18 range, and bronze medals are given for wines in the 14 to 15 point spread. A wine scoring 12 would be considered faulty.
• A double gold award means that all four panelists agreed on ranking the wine as gold.
• Studies have shown that high scores can increase the retail value of the wine.