Wine Ratings 101

Posted by Keith Wallace

How Wine Ratings Came to Be

Wine ratings are both standardized and controversial. The ratings are often subject to individual preferences and tastes. However, they are also a systematic way to rank the quality of a wine. As a result, you may agree with certain wine critics and not others. In this article, we are breaking down what those ratings mean.

University of California, Davis

The original wine ratings were developed at America’s top winemaking school, UC Davis. It was a 20-point system that was intended for California winemakers. The wine ratings were a system to grade the quality of wine from a production standpoint: clarity, flavor, and stability were the key metrics.

Over time, this system morphed into the 100 -point system we now have, but the main concepts of the original are still part of its DNA. The wine ratings are about the correctness of the wine (according to industry standards) not their deliciousness. This is a common misperception of wine consumers.

Wine Tasting The Way I Like Excshnm

Robert Parker

Robert Parker is a famed wine critic who created the 100-point system when working for the Wine Enthusiast Magazine. It initially faced plenty of objection and controversy, mostly from winemakers making sub-standard wines. He started his own magazine “The Wine Advocate” which offered an independent assessment, free of bias.

Master Sommeliers & Masters in Wine

When Parker created the wine rating system, many wine critics had vested interests in the wines and their performance on the market. As a result, Robert Parker was the sole authority on wine and its ranking. However, many excellent sommeliers continually offer well-informed reviews on the wines; Jancis Robinson, Karen McNeil, Keith Wallace, and James Suckling offer excellent wine reviews.

Female Tasting Wine In Winery Cellar

Wine Review Panels

Another way to reach a rating within a wine panel. Reputable wine magazines often gather panels of Master Sommeliers and Masters of Wine to blind taste these wines and score them. In addition, the wines are often judged blind (with the bottles covered) to ensure transparency.

Collective points from these tastings will result in an average ranking for that wine.

What Wine Ratings Mean

Ratings are canonical within a silo. Wines are judged according to region, grape, and style. There could be a 90-point wine in A Napa Cabernet Sauvignon selection, one for a Blanc de Blanc Champagne, and another for an Amarone. The rating means something different in each of those cases.

Female Tasting Wine In Winery Cellar

Wine Ratings Overview

Wine reviewers rank wines on the following scale, emphasizing the wine’s balance, length, complexity, and intensity.

  • Classic 98-100: The pinnacle of quality.
  • Superb 94-97: A extraordinary achievement.
  • Excellent 90-93: Heartily recommended.
  • Very Good 87-89: Often good value; well recommended.
  • Good 83-86: Suitable for everyday consumption; often good value.
  • Acceptable 80-82: Can be employed in casual, less-critical circumstances.
Two Sommeliers, Crafting Wine Ratings For Publication

Wines receiving a rating below 80 are usually unpublished; these wines have a fault or lack any outstanding qualities.

Price is not a factor in ratings, in that you can have a 90-point bottle that costs $15 and a similarly rated wine that costs ten times that. However, wines are judged within the context of price, varietal, and regional style. For example, a $15 bottle of Zinfandel from Sonoma is rated against similarly priced zins from California.

Wine Ratings Websites & Apps

Wine Ratings Free

Wine Rating Subscriptions

  • Wine Spectator. The classic wine magazine with a deep database of reviews.
  • Vinous. The up-and-coming wine review site with the top wine critics.
  • Wine Advocate. An industry staple. One of the best wine rating sources.

Wine Ratings App

  • Vivino. Scan and upload wines. Best for crowd-sourced wine reviews.
  • Wine-Searcher. The classic app to find wines and reviews.
  • CellarTracker. For wine collectors to organize their wine cellar.

Your Questions About Wine Ratings, Answered.

Should You Trust Wine Ratings?

The publications listed on this page and our wine review guide are very much worthy of your trust. However, there are other, less reputable reviewers whose ratings are not particularly effective. The following publications can be trusted.

Top Wine Publications

  • Wine Enthusiast
  • Wine Spectator
  • Wine Advocate
  • Falstaff
  • Guia Penin
  • Burghound

Top Independent Critics

  • Neal Martin
  • James Suckling
  • Eric Asimov
  • Jeb Dunnuck

Your Wine Questions, Answered

What is the best wine rating system?

The best wine rating system that is the most highly respected in the wine trade is Vinous, followed by the Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator.

How do I find wine ratings?

One of the easiest ways to find wine ratings is in a wine shop. Most shops will post ratings for the wines they carry.

What is a 91 rating for wine?

A 91-point rating for wine means it’s an excellent example of a specific style. That doesn’t mean you are going to like it or that it’s worth buying.

What are the grades of wine?

We grade wine using a 100-point scale. Under 87 points typically means the wine is average, while a rating above 93 points indicates an exceptional wine.

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