Scoring wine makes about as much sense as scoring sunsets, but it is a useful easy to understand shorthand to identify which wine is better than another, however you define better.
There are three main scoring systems, the 5 point scale, the 20 point and the 100 point.
Until recently the 20 point scale popularised by the University of California at Davis was the main system, and is still used in some major wine competitions, including two that I have scored at. In this you award points for different components of the wine:-
Colour (one point)
Clarity (one point)
Aroma/Bouquet (five points)
Taste/Balance (five points)
Sugar (one point)
Acidity (two points)
Body (two points)
Tannin (one point)
General Quality (two points)
Critic Robert Parker has popularised a 100 point scoring system. although of course it is not a 100 point scale since it starts at 50 and in practice only scores between 80-100 mean anything.
Parker’s system has fast gained dominance and has been adopted by many magazines and other critics. It is
Extraordinary (95-100 points)
Very Good to Excellent (85-89)
Below average (70-74)
and is explained in detail here http://www.erobertparker.com/info/legend.asp
It amuses me that people using this system still have the need to award ˝ points.
The weekly wine tasting club I belong to uses a 7 point scale
1 = Faulty, 2 = Poor, 3 = Below Average, 4 = Average and above, 5 = Good, 6 = Very Good, 7 = Fantastic. (Why award any points for a faulty wine? Because a scores are divulged by a show of hand and that identifies when some think a wine is faulty)
I think in everyday life, i.e. for your own use, you need only the 3 point scale that I call the NOW score
N= No way
But be aware that a score means nothing if you do not agree with the scorer. Parker is recognised as an excellent taster, but if you dislike the types of wines that he rates highly then his high scores are to be avoided. If you read on a website that John Doe rates a wine at 99 points then before buying the wine you have to ask who John Doe is and whether you care what his opinion is.
Another thing to be aware of is that some wine stores seem to forget to update their shelf talkers and one that screams 'Parker 98 points' may be in fact referring to an earlier vintage than the wine on the shelves, and some merchants show scores but do not identify who gave them. A score issued bythe person selling a wine is worth little.
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Peter F May is the author of Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape: Odd Wines from Around the World which features more than 100 wine labels and the stories behind them, and PINOTAGE: Behind the Legends of South Africa’s Own Wine which tells the story behind the Pinotage wine and grape, also available for the Kindle.