The Vines of Mendoza

Understanding Wine Scores and Ratings


Quick, succinct and informative, a wine’s score is perhaps the fastest method of communicating an individual wine critic’s impression and opinion of a wine to both consumers and colleagues alike. These quick number narratives are often bolstered, defended and substantiated by the reviewer’s tasting notes that typically appear alongside the rating. The 100-point scale is the gold standard for rating wines and has been the benchmark for scoring a wine’s quality. It has been the highly influential rating guide of both Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator magazine. It is interesting to note that a wine may be scored by an individual wine critic, a collective tasting panel review or a distinct online or in print wine publication.

Scoring System Defined:  Understanding the 100-point scale is mission critical to understanding what lies behind the number. To begin with, the “scale” really starts at 50 points, not zero. It also isn’t completely standardized across all wine publications with different outlets allotting slightly different terminology to their point specifics. The best wine scores are typically given under blind tasting conditions, which help to remove taster bias and tend to improve sensory perception.

·       50-59 points – the wine is seriously flawed and deemed undrinkable

·       60-69 points – The wine is still flawed and not recommended for consumption. This could be due to excessive balance issues in acidity, tannins, alcohol levels, off or dirty aromas, seriously compromised flavor components.

·       70-79 points – The wines are considered completely average, with minor flaws, and you will not see a wine carrying a rating in this range.

·       80-89 points – These wines can range from slightly above average to very good. Typically, these wines do not carry any glaring flaws, are soundly made and drink well.

·       90-94 points – A wine that is considered “outstanding” by Wine Spectator and Robert Parker. Terrific wines that showcase the wine’s varietal, regional and producer characteristics well.

·       95-100 points – Classified as an “extraordinary” bottle, carrying complexity, and enthusiastically celebrated as benchmark to illustrate a “classic” bottling of a grape variety for a given region and vintage.


Top Wine Critic Abbreviations for Wine Scoring

Oftentimes a wine will appear online or instore with a number score and letter abbreviations. These abbreviations are shorthand for specific wine critics or wine review publications. The most common abbreviations appear below:


WS: Wine Spectator Magazine

W&S: Wine and Spirits Magazine

RP: Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate bimonthly publication

WE: Wine Enthusiast Magazine

JS: James Suckling

D: Decanter


Wine ratings are a starting point. They are valuable in that they offer a quick opinion on a particular bottle, but keep in mind that the majority of wines on the market are not rated. In general, wines must be submitted for tasting review to each publication to receive a rating, and most wines never make it to a professional tasting table. That said. A good review from an esteemed critic is converted into incredible marketing potential via wine shop shelf-talkers, online wine retail promotion and for savvy consumers in search of the best value in “90 point” bottles.


Four Quick Tips for Using Wine Ratings Well

1.       Keep track of which wine critic or wine publication that aligns well with your unique taste preferences. Maybe “Critic A” rates a wine as 93 points, but you try it and are not a fan; however, you consistently find “Critic B’s” 90-point allocations go above and beyond your expectations in terms of quality and price. Congrats! You’ve found a palate partner that you can follow and lean on for quick numerical wine recommendations.

2.       When a rating is given as a range that generally means it is a preliminary score given to an unfinished wine (as often happens in barrel tastings).

3.       Don’t let ratings or lack of ratings scare you off from trying new grapes, new regions, or new producers. The wine adventure will take you to all sorts of new bottles and vinification processes, a number can’t tell you the whole story.

4.       What’s the difference between a 90-point wine that is $25 and a 90-point wine that leans closer to $40? Often, it’s a reflection of the type (and cost) of oak utilized and where the grapes were sourced.


While wine scores are not the definitive assessment on any bottle, they can be a useful starting point. Keep in mind that a wine’s specific score is not intended to rate a wine based on how tasty and flavorful it is, but on how closely the wine aligns to the “standard” of production, style, quality and typicity for a given wine growing region.


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