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06.15.2007

Rumors of My Conversion...

....to the 100 point scoring system have been greatly exaggerated.

I gotta say folks, I'm tickled pink at how many of you e-mailed to point out the inaccuracy of the story in the San Francisco Chronicle yesterday which mentioned Vinography as one of the major wine blogs that utilized the 100 point scoring system.

Not to worry, I haven't changed my system, and I'd like to use this opportunity to remind new readers how and why I use my 10 point scoring system.

When I started to review wines, I decided that I really had no idea what the difference between a 92 point wine and a 93 point wine was. I still don't. That level of granularity of score makes no sense to me, and I don't think it makes a lot of sense to most people. I certainly think that 99% of even the most sophisticated wine drinkers couldn't correctly pick a set of 92 point wines out of a group of 93 point wines if they were tasted side by side.

So I decided I wanted a coarser scale of measure. I also wanted something simple.

At first I thought about using the US letter grading system (A+, A, A-, B+, B, etc.) but I quickly ruled that out as not universally understood. When I tried to recall the most universal scoring system I could think of, I eventually settled on a 10 point scale that roughly corresponds to that very same letter grading system:

A+ = 10
A = about 9.5
A- = about 9
B+ = between 8.5 and 9
B = about 8.5
B-= about 8
C+= between 7.5 and 8
C = about 7.5
D = about 6
F = 5 and below

Those words "about" and "between" are pretty important to me, as I want to emphasize the approximate nature of such evaluations. Applying a numerical score to a wine is such a strange (but ultimately useful, in my opinion) thing to do, that it seems utterly ridiculous to quibble over increments at the level of hundredths (though since most 100 point scoring systems don't end up rating many wines below 85, one might argue that we're talking about increments of 'twentieths').

There's lots to be discussed about whether there should even be scores for wine in the first place, which is the subject of the slightly mis-informed Chronicle article, and we have discussed that topic at length here on Vinography, so there's no need to rehash old ground.

But in case you were worried (yeah, right). I'm sticking with my clunky little 10 point scale until I see a really good reason not to. Thanks for your support!

Comments (14)

Anonymous wrote:
06.16.07 at 5:57 AM

Technically, you use a 20 point scale as you go in increments of 0.5.

Allen Clark wrote:
06.16.07 at 8:00 AM

I think it's pretty clear that the Davis 20-point scale isn't 20 points, nor is the alleged 100-point scale 100 points. Taking on the more prevalent scale in use, there's no way a wine scored by critics at 88 is a B+. It's a C at best, which is to say the meaningful part of the scale is really 88 to 100, a mere 12 points of difference, and I would argue that there's practically no distinguishing anything over 96, as it is a matter of emotional effusiveness at that point, not objectively identifiable qualitative differences.

I keep a log of tasting notes that now numbers about 15,000 and I have never rated any wine higher than 96. Graphing this database, the score attributed to the most wines is 90, falling off to either side of that number (and I generally avoid tasting or at least noting obvious plonk). I wouldn't doubt that a graph of Parker or Expectorator scores would be similar, though more likely centered around 88 (they have to drink the obvious plonk, it fills the shelves). I think that's what we call average, or at least median. The scores I have of around 80 and less are nearly all bad bottles, not bad wines (corked, brett, burnt, etc.)

Alder wrote:
06.16.07 at 8:09 AM

Technically, since I rarely rate anything below a 7.5, my scoring system is around a 12 point scale.

W. Blake Gray wrote:
06.16.07 at 9:58 AM

I'm sorry for the error, which has been corrected online.

06.16.07 at 10:05 PM

"I'm sorry for the error, which has been corrected online." commented W. Blake Gray above.

So now, with the error corrected, Alder and Vinography are no longer mentioned.

I don't care what you say about me, as long as you say something about me, and as long as you spell my name right. --- George Cohan

Alder wrote:
06.16.07 at 10:09 PM

Well put. I guess there's some consolation that my name is still sitting on a printed page in thousands of recycling bins in the Bay Area !

Tish wrote:
06.17.07 at 7:40 AM

I think the Chronicle should do a follow-up article, about the 100-point scale as the elephant in the room. THe VAST majority of independent wine writers (bloggers and print) in this country purposely DO NOT use the 100-point scale. Why? Common sense, and respect for both the makers and drinkers of our favorite liquid beverage. It is a silent conspiracy of major magazines and the retailers who love using numbers that have created a tyranny of points. The tyranny has gone on so long that there are effectively only two scores: 90 or not. The NY Times and San Francisco Chronicle both, within the past 10 months, critcially examined the (in)efficacy of numbers. I believe we are approaching a tipping point at which numbers will be vocally rejected and stand exposed as the Emperor's Clothes.

What will it take? Maybe a famous-name winery announcing it will no longer submit samples to magazines tht use a 100-point scale. Perhaps a restaurant that creates wine list based on a completely new system of showcasing food-firendly wines. How about an 82-point Blackstone (or the equivalent) winning a blind tasting conducted by plain ol' wine drinkers aginst a range of 95-point Merlots?

Last time I checked, the global wine industry had survived for about 7,000 years without the 100-point scale. Its current dominance is the result of market forces, no doubt. But markets evolve. I hope that the Chronicle article -- and Blake Gray's honest mistake -- ensure that this is the beginning of a new debate on how Americans can embrace wine without silly numbers. It can happen. It will. Only a matter of time and common sense. -Tish

Jerry D. Murray wrote:
06.18.07 at 1:36 PM

I hope Tish is right but have little hope of that being the case. I beleive the 100 point scale is part of our culture and larger than the wine drinking community. The only chance we have is a movement away from ratings all together. I think for this to happen wine writing would have to fundamentally change and embrace a more detailed and specific language for describing wine. If you read the tasting notes for a WS 87 and a WS 93 you get very little feel for the differences but obviously there has to be one. Most tasting notes focus on specific flavors, which I believe provides little information on wine quality. The variables that do indicate quality, structure and texture, have poorly developed vocabularies for description. If we are to move away from rating systems we need to develop greater diversity in our language describing the attributes that really distinguish one wine from another.

We are a nation ( world ) of consumers, getting away from ratings, be it 100point scale or 5 stars, will require a major change in thinking of the critics and consumers alike.

Alder wrote:
06.18.07 at 2:16 PM

Jerry,

I tend to agree, and go one further in that I think that ratings really are fundamentally helpful, but I have no idea on how to make them any less "evil" other than to simply push for a broader set of ratings bodies including, one day perhaps, a democratically driven, quality set of ratings from a large community of wine lovers online.

Stacy wrote:
06.20.07 at 6:30 AM

We can have debates all day long on the benefits of more complex grading systems but wine shouldn't be that complicated. It really just comes down to would you drink and more importantly buy a particular wine? Your 10 point scale is perfectly accesible to all levels of wine drinkers, from those who over-intellectualize to those who know nothing. Kudos to keeping wine about the wine.

Tish wrote:
06.20.07 at 7:02 AM

I agree with Stacy's very sensible comment. I would add, however, that numbers would be totally unnecessary if critics reviewed only wines they recommend. Sure there might be reasons to review sub-par bottlings, say, in a whole portfolio tasting. But without the numbers, everyone (critics, readers) would be empowered to focus on stylistica attributes, which are always what matter most when deciding on a particular wine to buy, and helping figure when to best enjoy it.

Jerry D. Murray wrote:
06.20.07 at 11:34 AM

Again, Tish, I admire your optimism. Numeric rating systems, while having merits, have been villified by producers ( myself included )because they lack sensitivity. By this I mean that a given score provides one with little information about the style or quality of a wine. Tasting notes, which largely focus on flavor profiles, fail to clarify the situation. The attributes of a wine that are most indicative of style or quality, texture and structure, are poorly described by the current wine reviewing community. This is largely due to the relative infantile vocabulary to describe these attributs. If consumers are to move away from a numeric driven system the wine writing community must begin to address the elements of style; texture and structure.

Alder eludes to a future of a democratic wine reviewing community. I believe if we were to treat wine rating as polls, we would find the situation worsen. I believe the increased number of participants would create a "normal distribution" that would move ratings toward a common mean score. We would find fewer poor scoring wines and fewer high scoring wines. With more wines nearing a common score, we get less information from a rating system. However the advantage to such a system is that it posses what the current community of wine critics lacks...diversity.

Geoff Smith wrote:
06.20.07 at 12:53 PM

I give this blog entry about 86 points.

Alder wrote:
06.20.07 at 12:59 PM

:-) Scores only really work when they are understood in the context of lots of other scores from the same critic. I think you've only scored one other of my posts Geoff, so I can't tell if you consider this barely readable, readable, or enjoyable !

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