Wine Ratings

There are dozens of wine rating entities out there ranging from individuals to internationally renowned publications. Below are the most popular wine raters. The reality is that only a very small percentage of wines (typically the most expensive) ever get rated by these entities. There are thousands of great tasting wines that aren't produced by the largest or prestige wineries and their photos and stories don't grace the pages of these publications.

Over the years, we have learned to take all the ratings with a grain of salt. Feedback from our customers and our own opinions has led us to conclude that wine ratings are over-rated.

wine ratings

You may be amused by this Wall Street Journal article or should I say expose' on wine ratings. Then again, you may begin to realize the influence on sales that these ratings have and the obvious implications. The only way to tell how much YOU will enjoy a particular wine, is to taste it yourself. The following are excerpts from that WSJ article:

Scientific Research outdone by wine critics!

"There is a rich history of scientific research questioning whether wine experts can really make the fine taste distinctions they claim. For example, a 1996 study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology showed that even flavor-trained professionals cannot reliably identify more than three or four components in a mixture, although wine critics regularly report tasting six or more. There are eight in this description, from The Wine News, as quoted on wine.com, of a Silverado Limited Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 that sells for more than $100 a bottle:

"Dusty, chalky scents followed by mint, plum, tobacco and leather. Tasty cherry with smoky oak accents…" Another publication, The Wine Advocate, describes a wine as having "promising aromas of lavender, roasted herbs, blueberries, and black currants." What is striking about this pair of descriptions is that, although they are very different, they are descriptions of the same Cabernet. One taster lists eight flavors and scents, the other four, and not one of them coincide."wine critic

A winmaker puts the critics to the test

"Francesco Grande, a vintner whose family started making wine in 1827 Italy, told me of a friend at a well-known Paso Robles winery who had conducted his own test, sending the same wine to a wine competition under three different labels. Two of the identical samples were rejected, he said, "one with the comment 'undrinkable.' " The third bottle was awarded a double gold medal. "Email Robert Parker," he suggested, "and ask him to submit to a controlled blind tasting."

An articled at Vintology titled "Are wine reviewers full of poop?"  spells out the monetary implications by saying: "The thing that makes all of this so problematic is the level of influence that a limited number of critics have on the entire industry.  So much of the public's wine buying dollars are spent on the recommendations of these individual's tastes.  If their judgment is unreliable then it seems that there are a lot of wineries whose livelihood is subject to the flawed perception of a handful of critics."

To complicate things, there are a variety of wine rating systems in use. I found this chart very interesting.

There are countless other criticisms of wine critics. This page isn't meant to be full of jokes but you may crack up while reading some of these quotes:

wine tasterI edited the tasting note into the florid description and then a list of all tasting descriptors used (while editing out the duplicates).  All told, in one wine, this guy tasted over 78 DIFFERENT components in a tasting note that was over 600 words long. That's a quote from Good Grape - A Wine Manifesto

What do those rating numbers mean anyway?

“That’s another way numbers are misguiding people,” said Mr. Tisherman, the former Wine Enthusiast editor who now calls himself a “recovering critic” and helps clients sponsor wine-tasting parties. “A 96 is better than an 86, but not if you want a light-bodied wine, and Americans tend to prefer light-bodied wines. Yet those are also the wines least likely to get a good score.”
 

In recognition of this growing sophistication, Mr. De Loach says it is time to switch to a three- or four-star rating system because applying a 100-point scale to wine is dishonest. It makes the consumer think it’s scientific.” He expressed his appreciation for the publications that have established their reputations by using it, but also declared it a “noble experiment whose time is over.”  The NY Times published that.

The Wall Street Journal noted in yet another article on the subject: "As a consumer, accepting that one taster's tobacco and leather is another's blueberries and currants, that a 91 and a 96 rating are interchangeable, or that a wine winning a gold medal in one competition is likely thrown in the pooper in others presents a challenge. If you ignore the web of medals and ratings, how do you decide where to spend your money? "

Are they rating the wine or the bottle?

This next gem is from WineTasting.org: "I've placed cheap wine into empty bottles of expensive wine and poured it for some top wine experts and sommeliers and all of them described the wine as if it was the expensive wine they thought that they were drinking." The article is titled "Why Wine Ratings are a Joke."
 

Do the wine "experts" think that we all believe whatever they say?

wine expert

In a study done by the American Association Of Wine Economists titled "Can people distinguish pate from dog food", this was the result: We conclude that, although human beings do not enjoy eating dog food, they are also not able to distinguish its flavor profile from other meat-based products that are intended for human consumption. Interesting that such a test was done to begin with. You can read about the test here.


Packaging and price have a huge effect on judgement

The New Yorker magazine had an intetesting article on the subject which stated: "The perceptual ambiguity of wine helps explain why contextual influences—say, the look of a label, or the price tag on the bottle—can profoundly influence expert judgment. This was nicely demonstrated in a mischievous 2001 experiment led by Frédéric Brochet at the University of Bordeaux." The article concluded with: "So go ahead and buy some wine from New Jersey. But if you really want to maximize the pleasure of your guests, put a fancy French label on it. Those grapes will taste even better."

A paper titled "Tasting - Chemical Object Representation In The Field Of Consciouness states this regarding our senses:

Rating wine by its color

"The influence of colour on the representations of fragrance and taste of the wine was clearly demonstrated, as was the interference generated by imaginary information. Finally, the hesitant and unstable character of the representation was confirmed on equal terms with high inter-individual variability." Read the entire paper from a doctorate in Oenology.

A summary that I agree with:

This from a wine blogger who has an interesting piece, but here's the bottom line of his article: "There are no two ways about it: the bullshit is strong with wine. Wine tasting. Wine rating. Wine reviews. Wine descriptions. They're all related. And they're all egregious offenders, from a bullshit standpoint.

In 2008, a survey comprising more than 6,000 blind tastings found a positive correlation between price and enjoyment  for individuals with wine training. In other words: if you're a wine expert, there's a chance you'll enjoy expensive wines more than cheaper ones. HOWEVER, it bears emphatic mentioning that whether this suggests more expensive wines are objectively better (which it doesn't) is irrelevant, because among amateur wine drinkers (which, let's face it, you are), the survey found the opposite, i.e. a negative correlation between price and happiness, “suggesting that individuals on average enjoy more expensive wines slightly less.” This lead the researchers to conclude that "both the prices of wines and wine recommendations by experts may be poor guides for non-expert wine consumers." The entire article is here.

Recent blog comments by career wine critic Steve Heimoff support my opinion that so-called expert wine critics are going the way of the dinosaur:

"and if the online wine writers will put traditional wine critics out of business."

"So it’s not a question of “if” a small cadre of wine writers will be eclipsed, but “when.” It’s also a question of the relationship that readers will have with whomever replaces the famous wine writers."

This video is over an hour long but takes a common sense approach to wine ratings. It's well worth the time if you'd like a better understanding of the entire rating system.

 

Some wineries apparently share my opinion about wine ratings. Check out this article from Grape Collective

Want to really learn more; The Institute of Masters of Wine can make you a pro.

 This article actually gives a scientific explanation about the taste and aroma of wines and the flaws in what the wine critics say.

A few excerpts from - "Can we quantify and more accurately describe how alcohol tastes?"

Quandt thinks that pros like Robert Parker — or your friend who always makes a big show over the wine list at a restaurant — are essentially making it all up. Or, like some storefront psychics, possibly they think they know what they’re talking about, when in actuality they’ve merely intuited their way into a con.

The first step is to acknowledge just how limited our senses actually are. A study titled, simply, “The Color of Odors,” will destroy your faith in anybody’s ability to taste anything. Here’s how it worked: three French researchers started with two wines from Bordeaux, a white made with Sémillon and Sauvignon grapes and a red made with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

We tentatively suggest that the verbal skills, which are developed around wine, perhaps lead to a somewhat similar overestimation of confidence in expertise,” the researchers write. They’re hinting that knowing many words to describe wine makes people think they’re better at identifying it than they really are. Read the entire article at Salon

This is a list of the most well known wine rating people and publications

 

The Wine Advocate

The Wine Advocate is a bimonthly wine publication featuring the consumer advice of wine critic Robert M. Parker, Jr.  Initially titled The Baltimore-Washington Wine Advocate the first issue was published in 1978.  Accepting no advertising, the newsletter publishes in excess of 7,500 reviews per year, utilizing Parker's rating system that employs a 50-100 point quality scale.

Wine Spectator

Wine Spectator is a lifestyle magazine that focuses on wine and wine culture. It publishes 15 issues per year with content that includes news, articles, profiles, and general entertainment pieces. Each issue also includes from 400 to more than 1,000 wine reviews, which consist of wine ratings and tasting notes.
 

International Wine Celler

This independent and critically acclaimed bimonthly publication, established in 1985, is read by wine lovers in all 50 states and 34 countries. Every issue includes in-depth articles on three to five important wine regions, with detailed tasting notes and scores on more than 1,000 wines.

  
Wine Enthusiast

Wine Enthusiast Magazine is a lifestyle magazine covering wine, food, spirits, travel and entertaining topics. It was founded in 1988 by Adam and Sybil Strum and reaches 686,000 readers. Its wine ratings, conducted by reviewers in major wine-producing areas of the world, are considered an influential gauge for consumers and professionals in the wine industry

  
Wine & Spirits

Wine and Spirits is America's practical guide to the straightforward, enlightened enjoyment of fine wine and and premium spirits. We have for 18 years served customers and marketers alike with a lively mix of wine reviews, features, profiles, food and wine pairings, new product introductions, travel pieces, history, opinion and wine business news.

  
Burghound

Burghound.com was the first of its kind to offer specialized, and more importantly, exhaustive coverage of a specific wine region. The first Issue was released in January of 2001 and there are now subscribers in more than 50 countries and nearly all 50 states. Allen Meadows spends over four months a year in Burgundy and visits more than 300 domaines during that time.

  
James Halliday

James is one of the world’s leading authorities on Australian wine, matching intelligent, honest reviews with unparalleled knowledge of, and passion for, the wine industry.

  
Connoisseurs' Guide to California Wine

For thirty-five years, Connoisseurs’ Guide has been the authoritative voice of the California wine consumer. With readers in all fifty states and twenty foreign countries, the Guide is valued by wine lovers everywhere for its honesty and for it strong adherence to the principles of transparency, unbiased, hard-hitting opinions.

  
James Suckling

I rate wines using the 100-points scale. I have used this point system for close to 25 years. I still believe it is the simplest way to rate a wine, with its origins from grade school in the United States. A wine that I rate 90 points or more is outstanding (A), and worth buying. If I rate a wine 95 points or more (A+), it is a must

  
View from the Cellar

View From the Cellar, an electronic wine newsletter published bi-monthly by John Gilman.

  
Wine Journal

Homepage for wine writer, Neal Martin and the "Diary of a Wine Writer".

  
The Rhone Report

Dedicated to the wines and grapes of the Rhone Valley

 

 

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