The Wine Ratings System: A peek behinds the wizard’s curtain

Staff Account
Written by: Arnie Millan

As you can guess, wine ratings (also known as points ratings) are a controversial topic. In the shop, I’m often asked the meaning of these points and who gives them. This is especially germane since I award Arnie points when there are no other review scores but I also give detailed tasting notes.

Surprisingly, only the Wine Advocate discusses their rating system in detail. Importantly, the Advocate goes on: “…scores do not reveal the important facts about a wine. The written commentary (tasting note) that accompanies the ratings is a better source of information regarding the wine's style and personality, its relative quality vis-à-vis its peers, and its value and aging potential than any score could ever indicate.”

In the U.S.A., we usually grade wines on a 100-point scale, thanks to Robert Parker who introduced this scale in his Wine Advocate. According to the Advocate, “Robert Parker believes that the various 20-point rating systems do not provide enough flexibility and often result in compressed and inflated wine ratings. Since its inception, Robert Parker’s 100-point scale has become the wine industry’s standard.” I use a 100-point scale as well. This scale is also used by the respected Austrian wine and food publication Falstaff.

Decanter, published in London, uses the 20-point system that Parker eschews. However, they now rate in half-point increments so is it then a 40-point scale? Other European critics, mostly British, also use this scale such as Jancis Robinson Master of Wine or MW, Tom Stevenson and Clive Coates MW – the latter most reluctantly. However, even Decanter uses a 100-point scale for its World Wine Awards reviews.

Clive Coates, as well as the renowned Italian Food & Wine publication, Gambero Rosso, prefer a non-numerical rating system. Gambero Rosso’s top wines receive the rating of Tre Bicchieri or Three Glasses; lesser wines get fewer glasses. Clive Coates MW, a witty, learned and stylish writer, likes to rate wines sans points. Here is his “scale”:

Poor (sometimes adding “no class”)
Not Bad
Quite Good
Very Good
Very Good Indeed
Fine Plus
Very Fine Indeed


Caveat Emptor

Before we approach the point-rating systems, we need a cold dose of reason. These points are often viewed erroneously as objective, endowed with some assumed scientific rigor since they are numerical scales. Point ratings are nevertheless subjective, assigned as a numerical representation of a reviewer’s opinion.

Thus some reviewers generally score higher (or lower) than others. Beware!


Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate Rating System

The score ranges correlate to the following assessments:

96-100 points:

An extraordinary wine of profound and complex character displaying all the attributes expected of a classic wine of its variety. Wines of this caliber are worth a special effort to find, purchase and consume.

90 – 95 points:

An outstanding wine of exceptional complexity and character. In short, these are terrific wines.

80 – 89 points:

A barely above average to very good wine displaying various degrees of finesse and flavor as well as character with no noticeable flaws.

70 – 79 points:

An average wine with little distinction except that it is a soundly made. In essence, a straightforward, innocuous wine.

60 – 69 points:

A below average wine containing noticeable deficiencies, such as excessive acidity and/or tannin, an absence of flavor or possibly dirty aromas or flavors.

50 – 59 points:

A wine deemed to be unacceptable.


Wine Spectator's 100-Point Scale

95 - 100 points Classic

90 - 94 points Outstanding

85 - 89 points Very Good

80 - 84 points Good

75 - 79 points Mediocre

50 - 74 points Not Recommended