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A guide to wine ratings

Robert M. Parker, Jr. is credited for the 100-point wine rating system. Critics bemoan that the system is so influential that wine producers make wines which match reviewers' specific preferences.

Robert Parker on wine

Love and wine Parker’s interest in wine began in 1967, on a Christmas vacation visiting his high school sweetheart in Alsace, France where she studied at University of Strasbourg. She had written him irregularly and Parker worried that some suave Frenchman might sweep her off her feet. They’ve been married now for 37 years, so Parker’s trip was a success on many levels. Let the tasting begin Back at college, Parker formed a wine-tasting group of fellow students. As they started rating wines, they soon observed that price and reputation are no guarantee for the best wines. After college and law school, Parker began a wine newsletter that eventuated into The Wine Advocate.

Wine by the numbers

The 100-point scale In the mid-1970s, Parker popularised his 100-point rating scale. Most wine magazines essentially use the same system, including The Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast. What do the numbers mean? One or more reviewers taste the wine blindly: no labels, no price or winery information. Reviewers assign numeric ratings according to this criteria: 96-100 - Extraordinary, a classic wine of its variety. 90-95 - Outstanding, exceptional complexity and character. 80-89 - Barely above average to very good, wine with various degrees of flavour. 70-79 - Average, little distinction beyond being soundly made. 60-69 - Below average, drinkable, but containing noticeable deficiencies. 50-59 - Poor and unacceptable not recommended.

Beyond wine ratings

Linear scale Numeric ratings imply that wine's quality is one-dimensional. A number doesn't tell you if a Chardonnay is okay or the wine is drinkable now or needs cellaring for two years. Read beyond the number to see, if the reviewer tells what they liked about the wine. Robert Parker himself suggests reading tasting notes in addition to the rating. Wine rating is subjective Just like one’s taste in fiction, not everyone loves Stephen King, or “big” Cabernets. If you follow a particular reviewer enough to know that his or her taste in California Syrahs, for example, is similar to yours, their wine recommendations may be more reliable for you. Be aware that wine publications assign different reviewers to different wine regions. Wine Spectator, for instance, has three different reviewers for California wines. Someone else reviews Oregon, Washington and Australian wines. The limits of numeric ratings Gary Rivlin, in the International Herald Tribune, writes, “Ratings are quick judgments that a single individual renders early in the life of a bottle of wine that, once expressed numerically, magically transform the nebulous and subjective into the authoritative and objective.”

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