Do wine scores miss the point?
by Panos Kakaviatos for wine-chronicles.com
3 February 2021
When I look at how I scored wines about 10 years ago, the scores were more conservative. Many more wines were rated between 88 and 92, and that was just swell. For a while, I never gave any wine 100 points, because perfection can be boring. 99 sounds more interesting, more real. And yet, how to deny the sheer exuberance of tasting, say, Cheval Blanc 2018 from bottle? From bottle mind you. I cannot really understand 100-point scores for barrel samples: the product is not even finished.
But never mind 100. I miss an era, not too long ago but sadly gone, when a wine that garnered 88 out of 100 reflected a very good grade. Indeed, for American schools, from which the 100-point scale originates in the first place, 88 out of 100 is a high B, or “B+” rating. A very good rating. It would be like obtaining over 16 points in a French school, which is a high score in the 20-point scale that was often used in France for wine scoring.
Of course A grades are superior. But these days, any wine worth considering has to be in the 90s and not the low 90s. The 100-point scale has not been reduced to the 10 points between 90 and 100, but is more like a five-point scale. These days even an “A-” (a score between 90 and 92, or even 93 and 94) would be considered less than exciting for retailers who need to get wines off shelves (in the pandemic era, off curbsides or delivered from online sales).
Several merchants have told me that you need 95 or more to get a consumer truly excited these days. Could this mean that many more great wines are being produced these days? Of course, the wine industry would tell you that. But what of valid criticism? What does the 100-point scale mean anymore?
Whatever the case may be, these days 90 can be considered rather good and nothing more; 93 quite good, 94 very good, 95 excellent and 97 outstanding, with 98-100 “nirvana zone” wines. We edge closer to Michael Broadbent’s five star ratings, with 96 one star and 100 the coveted five stars.
As for 100-point wines, they can only be those wines that have properly aged, arriving at time-earned complexity. For wines like 1982 Petrus or 1959 Latour, or 1988 Krug or 1996 Oenotheque Dom Perignon, which I have been lucky to have enjoyed, I can say “100” with more ease, not only out of sheer exuberance, but also because of intrinsic greatness from aging that brought about complexity.
In reality though, many wine writers and critics have upped their scores on the scale to reflect this new reality and so it can seem like we live in an era of point inflation.
All the more reason to read the notes of a wine critic or writer and to pay less attention to the scores. I find it more interesting to read what the writer or critic has to say about the wine rather than rely on a number, but – gee whiz – how original a thought is that? 🙄 😂 🍷🍷