Ratings Explained

Ratings… a subject of some controversy. How do you put a number on a wine? And why should one person’s rating determine a wine’s cost and/or availability? In this day and age of wine, that seems to be the case. Just as experts rate restaurants, movies and books, wine critics rate wine. And while some disagree with the power held by just a few of these critics, customers do look to them as guidelines for purchasing wines. This was recently confirmed with the Wine.com Top 100 list of 2009, with 92 of the wines rating 90 points or higher.

Wine.com uses 8 different critics/publications for our wines: Wine Spectator (WS), Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate (RP), Wine Enthusiast (WE), Wine & Spirits Magazine (W&S), Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar (ST), The Wine News (WN), James Halliday (JH) and the Connoisseur’s Guide to California Wine (CG).

While the ultimate critic is YOU, the consumer, ratings can act as a guideline in helping you choose a wine that you like.

First rule of using ratings – read the tasting note! Too many of us look at a score and neglect to read the note. If you don’t like oak in your Chardonnay, a Chardonnay rated 95 points may still be a big, oaky Chardonnay, but worth 95 points. High scores do not guarantee you will like a wine. 

Let’s say you tried an Australian wine that was 93 points from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, but found it totally over the top. You tried another Australian wine rated 90 points by Stephen Tanzer and loved it. When shopping for Australian wine in  the future, you may want to look for more wines rated by Stephen Tanzer since his tastes are more in tune with yours. Note that I specified the region here, as different publications have different tasters for each region, so you may love Wine Spectator’s Washington State ratings, but completely disagree with their ratings of Argentina. Learn who tastes what!

In addition, if you realize you enjoy a style of wine, say, Monastrell from the Jumilla region of Spain, don’t shy away from wines of that region with no rating – they may not have been rated yet or not have been submitted to anyone for a rating. If you look for a similar price range, chances are, you’ll get a similar wine.

Finally, utilize the Wine.com community pages, where you can post your own reviews or read other customer’s reviews on a wine. You can also search the web for wine recommendations from all the wine blogs out there.

So advice is: When you notice ratings on wines that you like OR don’t like, note who rated them. You’ll find that all palates are different, but you probably agree – or disagree – more with one critic than another. Read the tasting note! That will tell you more about a wine than the score. And don’t be afraid to try a style of wine you like with no rating, you may be giving it a high score of your own.