February 28, 2024

Wine by the Numbers

Have you ever tasted a 100 point wine? More importantly, would you care if you did?

I’ve worked off and on in customer service and sales in the wine business, and the value that many customers place on scores given to wines by various critics is always a point of curiosity to me. Customers routinely ask how many points a wine scored, and there are those that refuse to buy anything that scored below a 90.

Ask yourself though, what do these scores really mean?

Let’s examine the world of wine reviews and give you some of the positives and negatives involved, so you can better use wine reviews in your purchases, and ultimately trust your own judgment over someone labeled as an expert.

First and foremost, understand that a wine review is nothing more than someone’s (or group of someone’s) opinion. I won’t repeat the cliché regarding opinions for proper decorum’s sake. Like all opinions, the wine review comes with biases and preferences. I point to myself as an example.

I freely admit that my preference for white wines is for ones that are light and crisp, with fresh, fruit-forward flavors, and minimal barrel characters. I’m biased against whites that are rich, heavy, and loaded with butter and oak flavors. I don’t typically drop names of wines I don’t personally like, as it’s bad form, but I’ll use Rombauer Chardonnay as an example. This is a very well made wine by all accounts. I’m sure the winery harvests premium fruit, and takes all possible care in the cellar to produce the very best product they can.

I just don’t like it. It’s a giant oaky butterbomb that doesn’t suit my tastes.

If I were writing a review for it, I would acknowledge it was a well made wine, then give it a score in the mid 80s just to be in-line with other reviewers who similarly score good quality wines they don’t personally prefer. My opinion would therefore be a disservice to those who enjoy oaky, butterbomb Chards; and Rombauer Chardonnay is extremely popular in the Arizona market, so there are many out there.

The trick to getting good use out of a wine review is to understand the preferences and biases of whoever the reviewer is. A good reviewer will state up front what they prefer, and also what they don’t. You, as the wine buyer, can then find critics whose preferences tend to match yours, and with some confidence, trust that the wines they enjoyed, you likely will as well.

The second point to understand about wine scores is what that point total actually represents. Is a 90 point wine somehow inherently better than an 89 point wine? If you have a 100 point scale, how much of it gets used? Are poor wines with defects being scored in the teens and 20s? If they’re being scored in the 50s, then why not chop off the bottom half and make it a 50 point scale?

Rather than focus on the number, reviewers should inform you about the wine. Is it excellent quality at a good value? Does it please them more than other wines at a similar price point in the category? If it was such an exceptional wine, what about it was memorable? Reviewers should explain this in easily understood language, as well.

I saw one reviewer describe a wine as, “a real bouquet of whiffs.” I have no idea what that means, and honestly, probably don’t want to.

A final point to consider is how much about that wine did the reviewer know before they scored it? Was the wine tasted blind with no knowledge of variety, region, or producer? Was it semi-blind, knowing that XYZ producers were in the tasting flight? Or did they just crack open a known bottle and have a taste? The more advanced knowledge a critic has about a wine, the more potential there is for their opinion to be biased. A good reviewer will tell you the details.

While wine reviews can be a useful tool, customers shouldn’t simply chase after a big score blindly. In the end, it’s not someone else’s opinion you’re trying to satisfy, it’s your own. Learn your own preferences and biases, but don’t be afraid to explore and try new things. Hunt for the good values, and treat yourself to a splurge every now and then. Eventually you’ll form your own opinions and won’t care about scores anymore.


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