Wine ratings are useful tools for consumers who want to pick high-quality wine, but they’re not a foolproof system. Fortunately, there are ways to choose great wine without relying on wine scores. Keep reading to learn about the scoring system and how to find great bottles without peeking at a single wine score.
The Essential Elements of a Wine Score
In the 1980s, renowned wine critic Robert Parker began to use a 100-point scale. Although his scoring system seemed revolutionary at the time, consumers loved its simplicity.
- 95-100 points: a classic example of the varietal
- 90-94 points: exceptional to superior
- 85-90 points: very good to good
- 80-84 points: good to average
While you’re unlikely to see a rating of 50 or lower, experts consider these bottles “undrinkable.”
Wines scores don’t just focus on quality. They also consider how much a vintage reflects the flavors and traits commonly associated with the varietal and region. In other words, there isn’t a single factor that results in a 90-point wine—and a delicious, but quirky, wine may get a lower score than one that meets traditional expectations.
Wine Scores Sometimes Aren’t Helpful
Wine scores are a great guideline for choosing wine, especially if you don’t have much context for a specific varietal. However, it’s never a good idea just to grab a bottle off our racks because someone gave it a high rating.
Wine Scores Are Subjective
At their heart, wine scores are intensely individual. Wine critics might be highly trained, but their opinions are still just that — opinions. Think about you and your wine-loving friends. Some of them probably love big, tannic Cabernet Sauvignon, while others prefer a more delicate Cru Beaujolais. If they assigned ratings, their personal preferences would impact the scores: with one giving a robust red wine a much higher score than the other. The same is true for respected wine critics and tasting panels.
Wine with the Same Scores Taste Different
A Merlot from France will be very different than one from Argentina. Soil composition, climate, and growing techniques can deeply impact how the wine tastes. But when they have the same score, it can be easy to equate number rating with taste.
Wine Ratings are Not Always Available
Low ratings, anything 70 or below, aren’t published or advertised. However, when you’re in a store and there’s unrated wine, you shouldn’t panic. Statistically, most wine isn’t rated at all.
How to Pick Great Wine Without Relying on Wine Scores
The more you learn about wine, the more confident you’ll be in choosing bottles you love. Learning to identify what you like instead of relying on wine scores is a great way to build your palate and your wine expertise. Here are a few of our favorite methods for how to pick wine.
Stay Curious and Try New Wines
The first and best way to learn how to choose great wines is by pushing your boundaries. Try anything and everything. See what you like, and when you find something that resonates with you, do all you can to learn about that region and varietal. When you’ve done your research, identifying the difference between an Argentine and French Merlot will seem less confusing.
Read the Label and Tasting Notes
Don’t be distracted by catchy illustrations or intimidated by elaborate labels. A good bottle of wine will list essential information like region, year harvested, and wine characteristics — sweetness, acidity, body, tannin, and alcohol on the label or in its tasting notes. You might just have to hunt to find it.
Even if you don’t know a lot about Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa in 2012, if that information is present, it’s a good sign. Some countries, like Italy, include certifications on some heritage varietals guaranteeing they are typical representation of that grape variety.
Ask the In-Store Wine Expert
Experts are there for a reason! If you know what you like but have a few questions, don’t hesitate to go to an expert for help. If you know you like dry reds but only really drink Pinot Noir, our wine steward can introduce you to bottles of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Sangiovese that you might not have found yourself if you were only considering how a wine was scored.
What’s “Good” is Up to You
In blind taste tests, $15 bottles of wine and $200 bottles can, and do, receive the same wine scores. If you know what you like, learn about it. Try things that are similar. Don’t feel bad about liking a wine with a low or no score, and don’t feel too good about liking something that has a high score. It’s all up to the individual; if you like what you’re drinking, that’s what counts.
On Sale This Week in Our Stores
There are a few great bottles on sale in our stores this week: Estancia Chardonnay (which has a wine score of 90 from Wine Enthusiast) and Carnivor Cabernet Sauvignon (which has a Wine Enthusiast score of 88 points). We’re offering great deals on highly-rated wine, but don’t take our word (or the rating) for it; stop by today and pick up a bottle to try for yourself!