I recently wrote a piece on understanding the methodology associated with reviewing and scoring wines. I included the fact that quality to price ratio (or QPR for short) can play a role in wine critics’ scores. Some critics use QPR as the primary basis for their score, while others may not use it all.
As I stated in my column, I think that, to a certain degree, QPR should play a role in scoring wines but it shouldn’t dominate the influence of a score. There needs to be a baseline created for scoring built on merit regardless of price.
I get that the notion of QPR can mean different things to different people. I’ll avoid getting trapped into tumbling too far down that rabbit hole for now. What I will say, however, is that when speaking of QPR, people need to understand that each wine is subjective.
I should also note that it’s not necessarily the job of the consumer to know what constitutes good QPR in a wine. If they do, that’s great. It would mean that they’ve tasted enough wine at varying price points to recognize their own personal sweet spot. But for the most part, it’s the role of the critic to lend their experience and expertise in helping guide the consumer – who may choose that critic to align their tastes with – to make the best choices. The underlying point is to help identify the very best buys based on the quality of the product vs its price point.
I factor QPR into most, if not all of my wine scores – the final score I settle on ultimately reflects the quality of the wine against its value. Aside from those wines that are deemed “expensive” and would not normally be purchased on a regular basis, I tend to always look at a wine’s value and judge as to whether or not it is worth purchasing again (the re-buy factor).
My rating system employs a similar scale to the one which Robert Parker invented for The Wine Advocate (commonly referred to as “Parker Points”). However, unlike Parker’s scale, mine does not begin at 50 and work its way up based on criteria that include a wine’s appearance, fragrance, complexity etc. Rather, mine begins at a score of 79 and an exact number is determined by first simplifying a wine’s score by measuring its quality (regardless of price) on a scale of 1-10.
Once the merits of the wine are assigned a score, the QPR value can be judged based on a sliding scale of points that represent the individual score out of ten that I initially assigned to the wine. Still following?
The final numeral rating given (especially on those wines receiving a quality score of 9 and 10) is what I think the wine deserves based not only on taste, overall quality, and value, but on a variety of experiential criteria as well, or better known as the “feel factor”. Was the wine consumed alone or with close friends, or a loved one during great conversation? Was it consumed with or without a meal or appetizers? What was the atmosphere like? All of these are weighted factors that can contribute to how a wine is ultimately enjoyed. After all, wine tasting is not a science. It can be best described as a feeling within the moment.
Let it also be known that I do not factor in a wine’s ageing potential when scoring it. Who am I to know how well a particular wine will taste 5-10 years from now if I let it rest in a cellar? How can that possibly be judged with any form of accuracy? No, the wine is judged as I drink it, and if it is deemed too young a wine to have now vs. later, and thus receives a score reflective of its prematurity, then too bad. Conversely, if I’ve waited too long to try a wine that has been stashed away, and now it is noticeably passed its peak, the wine will be judged on how it drinks now vs. how it could have been at its prime.
Wines rated 88 and above (8 or 9 out of 10 on the simplified scale) are very good to great, and any wine rated 96 or above (or a perfect 10) will be exceptional or outstanding for its particular type. At the end of the day, as Robert Parker says, “Scoring wines is simply taking a personal opinion and applying some sort of numerical system to it on a consistent basis.” If you can make sense of it and convince others that your system makes sense, then all the better. It’s all about having fun with it and creating conversation.
To understand the score is to understand the comments that define the score.
This system also provides for flexibility in its scoring; with a sliding scale range of final scores representing each singular numerical rating from 1-10.
Here’s how it all works:
10/10 = 96-100 points
Outstanding, Extraordinary, Exceptional. A true classic. This is a profound wine displaying all the attributes expected of it. Wines of this caliber may be hard to find, perhaps extremely rare, taking special effort to come by or to produce. They may come from a superior vintage or may only be sold at the vineyard as a special lot. They are the rare treat that we may never feel so spoiled or fortunate to come across again.
When factoring value to this specific scoring range, a score of 96 would identify it as being on the lowest end of the QPR spectrum vs. 100 being the obvious highest. Aside from value factoring in that 5 point window (from 96-100), settling on that final score can also be up to how I perceived the experience of both coming across the wine and how it was consumed, enjoyed and ultimately immortalized in afterthought or discussion.
9/10 = 91-95 points
Excellent, Great Quality Wine. This is a wine full of complexity and character, with layers of diverse flavour and a balanced body. If they have been aged or cellared for a significant amount of time and still come out tasting full with lasting flavours, this scoring range can generally be the starting point. With the QPR for a 9/10 wine also consisting of a 5 point range (91-95), experiential and emotional factors in addition to value can sometimes weigh in.
8/10 = 89-91 points
Very Good Wine. These wines generally fulfil many of the expectations when factoring structure, body, flavours and aromatics, but certain character flaws are what prevent these wines from reaching excellent or outstanding status. On the value spectrum, 89 represents a low QPR relative to its quality, with 91 being the highest possible score for value. A score of 90 is widely viewed as the benchmark for value-quality balance.
7/10 = 87-88 points
A Good Wine. This can be a value-centric ‘table wine’ displaying a good or typical degree of quality and depth, pleasing in its flavour profile, and no major noticeable flaws aside from perhaps lacking some body, length and overall structure or balance that higher end wines tend to display. Either that or this is a higher end wine that’s considered a bit of a let-down and misses the mark, perhaps even disappointingly so. They’re wines that are on the “bubble” and are just shy of being considered ‘very good’. If the wine presents good value, an 88 is the obvious result – usually the determining re-buy score.
6/10 = 86 points
Satisfactory/Average. This can be a wine that displays border-line ‘typical’ qualities, usually presenting noticeable character flaws and imbalanced flavours, yet still considered reasonably good or satisfying enough to form a recommendation… albeit barely. The QPR is a static 86, signifying that the wine, at best, is what it is, regardless of price.
5/10 = 84-85 points
Below Average, Disappointing Wine. Although drinkable, these wines can lack any real complexity, character, body or overall depth. By all accounts, this is a disappointing wine.
4/10 = 82-83 points
Poor and Unsatisfactory. Aside from its potentially passable virtues being outweighed by its flaws, this wine presents no real value to the consumer in terms of quality for what you pay and can be graded especially on the low end of the scale if it is deemed over-priced. If this had been cellared or aged for a certain period of time, this score is reflective of the wine “turning” or reaching well beyond its peak performance.
3/10 = 80-81 points
Very Poor. These are wines containing noticeable deficiencies, such as excessive acidity, tannin, bitterness, an over-saturation of flavours – including dirty flavours – or an overwhelming alcohol impact. These wines are cheap, barely drinkable, and usually present an absence of flavour and/or aroma.
1-2/10 = 79 points – no score
Unacceptable/Failure. Generally speaking, a score of 2 would be a better score than 1, but the 2 point range of scale here is arbitrary. These wines are flawed, imbalanced, dull, diluted, too sweet or too bitter, perhaps too much alcohol – implying a flaw in the fermentation and ageing process. They’re not even worth a second glass and would not be of interest to even the most novice consumer.
I would ascertain that the majority of the wine I consume lands in the 7 and 8 out of 10 range, with a small, but relative percentage of wines scoring a 9 (between five and ten percent?). On the very rarest of occasions have I scored a 10, and to date, I’ve only scored two table wines a perfect 10 (additional perfect 10s include a 40 year-old Tawny Port, a Late Harvest dessert wine, and three different Icewines).
Making the decision to determine a wine as ‘great’ or ‘exceptional’ shouldn’t come easy, otherwise having such a system would be flawed, as too great a number of wines would land scores of 9 or 10/10.