A useful tool for discussing wine is a grading system. By using a standard scale a wine can be placed within a common framework understood by all.
These systems are an attempt to impose order upon the very subjective question of taste. Most critics use some sort of grading to accompany their impressions of a wine. A numerical score can be useful when trying to understand how a critic feels, as every critic tries to maintain some sort of consistency when evaluating a wine. Without consistency a wine reviewer is useless as a reference. By understanding and becoming familiar with how a critic uses scores one can begin to see patterns in scoring and thus gain a better understanding of a critic’s palate.
The Parker System
Probably the most dominant system in use today is what is known as the Parker System, named after it’s inventor, preeminent wine critic Robert Parker. Parker’s 100-point scale is modeled after the American academic system of grading, as Parker figured this was a familiar scale for his readers. Every wine that he tastes immediately recieves a standard 50 points. The rest of the points awarded depend upon sensory factors weighted by their importance for the overall wine:
- Color, as the least important factor in determining a wine’s quality, has a range of 1 to 5 points.
- Next, judging how a wine smells the reviewer has a range of 1-15 points.
- Getting the broadest range for scoring is the flavor and the finish, with up to 20 points.
- Finally the wine’s ability to age and general quality has a range of 1 to 10 points.
Tallied together, these numbers constitute how the wine scored.
A similar scale but with less use is the U.C. Davis 20-point scale. Working similarly as the Parker scale components are scored individually but as there are fewer numbers the ranges are necessarily smaller; giving the reviewer a tighter space in which to record their impressions.
Parker’s System has become the most widely used due to the influence of it’s inventor but perhaps also due to it’s broad numerical range, which makes the difficult task of attempting to apply a scientific system upon what is primarily an emotional reaction a little easier.
There are countless other ways of scoring wine, many critics have devised their own systems which are equally effective as the two discussed above. The important thing is to first understand the methodology by which the critic uses to score. Once the rules are clear it’s possible to gain a sense of how the wine affected the reviewer.
The points and scores a reviewer assigns are meant to compliment the written description of the wine. Keep in mind that a score as well as a review can be affected by any number of variables. The best reviewers are trusted because they have demonstrated a strong track record of being objective. This ability to separate the emotional from the sensual is what makes a reliable wine critic a valuable resource in the quest for good wine.
Obviously sensory impressions can never be pinned down to a simple number or grade. These systems should never be the sole way to assess a wine, they are simply useful tools the reviewer can use to communicate their personal philospohy of how a wine should or should not be.