Several badges showing wine rating points

Scores on the doors

We humans love making lists and ranking things, and wine is no exception. If you’re a regular wine buyer, you’ll no doubt have seen the odd bottle with a little sticker on the front claiming proudly that it’s won 90+ points from some august reviewing panel or other.

There are various different scoring systems out there, but the main ones are the 100-point scale started by US critic and wine supremo Robert Parker back in the 1980s, and the slightly more traditional 20-point approach favoured by people like the hugely respected UK wine writer Jancis Robinson (for many years publications like UK wine mag, Decanter, took a 5-star approach but about ten years ago they switched to the 100 point system too).

Broadly speaking, each takes a similar approach, though arguably the 100-point scale provides a little more precision when it comes to calibrating how good a wine was when tasted. So Parker’s method might ¨award¨ an average wine – ie soundly made, straightforward, but innocuous – between 70 – 79 points, while 15 points from Jancis’s team is used to denote an average wine with not much excitement.

Between 80 and 89 Parker points denote an above average to very good wine with no noticeable flaws, 90 – 95 is ¨outstanding¨ wine territory with lots of complexity, while 96 – 100 is reserved for ¨extraordinary¨ wines which are classics in their category. Parker’s scoring language is arguably a little more prosaic than the Robinson team, who prefer the term "distinguished" for their 16 pointers followed by "superior", "a cut above superior", and "a humdinger" before arriving at 20 points for "truly exceptional" wines.

Another useful tool is the "+" or "++" symbol you’ll often see after a wine’s score. This means that in the wine reviewer’s opinion, the wine is set to improve over time; particularly helpful if you’re buying wine to keep for a bit to age in the wine fridge or the cellar.

Here in Spain, the most popular guide for wine enthusiasts is the Guía Peñín. The Peñín team taste around 12,000 Spanish wines every year and publish an easy-to-use guide with scores out of 100, tasting comments and helpful pointers to the best value-for-money wines. The 2022 results gave just two Spanish wines the full 100 points – interestingly both were fortified wines from southern Spain – but there were ten wines in the 99-point category from Ribeira Sacra or Valdeorras in Galicia, classic regions like Rioja and Ribera del Duero, Málaga and Jerez in the south, or Priorat in Catalunya.

But, with so many different rating systems around, do points help or hinder the busy wine buyer?

In general, we think that rating systems can help a buying decision, provided you know a little bit about what the scores mean. But they can also get in the way. It’s important to remember that while professional wine critics are tasting and rating thousands of wines every year, they only have a limited amount of time. This means there are thousands more wines that they don’t get a chance to taste. So, whilst knowing the professional rating can help you choose a wine when combined with knowing about grape, region and winemaker, ignoring a wine because it hasn’t got a rating is a mistake. The absence of a rating does not mean a wine is inferior. It just means the wine hasn’t been put in front of a professional critic.

At Simply Spanish Wine, we’ve put critics’ ratings to one side for now and have focused on asking our customers what they think. For us, getting the thoughts and feedback of the people who drink our wine is more important than knowing what a paid professional thinks.

And we also think it’s more useful for other customers to know what their peers like rather than what the paid professionals like. After all, wine is for the people – rating it should be too.

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