“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is a phrase attributed to Bert Lance, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, under US President Jimmy Carter. Wise words, indeed, but a sentiment that cannot be applied to the 100 point wine rating system introduced by Robert Parker circa 1983. Here is a system surely broken beyond repair – and ripe for replacement by a more consistent, logical and inclusive method of assessing the quality of wine.
Parker (now retired) and the Wine Advocate magazine he founded have been among the most influential voices in the wine world for decades. His 100 point rating system remains the most popular scoring system worldwide but, with wine consumers becoming more and more involved in user commentary and scoring via a myriad of wine websites, Apps and social media options, now is the time to retire the 100 point wine scoring system which has outlived its usefulness.
Scoring the quality of a wine is very much an individualistic assessment. There is nothing ‘wrong’ if one reviewer truly loves a wine and considers it very high quality, while another does not like the same wine and pronounces it poor.
The reader of two very different reviews of the same wine may be confused but, providing the scoring system is soundly based, the varying scores can be appreciated as the personal assessments of the reviewers, uncontaminated by a confusing and illogical scoring system. Unfortunately, when such a scoring system forms a central element of the communication to readers, the value of such reviews is considerably diminished – and that is exactly where the 100 point rating system falls down.
In assessing the 100 point system it is important to keep in mind who the audience is and what they would expect to learn from its ratings. Ask any wine-consumer what 94 points or 92 points mean and you will not find a confident or consistent response. Here are some of the reasons why the 100 Point System does not work.
The 100 Point System is NOT a 100 point system.
It should be no surprise that the average person would expect a 100 point system to consist of 100 points. Any other explanation does not make sense. Unfortunately, the 100 point wine scoring system does not have 100 points. Instead it starts at 50 and only uses the range from 50 to 100 to score a wine. In fact, many wine reviewers do not allocate points to wines below the 74-84 point range. They use only the remaining 17 – 27 points in what is still termed a 100 point system. Confused? You are not alone.
The impact of the abbreviated point scale is that a wine that scores 80 out of 100 may be deemed by a reviewer to be a poor quality, even faulty, wine. To prove the point, here are some of the descriptors that reviewers apply to a score of 80 points: Eeeuw; Average; Useful; Simple/acceptable; Good; a solid, well-made wine. How can users of the truncated 100 point scale seriously expect their readers to understand that an upper quartile score of 80 points out of 100 is a bad result?
Scores from popular and highly respected reviewers need to communicate clearly what each rating means. And – just as importantly – readers need to be able to understand these scores.
If every professional reviewer stuck to the 100 Point System, life might be less confusing for wine lovers. Sadly, however, this is not the case. Reviewers have individualised the 100 Point System to such an extent that comparing scores between them is all too often meaningless. The following terms are used by a range of highly respected wine reviewers to describe wines that have been allocated 85 points and 94 points.
85 Points Acceptable; Average; Balanced, Crowd pleasing; Good; Good to very good; Very good to Excellent; Excellent
94 Points Cusp of Gold Medal; Outstanding; Very High Quality; Exciting, Distinctive; Great, Complex; Superb
While the descriptors for a 94 point wine may be vaguely similar, those for an 85 point wine range from Acceptable to Excellent. As 85 points – 89 points is the range for a Bronze medal at many wine shows, this suggests that one internationally acknowledged reviewer may award a bronze medal to an acceptable wine, while another equally renowned reviewer may award the same medal to an excellent wine.
This individualisation of the 100 Point System has created scoring chaos and delivered a great disservice to the wine consumer.
A further consequence of such confusing, individualised scoring is the suggestion that “bracket creep” is occurring i.e. wines are being awarded more points than they deserve. The impact of bracket creep for wine makers is the implication that, unless their wines achieve scores of 95 points or above, consumers may deem them not worth buying. This real or perceived bracket creep has resulted in many wineries deciding not to send sample wines to reviewers, so fewer wines are rated.
The Solution – the iS Winescale System (the International Standard Rating system for wine quality)
But a solution is at hand in the iS Winescale System. Created by two Australian wine lovers on a mission to demystify and democratise wine, the iS Winescale System was developed to be inclusive, easily understood, consistent and not open to individualization. Results are comparable and available to every wine drinker.
The iS10 Winescale
- The iS10 Winescale is a 10 point system with 0.5 point intervals. This provides a range of 20 scoring positions, the same as an 81 -100 point system.
- Wines are allocated to one of six quality categories: Exceptional; Great; Good; Ordinary; Disappointing; Unacceptable.
- There are three positions in each quality category: Top end; Mid-range; Lower end. Two additional positions are available: Magnificent for a 10.0 point wine and Terrible for a 0.5 point wine. A score of 0.0 indicates that the wine has not been rated. (See iS10 Winescale Chart, below)
- When a score is allocated to a wine it must be accompanied by the prescribed one-word quality descriptor e.g. iS10 7.5 pts Great or iS10 5.0 pts Ordinary.
- Anyone can score a wine using the iS10 Scale by following three easy steps. Go to iS Rate that wine.
- Thanks to the system’s inbuilt consistency, scores from different reviewers are directly comparable.
- Wine consumers can score a wine and then compare their assessment with those of professional reviewers. A wonderful educational opportunity.
At last, the world of wine has at its disposal a standardised rating system for wine quality that is logical, comprehensible, consistent and totally inclusive. It allows everyone from international wine experts to novice wine drinkers to score a wine and compare their assessments.
The iS Winescale system will significantly improve communication and make every review comparable and every reviewer accountable to themselves, their peers and their readers. It is a major step in its developers’ mission to demystify and democratise wine. Why not give it a try at iS Rate that wine.
After all, what wine drinker wouldn’t welcome more clarity in their glass?
|The international Standard for rating the QUALITY of wine.
|Position in category
|Top end of Exceptional
|Mid range of Exceptional
|Lower end of Exceptional
|Top end of Great
|Mid range of Great
|Lower end of Great
|Top end of Good
|Mid range of Good
|Lower end of Good
|Top end of Ordinary
|Mid range of Ordinary
|Lower end of Ordinary
|Top end of Disappointing
|Mid range of Disappointing
|Lower end of Disappointing
|Top end of Unacceptable
|Mid range of Unacceptable
|Lower end of Unacceptable
This article was written by Michael Tierney Co-Founder of the iS Winescale System and Co-Founder of AWESOMME, Australia’s best Wine-Finder.