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Did you score? A quickie guide to wine scoring.

Posted by miles on 2004-09-06 23:53:05 (6419 views)

[The Pedestrian Wine Drinker]
If you're like me, there's one thing stopping you from writing up your own tasting notes: the wine score. The rest is pretty straightforward. You can get most of the detailed information you need from the wine label, like the winery, the name of the wine, the vintage year, the wine's location of origin, price, etc. You can get the grape varietals (types of grapes used) from the label, or look it up online. The description of the wine, you can wing--just say what you think of the wine, and you're there. But what do you put down for the wine score? How do you even begin?

Don't let the wine score scare you. Sure, it can be a complicated thing, much like wine itself. But it can also be as simple as "how good is the wine?" For now, focus on keeping it simple. You can always delve into the finer points once you've tried a few wines and posted a few tasting notes of your own. (That'll be a much later column!)

The basic 100-point scale is easy; it's just like the ten-point grading system they used in your high school--but without the grade inflation. Oh, and you can forget any scores below 50. It's a trick. The scale actually starts at 50 and goes to 100--apparently you get 50 free points just for being wine instead of water or kool-aid. That seems fair to me.

90-100 is an A. The first half of this range is for excellent wines. The upper half is for exceptional, extraordinary wines. In particular, think of anything 95 and above as an A+. And of course, 100 is a perfect score. You should give points in the 90s sparingly, because we rarely encounter such great wines, especially on a budget. A wine in the high 90s should change the way you think about wine. A 100-point wine should be like your first (good) sexual experience in that afterwards, nothing will ever be quite the same again. If that sounds like a pretty high bar for a wine, you're right. That's why there are so few 100-pointers out there, and even fewer that mere mortals can afford.

80-89 is a B. This range is for above-average, very good wines. And as was the case with grades, there's a huge difference between barely scraping by with an 80 and soaring up there with an almost-an-A 89. A wine in the 80s has a great deal to offer; it's just not as amazing as a wine in the 90s. It's still far better than your average wine. You should be so lucky as to get to drink 80s on a regular basis.

70-79 is a C. And remember, C means average. They don't always give the grades out that way anymore, but that's how you should give the wine scores. What makes a wine average? There's nothing wrong with it. There's just not really anything great about it, either. These are the kinds of wines that you're happy to drink, especially with a meal, but you don't get all excited when your friends bring a bottle to your party. Still, you might bring one to a party yourself, because if you brought a better bottle, probably no one but you would even know the difference. (Sometimes it's kind of fun to be a wine snob, isn't it?)

60-69 is a D. Now, we all know what a D means. That's a poor wine. A disappointment, just like you were to your parents when you brought home a D. And just like your parents probably suggested about you at the time, there's something wrong with that wine. Maybe it's been lazy, maybe it's been spending too much time with those bad wines down the street, maybe it's just plain stupid…wait, sorry, wrong direction on that analogy. Lots of things can go wrong with a wine. It could have a flaw; maybe it's musty or has a bad taste or is starting to turn vinegary. Maybe it's just unbalanced--too acidic, too tannic, too sickly sweet for pleasant drinking. Maybe it's watery or lacks flavor. Whatever the problem, the wine isn't good, and you won't buy that wine again unless it starts studying and turns things around. That does happen occasionally.

50-59 is an F. This wine flunks. It's really bad. You don't even want to cook with it. Pour it right down the sink. Blech.

Right now you may be wondering…if that's how wine scores work, how come 99% of the wine scores I see are in the 80s or 90s? Two reasons cover it. One, nobody's going to brag abour their lousy wine scores. You won't see hang tags at the wine store touting the 70-something score of Turning Leaf because that won't make anyone want to buy it. (I made that score up, by the way; I haven't actually reviewed Turning Leaf.) If a wine gets a bad score from one of the professional wine experts, that score is likely to remain unpublished. It certainly won't get spread around by the wine store or the marketing gurus. You don't see schools printing up bumperstickers that say, "My kid would need a miracle to make the Honor Roll at Central High School."

The other reason makes a lot of sense if you think about it. Who gives wine scores? People who like wine enough to make a hobby, or even a profession, out of it. What kind of wine do those people like to drink? Duh, good ones. Wine scores tend to be good because wine buyers try to buy good wines, and wine tasters try to taste good wines. Sometimes they miss, but as they get to know wine, they get better and better at avoiding the total stinkers. Some of them may also not want to expend the energy to write up a bad wine. They may feel guilty about broadcasting the wine's flaws (or embarrassed at having purchased the wine in the first place). So even someone who normally posts notes might skip a note for a disappointing wine. Don't you do this. We need to know what the bad wines are! We need to know what to avoid! If someone had written up a note, maybe I would have never bought that Turning Leaf! (Okay, to be fair, I'd say that the Reserve Turning Leaf might make it into the upper 70s, but I'd have to taste it again to be sure.) It's vital that we share the bad experiences along with the good ones. You won't be alone in sometimes buying a wine that disappoints, believe me.

Using this simple guide, you should now be able to give a wine score that tells people what a wine score is supposed to tell them--how much you liked the wine overall. That's all it's for. A grade is just a number, but it's only as important as what you actually learned. A score's just a number, but a good tasting note will convey as much as possible of the entire experience of the wine. The details all come out in the description, and that's really the thing to pay the most attention to, both in writing your own notes and in reading those of others and deciding which wines to buy.

Coming up: In a box of 64 Crayola crayons… The color of wine.

 

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