Thursday, March 4, 2010

Proposed New Wine-Scoring Methodology

One of the most influential, yet controversial, features of Robert Parker's wine evaluation is his 100-point rating system. Parker's system was designed to counter what he believed to be confusing or inflated ratings by other wine industry writers who also seemed to be beholden to the major wine estates. Although some argue that the quality of a wine is too subjective to be assigned a numerical rating with such a high degree of implied precision, similar-100 point scoring systems are widely used by American reviewers, while many British reviewers still prefer a 20-point system. Below is an overview of Robert Parker's 100 point system for review.

Parker scoring system

Color: 1 2 3 4 5

Bouquet: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15

Palate: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

Future Dev/Overall Quality: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Sub Score______+ 50 = FINAL SCORE______

Figure 1 graphically illustrates the impact on wines rated 80 to 100 by Robert Parker.

Figure 1: Minimum, Maximum and Average Price per Case in USD by Robert Parker Rating

Although clearly having a significant influence on the wines which are rated 96 and above, the data shows that the impact on wines rated with lower points appears to be minimal. Clearly though, this graph speaks to viewers on the influence of Robert Parker on pricing momentum

Parker's definition of 96-100 point wine :An extraordinary wine of profound and complex character displaying all the attributes expected of a classic wine of its variety. Wines of this caliber are worth a special effort to find, purchase, and consume.

Proposed Scoring System

Using Parker's methodology, I have only scored one wine 96 points or higher. But who am I? I do believe that here is room for a scoring system which more closely approaches the needs of ordinary individuals and I will present that herein.

My proposed scoring system was inspired by Heidi Barrett, one of the world's best-known winemakers. During a visit on wine library tv with Gary Vaynerchuk, she discussed reading (maybe counting would be a more appropriate description) wine across your palate.

Heidi uses a count of six based on three aspects of tasting a wine: the initial attack (1,2); mid-palate (3,4); and the finish (5,6). Heidi feels that a good wine should be able to be read by two counts for each component with no holes left exposed. This made a lot of sense to me (minus the reading/counting part). I wholeheartedly agree that a wine should accomplish this three-part palate arousal.

So I started thinking about incorporating Heidi's process into the development of my own system. I feel that every wine that is scored should be broken down to the consumer in an itemized fashion. Why? Let us look at an example. A wine may score 95 points. Huge score, correct? Yes it is, but if broken down, you may find a perfect wine in all scoring categories except the bouquet, which may only score a 5. Now that would discourage me from paying the potential 95-point price tag which usually exceeds $100. I’m not sure why critics only give a raw score, but possibly it’s due to the sheer quantity of wines they are scoring. With all that experience they can probably bypass the entire scoring breakdown and just apply an educated fixed number.

Wine is extremely subjective so I tried to come up with a system that gives the reader/consumer a more detailed look at what is being tasted.

My proposed scoring system:

Color: 1 2 3 4 5

Bouquet: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Initial attack: 1 2 3 4 5

Mid palate: 1 2 3 4 5

Finish: 1 2 3 4 5

Overall flavor profile: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15

Aging potential: 1 2 3 4 5

Sub Score______+ 50 = FINAL SCORE______

I’m not here to knock Parker or to create controversy. Even Parker on 60 minutes indicated that his tasting methodology is fundamentally flawed. Maybe I’m completely out of place or pushing the envelope, but I never felt completely comfortable with the Parker system. Not to say the Parker system is wrong, but what is wrong with creating your own scoring system to better suit your style? Is my system flawed? Of course it is. You can argue that point towards any system, but I feel my system just fits me better. Possibly my system is too involved or overdone. Regardless of the score, trust your own palate and not the critic’s. A score should pique your interest but not much else. Have I chased points before? Yes. Will I do it again. Most definitely yes, but much less now than previous. A score is not the be all and end all. Go with what you like….


  1. Attempting to refine a bad idea cannot help but accentuate the problems associated with the original bad idea. The overall concept of assigning numerical precision to an innately qualitative process such as wine tasting is the original bad idea. The problems are numerous and have been noted ad nauseum in the past so I will not go into them here. In relation to the approach detailed herein, is it possible to add two additional variables, with associated ranges, and fit the results into a 100-point system without degrading the relative contribution of the initial variables. And, if that is the case, which are the variables that take the hit. On a personal level, I would much prefer a rating system with the following categories: Exceptional, Very Good, Good, Average, Mediocre, Code Red. Such a scheme is less nuanced and allows us to get away from the ridiculous argument of what is a 95. We can all agree that a wine is exceptional and then proceed to a discussion of what makes it so.

  2. Ha ha, yes arguing about what makes a wine 95 points is childish, since all tastes are different. It's an arguement that can not be won. I did mention and encourage each wine consumer to create their own scoring system to fit their personal style. Whether it is a number or a general guide is fine. Yes, all systems are flawed I did address that. As for my system I to expressed it does not escape fallibility. What your system does that a numerical score does not is that it encourages and promotes wine discussion. Parker has done something similar, seen below.

    An extraordinary wine of profound and complex character displaying all the attributes expected of a classic wine of its variety. Wines of this caliber are worth a special effort to find, purchase, and consume.
    90 - 95:
    An outstanding wine of exceptional complexity and character. In short, these are terrific wines.
    80 - 89:
    A barely above average to very good wine displaying various degrees of finesse and flavor as well as character with no noticeable flaws.
    70 - 79:
    An average wine with little distinction except that it is a soundly made. In essence, a straightforward, innocuous wine.
    60 - 69:
    A below average wine containing noticeable deficiencies, such as excessive acidity and/or tannin, an absence of flavor, or possibly dirty aromas or flavors.
    50 - 59:
    A wine deemed to be unacceptable.

    Maybe Parkers mistake was applying a numerical value to each rating category.
    Unfortunatley, it is what it is. I think we're stuck with what we have. Because even if we do away with Parkers System, then we still have every other critic out there pushing their own. It's too much a fixed part of our wine culture, collector and the investment community. I feel the best thing we can do without scrapping the entire formula is to improve upon it. Are you with me?????!!!!
    Ah, probably not.......

  3. I understand. On another point, could there be some overlap in the flavor profile, as defined by Parker, and the threenew variables taht you have introduced in your system?

  4. I thought of this intially, but I feel these 3 new variables are more about feel than to the overall flavor profile. I added these to address more of the roundness/completeness of the wine not to the overall flavor profile.

    The overall flavor profile speaks more to your wheelhouse flavors. Mine are leather, asian spice, cocoa, creme de cassis, black currant, black cherry and slate.

    I even toyed with the idea of an acidity rating, but I felt that overlapped with the aging potential variable.

  5. Ok, let's get down to brass tacks. Parker's categories are color, bouquet, palte and future development. By providing scoring ranges for each of these variables he is implying a weight for each category. For example, color, with a maximum score of 5 is half as important as future development which has a score of 10. By saying half as important I mean that future development has twice as graet an opportunity to be a meaningful contributor to the final score as does color. In your model, you have reduced the contribution (weight) of bouquet, palate and aging to equip this new variable caled overall flavor profile. First off, I can see some value in breaking down the palate feel into its constituent parts but I cannot se the rationale for dialing back the overal strength of the category vis a vis its neighbors. What is the rationale for taking down bouquest and why the specific point allocation? AS a coector, the aging potentia is extremely important to me yet you assign it the same potential as color. Help me.

  6. I respect your opinions and all are valid so let me see if I can articulate what I've done so I do not sound like an idiot.

    Honestly, I always felt with some tweeking one can judge future development with less than ten stars.
    Rough example:
    1 point: short term drinking,
    2 points: short to medium term,
    3 points: medium term,
    4 points: medium to long term,
    5 points: long term.

    With drinking windows added if needed for the collectors. I have no experience in that arena.

    I did think about all the downscaling I did on each category. What reinforced it for me are critics like Dacanter or the de Groots who critics for dutch magazine Perswijn. They apply an overall wine score based on a minimal five star scale. I know many respect Decanter ratings.

    So I felt downscaling the scoring variables would not water down the magnitude of each individual category. Plus if need be, you could add half stars which would further help delineate.

    In addition, I did specify creating your own scoring model to suit your style. I doubt whether my model is an improvement over Parkers. The wine world is constantly changing and evolving, so I figured hey, why not the scoring model?
    I hope this helps.

  7. Interesting discussion. Thanks for providing the vehicle for facilitating same. I think a lot more room for discussion which I hope will continue in the future as we continue with similarly themed posts.

  8. Yes it was fun, lets do that. I enjoyed your perspective.