What are wine ratings and to they matter?

We are asked often to share our wine recommendations or to explain what what makes a wine “good.” The first request is easier than the second, but in reality the core of both responses can be whittled down to personal preference. In many ways the predominant points system of wine ratings is also subject to a good deal of subjectivity and for some time now has been questioned for its relevancy. So, do these wine ratings matter after all? The answer is, sort of.

The Points System Explained

Let’s understand how the most ubiquitous points system works: Most wines in the U.S. are rated on a 100-point scale by Wine Enthusiast, Wine Spectator, and Wine Advocate. We never hear about the wines receiving less than 80 points and most wines aren’t even rated. Wines are given scores based on how these wine exhibit certain characteristics in context with other wines in their peer group. Therefore a Cabernet Sauvignon receiving 90 points will be different than a Chardonnay receiving the same score. Whether wines are reviewed by a professional or amateur matters little since these wine are ultimately rated according to personal affinities for certain styles of wine.

Move Away From the Points…Toward Notes

The loudest argument against a points system is that it has caused wines to become “Parkerized”—that is, homogenized in an effort to meet the palate preferences of Robert Parker, the most famous—some would say infamous—wine reviewers of all time. A high-rating from Parker, could skyrocket one’s wine brand. But many believe it has led to the commercialization of wine, with a marked decrease in diversity and true expression of “terroir.” And while distributors continue to rely on points to help move wines especially during the pandemic, the points backlash continues. Using points can be one part of your overall wine evaluation, but relying on tasting notes is more useful. The description of a wine’s characteristics will help you decide if a wine is “good” for YOU and not “good” for the reviewer. Knowing whether your palate is Old World or New World in style will also help.

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Your Jefas in Vino, Martha and Erlinda