If you pick up the latest version of the Wine Spectator or Robert Parker's The Wine Advocate, you will see that red wine rating uses a 100-point scale, one of several wine rating scales available.
Red Wine Rating Scales
Robert Parker created the scale to judge wine more fairly, although some critics say it is hard to assign a numerical value to something as imprecise as wine. Regardless, so many of us use the 100-point scale to judge many things in our own lives that is seems easy enough to "port" that over to apply to wine as well. Red wine rating uses the same scale for the most part, but there are others. There are a few different ways to rate red or any wine for that matter using the 100-point scale.First off, the 100-point scale is not the only rating system out there for wine. If you pick up the Wine Connoisseur you will see that they use "puffs." What are puffs, you ask? Well, it's basically a four-point scale. Three puffs is excellent, two puffs is very good, one puff is good, and less than that (no puffs) is below good. It's a very simple system to be sure and easier to figure out, but it does leave a lot to the imagination.
Wine Judging Scale
When you find a wine that was awarded a medal from a wine competition, chances are a different system was used to rate the wine. Judges are sometimes given the choices of "No Medal, Bronze, Silver or Gold." Sometimes you can put a "+" or "-" on the medal to sort of hint which way you are leaning; but, in the end, the wine will get only one of those four ratings.
Another system that was popular in the 1970s and mid 1980s is the 20-point scale used at University of California at Davis and in the UK. Like the 100-point scale, it was used to be a sliding scale with 20 being most excellent and 0 being not drinkable. It was popular, but the 100-point scale seemed the best way to go since it was a system already in place for many people. It also gives enough "room" to rate wine something besides just "good". Good is anywhere between 80+ and 89 points, so the scale can help place the wine on a spectrum.
Red Wine Rating is Subjective
Regardless of what system you use, rating wine is actually a subjective activity, regardless of how objective people try to make it. When it comes to judging wine, it is hard to say "This is gold because it represents the best this wine type has to offer" unless you are judging it for yourself. But what one person likes can easily be another's dislike.
What to Look For
There are basically four things to notice when rating a wine. They are (in order in which they are to be observed):
- Appearance (visual)
- Aroma (smell)
- Aftertaste (finish)
How clear is the wine? Most red wines should be fairly clear and not cloudy. Besides clarity, you also want to take notice of the color by holding the wine up next to a white background. The color can be an indication of the maturity of the wine. Red wines usually start off darker and more red in color. As they mature, they will become lighter in color and change to more of a brick red color (called bricking).
The wine's nose (or aroma) is very important to the overall taste of the wine. Swirl the wine in the glass to increase its surface area, and then stick your nose in the glass and inhale deeply. Do this a couple of times. Try find as many distinct scents as you can. This is not easy to do. After doing it for many wines this task can get harder. Do the scents match the overall typical aromas for this type of wine? If you are rating Cabernet Sauvignon and the wine smells like Pinot Noir, chances are it won't get a high rating. This is where you can look to find any faults with the wine such as an off aroma that will deceases a rating.
The tongue can only detect four basic tastes - sweet, salty, sour and bitter. Combined with aroma, the result is flavor. Yes, aroma is important to the taste! Have you ever had a bad cold and your nose was stuffed up and you could not taste your food? Same thing with wine…they go hand in hand. What does it taste like? Are there new flavors you didn't find in the nose alone? How is the texture? Is there a lot of alcohol? Are the flavors balanced? Inhaling a little air through your teeth helps oxygenate the wine and bring the flavors to the front, but this takes practice.
The finish or aftertaste is the exit the wine makes and any lasting impression. Does the wine linger on the palate so that you can still taste it long after you spit/swallowed? Or, did it just fall off a cliff and leave you with nothing? The finish combines with all the other factors in rating the wine. At this point, you right down any thoughts or deciding factors about the wine. Given everything, what rating would you give it?
Practice makes perfect. Realize that the more you do this, the better you will get. Don't get frustrated that your ratings or scores don't match what the "professionals" think. Frequently they can't agree with each other either. Your wine tasting experience is your own. Trust your gut, and enjoy yourself!