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The 100-Point Scoring System has Outlived its Usefulness

The 100-point scoring system has been the standard used by nearly all wine publications to rate wines since its introduction by Robert Parker, Jr., in 1983. Parker has said that the various 20-point rating systems do not provide enough flexibility and often result in compressed and inflated wine ratings, yet the 100-point wine rating system has become subject to the same shortcomings since it essentially has become a 20-point rating system also. Wine quality standards in the 1980s were nowhere near what they are today, especially for wines like domestic Pinot Noir, resulting in very few wines of less than 80-point quality. Your wine got a score of 90?: yawn.

The virtue of domestic wines like Pinot Noir has risen to such an extent that it is rare to find a wine that rates below a score of 80 except for cheap, supermarket bottlings priced less than $12 that rarely are reviewed. In Parker’s rating system, 80 would qualify as barely above average while wines below this would be considered straightforward and innocuous. These innocuous wines that deserve scores of less than 80 are usually omitted from publications since the wines have no interest to readers of these publications.

With current California and Oregon Pinot Noirs, the vast majority of bottlings over the past few vintages fall in the 87-92 point range (not only for wines I review but for wines reviewed by many other publications). In essence, this range becomes the “average,” with scores of 93 and above being outstanding or even extraordinary, and scores below 87 becoming below average. The 100-point scoring system has been compressed to a 20-point scoring system with little to differentiate the wines. The inflation of scores has diluted the value of a 90 point score and the compression of the scoring range has pushed more wines into the 95-98 range, even though they can be undeserving by past standards.

I reviewed my scoring from 2013-2016 to see if there was an inflation of my scores of Pinot Noir. There was only a slight increase. I did not include reviews where a range of scores were offered (ie 90-91). The average scores for each year: 2013: 89.6, 2014: 90.4, 2015: 90.2, and 2016: 90.7.

Interpretation of 100-point scoring system is not consistent.

Nearly every wine critic interprets the 100-point rating system differently such that the scores are not strictly comparable from one critic to another. One of my readers, Bob Henry, has pointed out a number of inconsistencies in the 100-point scoring system as used by different publications. He notes that the Wine Spectator (March 15, 1994), a publication that adopted the 100-point scoring system in 1985, reported its editor explaining that reviewers do not assign specific values to certain wine properties of a wine when they score, preferring to grade the wine for overall quality as a professor grades an essay taste. A score is then based on how much the reviewers like the wine overall. No specific points are assigned to color, aroma, texture, finish and so forth as Parker does. I would say the essay analogy is flawed since professors look for specific grammar and syntax errors and subtract these errors in determining the final grade.

Parker has maintained (Wine Times, 1989) that his rating system is really a 50 point system that incorporates two 20-point systems with a 10-point cushion on top for wines that have age ability. He gives up to 5 points on color, up to 15 points on aroma, and up to 20 points on flavor, harmony and length. That equals a possible 40 points. The balance of 10 points is awarded to wines that have can improve in the bottle (admittedly sort of arbitrary).

I do not assign specific points to wine qualities but rather take into account aroma, flavor, texture, length of finish and balance. Beyond this, there is a subjective factor that equates to emotion: some wines remote or excite. I also rate primarily on how the wine drinks at the time of review and give only a little credit to age ability since I know most readers drink their domestic Pinot Noir and Chardonnay within a few years of release. I do re-taste many better wines after opening later in the day or the following day as a determination of quality and long term aging potential, and take this into account. My scoring system for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay has been: 94-100 (extraordinary deserving of the Pinot Geek icon), 90-93 (outstanding), 86-89 (very good), 80-85 (good) and 75-79 (decent). Scores have not been published for wines that are unsatisfactory or score less than 80 points since I cannot recommend them.

Bob Henry pointed out to me the 100-point scoring system discrepancies among different reviewers with another example. The Pinot Report 100-point rating scale considered a score of 80-85 as average because the quality of winemaking in California has improved insofar as recalibration of the “average” quality made necessary a change from 70 to 85 points for an “average” quality wine.

Highly respected wine critic, Jamie Goode, recently commented on his scoring of wines in his blog, Wineanorakat A reader had pointed out to Jamie, “He basically operated in the range of 85-95 (theoretically 100 as upper limit), with most scores around the 90s give or take 1-2 points. This is bordering on the useless for the readers...with the advice less-than-useful.” Jamie responded, “Yes, my scores fall within a narrow range for this blog. There are many wines I rate far lower but they never make it here or into my online write-ups. A false positive is better than a false negative. If I give a wine a low score and I’ve got it wrong, it could harm someone’s business. So I would rather not say anything about wines if I don’t like them. I also need to say that the 100 point scale is very compressed at the top end....and this scale is becoming so bunched at the top end that it is nearing the end of its useful life. I simply can’t start using my own scale unilaterally. It would be daft.”

Jamie’s dilemma is also mine. The 100-point scoring system is so compressed around 90 points, useful distinctions are challenging to arrive at and measurable differences between a rating of say 89 and 90 are vague. I have a number of misgivings about the 100-point scoring system, and did not rate wines with a numerical score during the first six years of publication of the PinotFile. In reality, a wine score only matters to the person doing the scoring since we all have different tastes. That said, the wine drinking public has come to rely more on scores than wine descriptions in choosing wines and have learned to align themselves with wine critics whose palate closely follows their own preferences.

What next?

So what to do with a wine rating system that may have outlived its usefulness and is of declining interest to the up and coming younger generation wine consumer? How can we devise a new rating system that won’t invalidate, discredit or deem useless the 30+ years of published ratings based on the 100-point system?

Earlier this year, a former Lazard investment banker launched a data-based wine rating system based on 1000 points known as Wine-Lister. Wine-Lister points out that the 100-point ranking is narrow, with just about all scores ranging from 80 to 100 points. The system takes into account a wine’s estimated age ability, its price, its auction performance, and global strength of the brand. Much of this data would have no applicability to domestic wines except the most highly collectible. The 100-point and 20-point ratings of wines by prominent critics are translated into the 1,000 point system. Wine-Lister would seem to appeal only to serious collectors and investment-worthy wines. Visit

I have often considered the usefulness of a taxonomy of Pinot Noir that could be applied to the tasting notes of different reviewers so that the reader could compare the notes. A 100-point score quality judgment could be incorporated at the end, but would receive less emphasis. As ratings stand now, the only facts in tasting notes that are truly comparable are objective data such as vineyard information, production information, harvest Brix, final ABV, pH and TA. The subjective portion of the review including its presentation format is widely variable and as emphasized here, numerical scores are not strictly comparable either.

As an example, here are two reviews of the 2009 Hirsch West Ridge Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir by two different publications.

Wine & Spirits

A barrel selection from three blocks along the main ridge of David Hirsch’s far-coast vineyard, this comes from 6A, 6E and 7, planted to Mount Eden and Swan, as well as clone 114 from Dijon. It’s quieter than you might expect from the New World, clocking in at 12.9 percent alcohol with a light, transparent ruby color, but the persistence of flavor reveals its inner strength. What at first seems spice and vegetal turns cool and exotic, in the tart cranberry range of the flavor spectrum, but more complex than that would imply. Spend some time with this wine, now or ten years from now, and you will be amply rewarded. 94, $85, 127 cases, Hirsch Vineyards, Cazadero, CA.


12.9% alc., pH 3.48, TA 0.67, 127 cases, $85. A limited production bottling from three exceptional hilltop blocks on the West Ridge of the Hirsch Vineyard covering 28 acres and divided into 27 farming blocks. This bottling is a selection of the most exceptional barrels from these blocks. The wine is dominated by Mount Eden clone with a dash of Swan clone. Aged 17 months in 35% new French oak barrels. Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. Exotically fruited, with a panoply of fresh, dark berry aromas underlain with scents of oak and underbrush. The pleasing core of dark berry and plum fruit is wrapped in moderate tannins and offers a citric peel acidity in the background. The wine develops more vivacious fruit over time in the glass indicating that cellaring is warranted. Very good.

My proposed standard review format.

The two reviews provide much of the same important information but the presentation is dissimilar and the facts and impressions are offered in a different sequence. Suppose the following format was used by both reviewers? The words in italics are for subjective assessment and are only suggestions that all reviewers could use by picking one option for consistency. These are only possibilities and would have to be refined, but you get the idea. Not all dates were available for this wine so they are not entered.

Wine: 2009 Hirsch West Ridge Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
Bottling Date:
Release Date:
Alcohol Percentage: 12.9%
pH and TA: 3.48, 0.67
Production: 127 cases
Clones or selections: Mount Eden, Swan, 114
Primary fermentation yeast: indigenous
Malolactic fermentation: indigenous
Aging: 17 months in 35% new French oak barrels
Fining/Filtration: Unfined, unfiltered
Inside Information: Sourced from three hillside blocks on West Ridge of Hirsch Vineyard; a barrel selection from these blocks
Date Tasted: February 22, 2012

Color: light, medium, dark, clear
Nose: floral, spice, red fruited, dark fruited, forest floor
Palate: austere, discrete, rich, dense
Texture: smooth, silky, velvety, grainy
Structure: lightweight, medium weight, heavyweight
Sex: masculine, feminine
Fruit: under ripe, ripe, over ripe
Tannins: minimal, moderate, plentiful
Acidity: integrated, bright, very brisk, lacking
Oak: absent, integrated, complimentary, overbearing
Nuances: few, moderate, notable
Balance: poor, acceptable, perfect
Finish: short, mildly persistent, very persistent
Emotion: none, some, overwhelming
Age ability: for now, for near term, for long term
Seriousness: none, somewhat serious, very serious
Price: $
Value: poor, some, generous
Food compatibility: light foods, heavy foods, sipper only
Final verdict: score or quality judgment

I would be curious to know the thoughts of readers on the current use of the 100-point scoring system and any recommended alternatives. Do you read the wine description or do you use the score as your main guide? All appropriate responses will be published in the PinotFile. Please respond to

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