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01 January 2000

What are these classroom scores all about?

I used the ‘100-point’ system in a previous life, so that's what you'll find in older posts and articles. But I got bored of this, so I started using my own new-fangled simplified scores of one, two or three ‘ticks’ (good, very good, fabulous); or just 1-2-3. And, inevitably, I've already got bored of that too so I've reverted to good old-fashioned words on their glorious own! Anyway, here's some background on 'wine scoring' written in that previous life, and gleaned from different sources, with a slight rant of my own thrown in.

The so-called 'Parker 100 point scale'

First and foremost, I don't really like giving a score to wine. Very difficult to be that mathematically precise or consistent, even if you could remove all subjectivity from tasting. However, scores do offer useful guidelines and easy cross-referencing. You should always put them in context with my tasting notes and comments on style, quality, maturity, balance etc; and perhaps also take a band either side of the score, e.g. a wine rated 87 falls between 85-90 (read on for further explanation). In addition, I'll try to offer a food-matching suggestion where something worked particularly well for me, which is arguably more interesting anyway.

There are several scoring systems for wine and each one has its supporters; but, attempting to keep an international perspective, I use (and am now used to) the so-called 100-point scale, which is widely recognised. Apparently it was popularised (rather than invented) by Robert Parker, the influential American wine critic, and many magazines also 'mark' wines using the same or similar criteria. It's a tad more complicated than you might first think. I'm told "the premise of the scale is to appear generous." It works by readjusting 0 to 50, so in reality every wine is scored from 50-100 with 50 being undrinkable and 100 wine heaven. It's best understood following these simple rules:

50-60: very poor, faulty, nasty wine.
60-70: marks in this category really aren't any good either, crap to shoddy.
70-80: wines in this band are generally below par from mediocre to average to OK. Not necessarily bad, just dull, out of kilter or lacking.
80-85: solid working examples of their type, most decent wines should fall into this category.
85-90: good to excellent wines with genuine character and style. Might be Bronze to Silver Medal in certain competitions.
90-95: top stuff. These should ring your Bacchanalian bells, they'll be true classics or beautiful upstarts that linger on the palate and in the memory; must be excellent to outstanding. Silver to Gold.
95-100: speechless. Very few wines get these scores, as they represent the peak of terroir, fruit quality and winemaking - the world's best wines from the greatest vintages. Unless you're rather lucky (like me occasionally), not to mention wealthy (unlike me all the time), you'll come across a handful of wines like this in your drinking/tasting lifetime. They'll feature in your top ten, or perhaps 100 for the rich or lucky. Gold Medal to "Trophy" winner.

Here's another way of looking at this system, or at least one I thought of. You convert it to a mark out of ten by subtracting 50 (so the same base as above) from the score out of 100, then a bit of simple maths (divide by 5). Thus: 70 points = 4/10, 75 = 5/10, 80 = 6/10, 85 = 7/10, 90 = 8/10 and 95 = 9/10.

And, when on a trip to the Ardèche region in summer 2010 and knocking up a feature on it afterwards, I experimented with another greatly simplified "scoring" scheme which might have a future. This is what I said: "You'll notice a departure here from the usual "100-point" system proliferated across this site, as I suddenly just got (and still am) bored of this narrow, although admittedly widely recognised, way of "assessing" wines. So, for this feature I dreamed up a new simpler scheme showing one to three ticks, as below, which echoes the already popular "star" ratings you see around. Still best to actually read my comments at the end of the day, if that's not too boring. And inevitably, I ended up giving some half-marks as well represented by a tick in brackets!"
√ = good √ √ = very good √ √ √ = fabulous
And now simplified as 1, 2 or 3 and variations thereof...

Try to score a wine in context. If it's right out in front there, you shouldn't be afraid to rate it highly; and inevitably the mood and atmosphere of a tasting environment will always affect the outcome. Wine tasted in an intimate setting or with great food will almost always "count" higher than in a clinical laboratory or busy trade tasting. Anyway, carry on sampling and scoring if you must...
Richard Mark James

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