How to Evaluate Wine Like a Pro: Wine scoring 101
Updated: Sep 8
A Step-by-Step Guide to Wine Scoring.
by Sarah du Plessis (proofread by Richard)
Hello, fellow wine enthusiasts! If you're like me, you've probably been in this situation: you're at a dinner party, you take a sip of wine, and someone asks you, "So, what do you think?" Now, let's be honest here, some people might just be after a simple "Oh, it's nice!" They've done their duty, asked the polite question, and they're ready to chew the fat about the weather or the latest rugby scores. But what if - just what if - they're a fellow oenophile, a wine geek like us, and they genuinely want to know your thoughts?
You know you like it, or you don't, but how do you put it in words? More importantly, how do you score it like a professional wine critic would?
Well, buckle up, because we're about to embark on a journey through the world of wine scoring and how to score wine like a pro.
In this article, we’ll go through:
What is the scoring system? It's a system used by wine critics to evaluate and compare wines in a relatively objective way. We’ll delve into the intricacies of this system.
What should I look for in a wine? From its colour to its aroma, body, and flavour, we'll guide you through the key aspects of wine that contribute to its score.
How do I apply this knowledge? We'll walk you through a step-by-step process to evaluate wine like a professional.
Understanding the Professional Wine Scoring System
So, what is this professional wine-scoring system I'm talking about? It's a standardized system used globally by wine critics, connoisseurs, and aficionados alike to assess the quality of a wine. The standard scale used is 50-100: wines scored in the 50s are deemed undrinkable (as time has progressed, this has changed, most wines under 70 are now considered faulty), while those that hit the 90s are the Scarlett O’Hara’s of the wine world - exceptional, rare.
This system is based on key elements like appearance, aroma, and taste, each of which we'll delve into in more detail later. For now, just remember that every wine is like a song, each with its melody (aroma), lyrics (flavour), and rhythm (body). And like music, it's all about harmony and balance. A high-scoring wine is one that's well-balanced and harmonious, hitting all the right notes.
It's also worth noting that while this 100-point system is the most used, it's not the only one out there. Some critics use a 20-point scale (Jancis Robinson), while others might opt for a 5-star rating (Platters Guide). But don't let that throw you off, the principles remain the same - a high score means an exceptional wine, and a low score... well, let's just say you might want to use it for cooking rather.
I'll dive deeper into the elements of wine tasting and scoring in the next section, so keep reading. And remember, wine scoring is not just about the score; it's about understanding the wine, appreciating its qualities and how well made it is.
Breaking Down The Scores
95-100: An extraordinary wine of profound and complex character. It displays all the attributes expected of a classic wine of its variety. Wines in this bracket are an incredibly rare breed.
90-94: A wine with superior character and style. These wines are superb in their genre and are often a go-to choice for many wine lovers.
85-89: A good wine that may represent a value, depending on the price. Generally well made and quite pleasing to drink.
80-84: This is a wine that is perfect for everyday consumption. It's a reliable choice for casual drinking.
Below 80: Wines scoring below 80 are considered below average. They may have noticeable flaws and are typically avoided by most wine drinkers.
It's important to remember that these scores are not set in stone. Different critics may rate wines differently, and personal taste plays a significant part in the enjoyment of wine.
At its heart, appreciating wine is a highly personal experience. However, when it comes to assessing the quality of a wine, there are certain criteria that experts like Tim Atkin MW use. Understanding these criteria can help you make informed decisions about which wines to try next and what to expect from a highly-scored wine.
The process of scoring wines involves a careful evaluation of certain key aspects. Each of these aspects contributes to the overall quality and experience of the wine.
The Elements of Wine Tasting and Scoring
Alright, let's get down to the nitty-gritty, shall we? Wine tasting isn't just an excuse to crack open a bottle of the good stuff and pretend we're sophisticated. Oh no, my fellow wine geeks, it's a complex process that requires understanding certain key elements.
“Wine scoring is not about being snooty, oh no! It's about understanding the wine, its complexities and nuances. It's a form of art where the canvas is your palate and the paint is the wine.”
Observing the wine's appearance can give you a wealth of information. Have a look at the intensity of the wine's colour. Does it fall within the pale, murky or deep range? Is the wine clear or murky? Can you guess the grape variety or age of the wine just by looking at it? These factors can give us an idea of the quality and style of the wine before it even hits our lips.
It's time to stick our noses in...literally. The aromas can tell you a lot about the quality of a wine. It can hint at the grape variety, the region where it was grown, the age of the wine, and even the winemaking techniques used. The aroma is also where we start to pick up on those wonderful notes of fruits, flowers, herbs, spices, etc. Take a good whiff before you sip.
This is where we assess the wine's sweetness, acidity (tingling sensation in your mouth, it would make your mouth water), tannin (an important component in the structure of red wine), alcohol level, body, intensity of flavour, flavour characteristics, and the finish. Does the wine feel light or heavy in your mouth (the alcohol level might add to this)? Does it make your mouth feel dry/rough (tannin would do that), like you've just licked a piece of chalk, does it have a sweet, lingering finish? The taste can also reveal the complexity and balance of the wine. And let's not forget about the flavour! From dark berries to chocolate to an old leather boot, the flavour possibilities in wine are endless. Take more than one sip to asses the wine fairly, and then another, and then another, and then....oh, darn there goes the bottle.
4. The Finish
Finally, we come to the finish - how long the wine's flavours linger in your mouth after swallowing. A longer finish is usually indicative of a higher-quality wine. So, the next time you're at a wine tasting and you see people swishing the wine around their mouths like they're trying to clean their teeth, you'll know they're just trying to appreciate the finish. Either that or they've forgotten their mouthwash at home.
Now you're armed with the knowledge of the four main elements of wine tasting and scoring. Ready to give it a shot? Remember, practice makes perfect. And in this case, practice also means you get to drink more wine. Win-win situation, am I right?
The Basics of Wine Scoring: Appearance, Aroma, Taste
Now that you've got a feel for what you're looking for in a wine, let's dive right into the meat of the matter - scoring a wine. How on earth do you take those lovely sips and wafts and translate them into a solid score out of 100?
First off, let's break it down. A professional wine score is generally comprised of three main categories: appearance, aroma, and taste. Each category has its own set of criteria and importance in the grand scheme of things, so let's roll up our sleeves, grab that bottle of Chardonnay, and get cracking!
You wouldn't judge a book by its cover, but when it comes to wine, the cover tells you a lot. The appearance of the wine accounts for about 5 points of the total score and includes factors like colour, clarity, and viscosity.
Colour: A wine's colour can give you a hint about its age and the type of grapes used. Red wines tend to lighten as they age, while white wines darken. Keep an eye on the rim of your glass – if the colour changes drastically, it might be an older wine.
Clarity: Is your wine clear, cloudy, or somewhere in between? A clear wine is a good sign, but a cloudy one might indicate faults. However, some natural and organic wines may appear hazy, so don't dismiss a wine just for being a bit foggy!
Viscosity: How does the wine travel down the side of the glass after you've swirled it? This is known as the wine's 'legs' or 'tears'. Thicker legs can indicate a higher alcohol content or sweetness level.
Aroma or the 'nose' of the wine typically accounts for up to 15 points of the total score. You're sniffing out the primary, secondary, and tertiary aromas. Primary aromas come from the grape variety itself and alcoholic fermentation, secondary from the post-fermentation winemaking process, and tertiary from ageing in the bottle.
Last, but definitely not least, we come to taste. This is the big one, folks. Taste contributes the majority to the total wine score, typically up to 20 points for flavour, harmony and length. Here, you're looking at sweetness, acidity, tannin, body, flavours, and finish. Sweetness is all about how much sugar is left in the wine, while acidity refers to the sharpness in your mouth and tingling sensation on your tongue. Tannin makes your mouth feel rough and dry, it can be a slight bitterness at the back of your tongue! The body is about the weight and fullness of the wine in your mouth. And of course, flavours are the unique constellation of tastes that make each wine a truly unique experience. The finish I explained earlier, hopefully, you were paying attention.
The balance of 10 points is awarded for wines that have the ability to improve in the bottle (age-ability).
The Consistency of Wine Scoring
So, you have an idea of the basics of wine scoring, but here comes a bit of a conundrum: how do we keep our scoring consistent? Well, it takes a whole lot of repetition!
One way to ensure consistency is by using a scoring sheet or app. These tools help you to systematically evaluate each aspect of the wine, ensuring you don't overlook any crucial factors. They also provide a handy reference for comparing wines later on. Imagine it as your personal wine diary, a memoir of your wine-loving escapades!
Another way to maintain consistency is to regularly revisit your scores. As your palate and understanding of wine develop, you may find that a wine you once scored highly no longer impresses you as much, or vice versa. This is perfectly normal!
Lastly, practising with different wines from different regions can also help improve consistency. It's a tough job, but hey, someone's got to do it! This will expand your wine vocabulary and help you understand the subtle differences between various types of wine.
The Importance of Finding Your Own Wine Scoring Style
Of course, it's important to understand and consider the various components that go into professional scoring, such as appearance, aroma, and taste. But, remember, wine tasting is a deeply personal experience. No two palates are the same and what may send one person into raptures of delight might leave another cold. So, how do you find your own wine-scoring style?
Trust Your Palate
The first rule of thumb? Trust your palate. It might feel intimidating, especially when starting out, to go against the grain and score a wine differently from a professional critic. But remember, it's your personal experience of the wine that counts. Sometimes, you might just discover a hidden gem that others have overlooked.
Practice Makes Perfect
Just like any other skill, wine tasting and scoring takes practice. The more wines you taste, the more you'll understand your own preferences and be better able to articulate them. Start by tasting a variety of different wines, noting your reactions to each. Over time, you'll start to see patterns and preferences emerge.
Never Stop Learning
And finally, never stop learning about wine. From reading books to attending tastings, there's always more to discover. The more you learn, the more you'll be shouting to yourself; "I KNOW NOTHING!!!" but that is one of the reasons we are so passionate about wine. The world of wine is vast and constantly evolving, and the more you immerse yourself in it, the better you'll understand your own taste and how to score wine in a way that reflects it.
So, there you have it — wine scoring isn't just about following a set of rules. It's about bringing your own unique experience and taste to the table. So go ahead, take a sip, and start your own wine-scoring adventure.