February 01, 2012
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Score!?

I’m confused about magazine wine scores. I kind of understand the 100-point system, but what does it mean exactly? Is a $10 wine that scores 90 points as good as a $100 wine with the same score? Who scores these and how? How reliable are they? — Charlie (Salem)

When it comes to a wine’s quality, wine scores and ratings are more soft suggestions rather than hard facts. Typically they vary from publication to publication and have more exceptions, rules and inconsistencies than similarities. However, there are a few generalities.

Some publications simply print information about suggested wines along with their tasting notes, but most magazines rate wines on a 50- to 100-point scale. Scores are much like grades in school; with the 90- to 100-point range reflecting the highest examples of quality, and the 70- to 80-range being average at best. But, just like school, grades don’t always measure the excellence and talents of the student, and points don’t always reflect the quality of wine.

When wines are reviewed, they are usually blind tasted by either a professional who specializes in that wine’s specific region or by a panel. Blind tasting simply means that tasters don’t know what is in their glass with regard to the producer. Usually, what they do know is the variety, vintage and sometimes region and price. Each taster weighs in on the quality of the wine, and they discuss what the overall score should be, with one person making the final call and writing the tasting notes.

Not all wines are created equal and a 90-point $10 wine would be a heck of a find and a 90-point $100 wine should be well within that score range for that price.

Problems with this system are that scores are subjective, a taster’s palate varies from day to day and a wine may not be showing well that day for a myriad of reasons. Another system hiccup is the changing of a wine as it ages. The only surefire way to accurately

represent a wine as it evolves is to taste and rate the wine every year, which just doesn’t happen.

Scores are used to help consumers grasp the vast array of wines available, but it’s important to remember that just because a wine has a low score doesn’t mean you won’t or shouldn’t like it; and conversely, a high score doesn’t mean you will like it or even should. In the end, the best judge of wine for you is you.

However, if you happen to find a reviewer or magazine with a palate similar to yours, and you generally agree with their recommendations, use them as a jumping off point when choosing a wine. This will guide you in a positive direction; but, of course, the best way to know if a wine is right for you is to try it yourself. Many wine shops offer free or affordable tastings; and most restaurants will let you sample something if you’re undecided.

Plus, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, Oregon plays host to hundreds of great tasting rooms staffed by winery representatives happy to assist you in finding wines that are a perfect fit.

- Cheers, Jenni

I look forward to receiving more of your questions.  Email me at jcossey@oregonwinepress.com to submit your questions, and I’ll see you next month!