Assessing the 100-Point Grading System

Every few years, a writer or a winemaker will publicly decry the 100-point grading scale used by a number of critics, including Wine Advocate Robert Parker and Wine Spectator magazine.

Such a declaration will spark a heated debate, typically unfolding online, that ultimately dies down after a few weeks…until another writer or vintner or blogger decides to reignite the flame.

As the argument goes, the perception of wine is very subjective—no two palates are exactly the same—which means bestowing a two-digit (or rare three-digit) score is virtually meaningless.

One of the more reasonable criticisms of the system was offered by Bill St. John, wine writer for the Chicago Tribune, who described the 100-point scale as “part of our informational DNA. If Sister Mary Frances gave you a 72 on your mid-term exam, you weren’t going to brag to your mom.”

“However, unlike scholastic achievement that receives grades, wine points don’t bestow any inherent quality on the wine that they evaluate, nor do they actually reflect what quality is in the bottle,” St. John continued. “They are one person’s (or panel of judges’ or website’s) opinion or judgment about a beverage that certainly is open to many qualitative interpretations or evaluations. On school exams, for the most part, answers are either correct or incorrect. You cannot say the same thing about wine.”

Here at Vinesse, we embrace the 100-point wine grading system, so I respectfully disagree with St. John’s conclusion. I’d liken use of the 100-point scale to how a teacher grades a student’s essay.

A teacher is looking for certain things in an essay, among them accuracy of facts, clarity of thought and logic of conclusion. A factual error would likely result in the deduction of a few points, as would poor presentation of the information. How many points? That’s a subjective decision for the teacher.

And so it is with wine reviews. Some critics start a wine assessment at 100 points and deduct points for various perceived flaws or shortcomings. Others may start at an “average” score of 70 and add points for characteristics perceived to be positive (aroma, balance, finish, etc.).

At Vinesse, we provide detailed tasting notes with each featured wine, intended to provide a comprehensive impression and assessment. But for those who’d prefer to simply glance at a number, I can’t see where using a point grading system does any harm.

What do you think about the 100-point grading system? Do you consider the “number” when deciding whether to buy a bottle of wine? We’d appreciate hearing from you via the Comments box below.

Posted in Editor's Journal
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