1WineDude TV Episode 58: The Arguments For And Against Wine Ratings Inflation

Vinted on July 16, 2013 binned in 1WineDude TV

It’s been too long since we had a 1WD TV episode, and so today I give you a hastily-recorded (but carefully considered!) take on the arguments both for and against the inflation of wine ratings by popular wine critics (yes, there is a good argument against it!):

1WineDude TV Episode 58: The Arguments For and Against Wine Ratings Inflation

Mentioned in this episode:






  • jeffisrad

    I always enjoy your videos, Joe. Why not do them more often?

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks for that, Jeff. I’ve no good answer aside from my cadence has been really doing a lot of writing lately. And also trying to put the video focus on The Punch Down. I’ve been itching to do more vids, though. So that might start happening soon.Cheers!

  • Todd - VT Wine Media

    I'm with you Dude, and maybe take it a step farther, grade hard but grade in context.
    My nice little bottle of $10 Douro red, is not in the same category as your Romanee Conti, but might serve perfectly for the price point, via process that made it, and the occasion. I think that maybe we are ready to take it to another layer of "grading awareness", and this may be part of what is fueling the growing distinction between artisan and industrial wines. Hot climate vs. cool climate. Mainstays and obscurities.
    In rock climbing routes are given a set of grades from boulder class through technical, in competition, climbers are graded based on performance over a given route. Hmmm, interesting project, to take the world wine map and overlay a regional grading system, with a layer for AOC, AVA, IGT specificity, adjust for vintage variation, production scale, and then grade against that matrix. That should keep you typing for a few more days. ;)
    Seriously though, I think the way to fix the 100 point system is to contextualize it, that's the way things work now…another aspect of change we need to roll with.

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Todd. Really well-said. Not sure I’d go for any specific rating system, or try to fix any rating system, so much as encourage people to simply get beyond the systems altogether. Now that will also get me typing maybe… :-)

  • Christian Oggenfuss

    Todd- AMEN to your comment! I think grading within context of the wine is key, but also grading within the context of the consumer is important since we/they are all so different. As wine geeks we often ask others else to put themselves in our shoes rather than us putting ourselves in their shoes. I would like to see more critical and contextual thinking applied to professional wine tasting. Critics are not the voice of the public just voices that carry farther.

    • 1WineDude

      Christian – I’d like to see more independent thought applied to it! :-)

  • @pullthatcork

    I think you are right on with the rating inflation being because almost all wines are better than they were 20 years ago. The problem with changing is if one of the major critics were to be more critical, the wine world would go nuts. Producers would complain because most critics rate their wine at 90 pts. but so and so on gave them an 85. That can be a lot of money lost in sales. Most consumers would not know of this discussion and automatically assume the wine isn't as good.

    If point scales are going to be used I would rather see it broken down by price range. Say ratings for $15 and under, $15 – $25, etc. I would rather know where a wine fits with comparable wines then where it fits with every wine out there. Is a 90 pt. wine from Napa at $40 really as good as a 90 pt. wine from Bordeaux that costs $500? If so, why does anyone pay the $500, other than they can afford to.

    There is so much more to a wine than a score anyway. The wine may be perfectly made but I may still not like it. I personally don't like the flavor components in Gamay so you could put a 100 pt. Beaujolais in front of me and I probably wouldn't think it was that great. Reading a description from a critic I have gotten to know tells me a lot more than a point score.

    • 1WineDude

      @pullthatcork – I think you nailed it in that comment with respect to knowing what you like being the key. I love gamay, and I’d drink a “b+” cru Bea over an “a” cab on most cases, even by my own grading system. I should add one thing, I suppose one could argue the point about today’s wines being better, they are at least cleaner and better made, I think. Either way, I see the general trend and results as more positive than negative. Cheers!

  • Jon Bjork

    In my mind, the top two keys that separate great wine reviewers from the not-so-great are consistency and transparency. Every so often a reviewer should, as best they can, transparently state what they look for in a 100 point or A+ Cabernet, for example. I know certain reviewers won't like my style of wine, so I don't send it to them.

    • 1WineDude

      Jon – I agree. And I think that underscores point about only following critics who you know tend to highly rate wines that you enjoy.

  • Kyle Schlachter

    There is a third corollary that you miss, Joe. Sure, there are more higher scores. Critics are giving out higher scores to remain relevant. Wineries don't want to submit wines to critics that rarely gives out 90+ scores. The more 100's the more potential benefit for a winery. Yes, there are more high-quality wines. Better wines deserve better reviews. Both those equal "grade inflation." But what also is happening is the definition of the various points is changing. 90 points used to mean unbelievably outstanding. 90 points was sure to sell out a SKU. Now, 90 points is like the cute next-door neighbor with a messed-up smile. 100-pts was Helen of Troy. Both consumers and critics alike place a lower value on what 90 or 91 points means now. Now 95 points is the cute next-door neighbor and 98 points is the supermodel. Helen of Troy has been cloned and now is tattooed with an asterisk. Oh, and you don't want to see what the 88-pt neighbor on the other side of the house looks like…

    • 1WineDude

      Hey Kyle, thanks. I think I understand where you’re coming from, but I suppose that the consumer reaction to scores you’re describing is an effect / symptom of higher scores / inflation in general?

  • gabe

    Not sure if i could call you a "tough" grader, because your grading system is so different from most critics. If your A- is equal to 90-points from the Spectator, then yes, your grades are pretty tough. We submitted our 2010 Willamette Valley to the Enthusiast, Spectator, and Advocate, who all scored it in the 90's. You mentionted it in your article, but did not even give it a score, let alone a "B" grade.

    I do appreciate that you are having a little existential crisis over scores, it shows that you take them seriously and want to make sure that consumers take them seriously also. I think that you could take your "grading" system to the next level by scoring wines that are in the same "class". Instead of a random sample of what you tasted that week, you could grade 10 bottles of Beaujulais, and decide which ones are A, B, or C quality. That seems like it would allow you to keep your current scoring system, while also allowing for some flexibility. After all, an A paper in Chemistry might be a C paper in an English class.

    • 1WineDude

      Gabe – thanks. That’s a great idea. Might not be possible every week, but it’s already got me thinking about themes/possibilities…

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