The Truth About Wine Ratings. Which critics should you trust
I’ve noticed over the years that as I do my research and read reviews and wine ratings on particular bottles, the notes and scores can vary wildly. Wine retailers will often display the highest score that they can find on the shelf talker, but just because there is a high score it doesn’t mean you will like that wine.
All the well known critics are extremely knowledgeable and have tasted a thousand times more wines than most people will ever taste in their lives, but they are humans and all have different palates. They can have good days and bad days and, in the end, their opinions are subjective. (The ones you will see most will be: Robert Parker/Wine Advocate – RP or WA; Wine Enthusiast – WE; Wine Spectator – WS; Vinous/Antonio Galloni – AG and Stephen Tanzer – ST). As an example, below are three reviews and wine ratings of the very same bottle of wine with varying scores and tasting notes:
The Wine Advocate, 94 – Inky/purple to the rim, the stunningly flamboyant perfume offers up scents of black fruits, spring flowers, and crushed rocks.
Wine Spectator, 92 – “Shows wonderful aromas of crushed blackberry and blueberry, with hints of mint.
Vinous / Antonio Galloni, 91 – “Bright, full ruby-red. Very ripe, wild aromas of black raspberry, truffle, game and beefsteak tomato.
One wine, three professional wine reviewers and three entirely different tasting notes. So which one is correct? Which one should you trust?
To muddy the waters even more, in a study by the Journal of Wine Economics, researchers secretly had the critics blind taste the same wine three different times with dramatically different results. On one occasion, the wine expert scored the wine at 95 points out of 100, the second time 87 points and the third time 98 points. This can be a little disturbing if you base your buying decisions on critics scores, but it can be devastating to wine makers if their wine is being reviewed on a bad day. In addition to all of this, the big time reviewers sometimes have oblique financial interests that might skew their ratings.
All that being said, the ratings and reviews can be helpful as you decide how to spend your wine budget. You just need to know how to use them to your advantage. Here’s how to make the ratings work for you:
Buy some wines that have been reviewed by several of the well known critics. Before you read what they said, write your own review. Smell and taste very thoughtfully and note everything that you experience. Focus on primary fruit, secondary aromas and flavors, weight and mouthfeel, acid and tannins, ripeness, balance and complexity. Then give it a rating. After that, look up what the experts said and compare your notes. See how your impressions match up with the reviewers and you will start to see a pattern and recognize who has a similar palate and preferences to yours.
Over time I’ve found that I agree most with Wine Spectator and Galloni as they seem to strike a balance between the bigger, riper wines that Parker, Wine Advocate and Wine Enthusiast seem to prefer and the austerity that Tanzer values. But that’s just me. The only opinion and wine ratings that truly matter are yours and the world’s best wine is the one that you like the most.