Surely, you’ve come across different types of ratings, medals, badges, different stars and other systems when you read about wine in the media or test results in our webshop. But what does it mean if a wine is 85 points? Well, if you’re looking for a precise answer, you might end up being a little disappointed. The ugly truth is that the number of culinary presses, wine judges and competitions roughly equal the amount of rating systems there are. Although those that possess education on the area, or have learned about the subject of tasting, do share some sort of common judgment. Since this is a rather subjective genre where everyone has their own system about measuring quality, it’s therefore more convenient to talk about “common grounds” where the generally balanced and excellent wines turn out to be awarded with critical acclaim. Of course, there are those with more refined tastebuds and whose words weigh more than others’; various magazines, critics and judges will be discussed in this article.
The abbreviation OIV (International Organisation of Vine and Wine) has since long ago been the most applied scale when it comes to rating a particular wine. It is primarily based on appearance (clarity, color), smell (clarity, intensity, nature), taste (clarity, intensity, nature) and a general impression which all contribute to the final scoring of the wine. During the appraisals, a jury of multiple judges do blind taste tests (covering the label) and rate the wines according to the average of points given to each one. For the sake of avoiding a drastic gap in the evaluation, a “tuning” wine is tasted before any other, in hopes of tuning the judges’ style and tastes. The local competitions and international inspections also use this rating system – with varying strictness.
It’s visibly a 100-point scale, although the sensually vague and uncertain wines reside at or below 70 points (moldy smell/taste, questionable barrel quality). As a rule of thumb, it can be safely said that the wines we would truly like to drink start at 80 points – when someone offers it at a house party, for example –, while we ourselves would consider bringing an 85+ to a house party. A 90+ would not see the light of day. Depending on the competitions, 94-100 is given a great gold, 87-94 gold, silver goes to 76-87 and bronze to 60-76. On most Hungarian competitions, much of the 90+ products are sweets from Tokaj, although sometimes a dry wine can be found up there.
Of the world’s most defining judges the American Robert Parker (Wine Spectator) and the Wine Enthusiast both use the 100-point system. Along many others, it’s also used during the Decanter World Wine Awards and by the Debreceni Borozó, Borigo Magazin, Winelovers and Wordpress Top100 wine evaluations here at home.
The formula is simplified
Since the OIV system isn’t entirely widespread, several others started to use their own methods of scoring and evaluation. This is how numerous 20-point scales were created (at the famous Jancis Robinson the 16+ wines become interesting). These are much more understandable and clearer to judge than a bleak “85” rating. The Hungarian Vince Magazin also tests in a 20-point system.
Even simpler is the 10-point system, made common by MűveltAlkoholista, a scale that is also used by Borrajongó and TáncolóMedve. A wine that stands at 5 or above means a generally fine level of enjoyment.
Stars, glasses, vines
Like medals and badges, stars can also be found when browsing through taste tests (in the GaultMillau restaurant and wine guide we can see vines while other places use glasses, hearts, etc.). The most famous one is the British Decanter (and the Hungarian Vince Magazin), but Michael Broadbent and The Wall Street Journal’s 5-star scales also work in this method. The Decanter Award of 5-star wine truly means high quality and it isn’t even awarded on most general tests. The Italian Gambero Rosso’s 3-glass rating is the peak, and if we return to Tokaj, the TokajGuide’s 3-star is the highest level of acclaim, like a 3-star Michelin Guide rating to a restaurant.
Not all that glitters is gold
The question ‘does a 100-point wine even exist?’ is clearly irrelevant. Anyone who has rated or sat behind the judging table knows that the point isn’t finding the perfect wine, whiskey, or brandy, but rather rating each product accordingly and in consideration of their own categories. In view of all competitions and awards, it is a general rule that consistency and years of achievements mostly rate the awarding party and not so much the wines and wineries. Sadly, we sometimes see PR-riddled or dilated competitions; several acclaimed and famous wineries don’t even sign their products up for these tests, as they have no need for the critical ratings and their wines are selling rather well either way. This obviously begs the question if these competitions are really the larger businesses’ playgrounds or not. Despite this, it can be said that those wines which performed well on multiple evaluations are truly of high quality and they confidently represent their makers, making them extremely valuable to acquire. However, with more and more conscious consumer choices becoming widespread, wine starts to be a product based on trust; personal experiences dominate the preferences over one wine or the other, disregarding badges or awards.
A month after your Webshop purchase, you too can rate our wines – with a maximum of 5 stars at your disposal.
translated by Áron Várhelyi