What Is The 100-Point Scale For Rating Wine?

If you've ever opened up a wine magazine and perused the contents, you may have noticed the numerical ratings that accompany the reviews. Naturally, you figure, the publication rates wines with higher numbers as better than those with lower numbers, and you would be correct. This rating system, known as the 100-point scale, has been used to evaluate wine for well over 40 years, and is considered the industry standard.

The 100-point scale was begun by "Wine Advocate" critic Robert Parker during the late 1970s. Inspired by the grading system of American high school standardized testing, he devised a rating out of 100 points to grade wine instead of math tests. Proponents of the scale, such as wine critic James Suckling, believe it has been a great democratizer, offering an easy way of communicating about the quality of wine without getting into the nitty-gritty details. Detractors note that there are several pitfalls to the scale, such as the opinions of different critics. Many also feel that the "Parkerization" of wine has left many good wines at lower ratings owing to producers promoting the bolder wines Parker preferred.

Regardless, the scale is the industry standard. An understanding of how it works is key to seeing how the wine industry selects wines that will be rated favorably, versus those that won't.

How the scale works

As one might expect, the 100-point scale rates wine on a point system between 0 to 100. The numerical values correspond with letter grades, meaning that the higher the rating, the better the overall consensus of the wine. So, A wines are rated between 90 and 100, B wines 80 to 89, and C wines 70 to 79. No critic recommends drinking anything with less than a B rating, as those are considered substandard wines.

The points are divided into categories, including color (up to 15 points), aroma (25), structure (25), and overall quality (35). The total tally then represents a wine's rating. The upper echelon, scoring 95 or over, is thought of as classic or extraordinary, and considered to contain truly excellent wines. The subsequent tiers don't have set labels, but are described as outstanding, somewhere between average and very good, average, below average, and not recommended. And while it is no producer's desire to get into the last three categories — average not being much of a compliment – the vast majority of wines tested using this scale end up somewhere between 94 and 82 points. 

Your own opinion on wine ultimately boils down to personal preference, but critics look to this rating system as a way of simplifying wine for a large audience. And though it has its flaws, the 100-point system is by far the easiest communicator of wine quality yet devised.