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Choosing the right wine

100pt scoring systems, 20pt scoring systems, Gold, Silver, Bronze, Commended, Trophy…..all these terms apply to the various ways in which wines are judged and assessed.  It looks great when you see a swathe of medals on a bottle at your local, or read a review giving a $15 bottle 93pts, but what do they all mean?

Scoring systems are, at best, divisive and often relate directly to the person scoring rather than a completely objective review.  American Robert Parker, is probably the single most influential wine critic in the world today and has done more to promote the 100pt scoring system than anyone else.  His system starts at 50 and only bad or faulty wines score under 70.  When he scores a wine in the high 90s it usually leads to a price hike and if that wine has been relatively unheard of, it can easily reach cult status overnight.  Parker’s love affair with big, full bodied, high-alcohol wines from the Barossa valley and Mclaren Vale have often put him at odds with his colleagues, but one cannot fault his dedication, integrity and influence.  His point breakdown is as follows:

An extraordinary wine of profound and complex character displaying all the attributes expected of a classic wine of its variety. Wines of this caliber are worth a special effort to find, purchase, and consume.
90 – 95:
An outstanding wine of exceptional complexity and character. In short, these are terrific wines.
80 – 89:
A barely above average to very good wine displaying various degrees of finesse and flavor as well as character with no noticeable flaws.
70 – 79:
An average wine with little distinction except that it is a soundly made. In essence, a straightforward, innocuous wine.
60 – 69:
A below average wine containing noticeable deficiencies, such as excessive acidity and/or tannin, an absence of flavor, or possibly dirty aromas or flavors.
50 – 59:
A wine deemed to be unacceptable.

James Halliday is Australia’s most influential wine critic and also uses the 100pt system.  His annual, The Australian Wine Companion, is easily the most quoted book when retailers and wine marketers put together offers for the consumer.  Whilst a 98pt mark from Halliday is less likely to increase the price of a wine, it is just as likely to help the wine sell out.  The Halliday breakdown is as follows:

Outstanding. Wines of the highest quality, usually with a distinguished pedigree.
Highly recommended. Wines of great quality, style and character, worthy of a place in any cellar.
Recommended. Wines of above-average quality, fault-free and with clear varietal expression.
Fair to good. Wines with plenty of flavour (usually varietal) and good balance; free of technical faults.
Everyday wines. Price is particularly relevant; represent good value.
Also tasted: usually wines with some deficiency, technical or otherwise

As you can see, there are similarities and differences between the two.  The main thing is that each attempt to make their list user-friendly by breaking it down into general categories of 10:  90-100 = very good to great; 80-90 = good to very good; 70-80 = you could probably do better; 70 and under = don’t bother.

Many other prominent reviewers such as Campbell Mattinson & Gary Walsh from The Big Red Wine Book, Huon Hooke, Ray Jordan, Jeremy Oliver to name a few, use a 100pt system as well and will follow the same general guidelines as Parker and Halliday.  Each will put a personal spin on their scores, but each should provide a good starting point to give you an indication of the wine’s quality.

In conclusion, reviewers are human and will put a personal spin on their reviews.  There will be some that you agree with and some that you don’t.  Take a bottle from your cellar, or buy one that you know you like and see who has given it a favourable review.  If you find where they publish regularly, you will be on your way to sourcing some new and exciting wines!

Wine Shows

Australian Wine Shows attempt to be much more scientific with their scoring and consistency is their aim.  A 20pt system is used in wine shows and points are broken down as follows:
0-3pts for colour.
0-7pts for the “nose” or aroma/bouquet .
0-10pts for the “palate” or flavours/texture .
A total of 15.5 to 16.9 equates to a Bronze Medal.
A total of 17 to 18.4pts equates to a Silver Medal.
18.5 to 20pts equates to a Gold Medal.

Each wine is entered into a “class” e.g. 2010 Rieslings, or Shiraz 2006 and older, and are judged in a “blind tasting” environment (meaning the bottles are wrapped up, or otherwise covered so the judges cannot see the label) with each other wine in the class.  The judges only know the class they are judging and have no idea of price, brand or region.  There are usually three judges for each class who independently score the wines and an average of the three scores determines the wine’s final mark.

One misconception about wine shows is that there can only be one Gold Medal for each style.  In fact, it is possible (although most unlikely) that every wine in the show can win Gold.  There are no rules as to how many medals can be given out.  There is, however, only one Trophy awarded for each class.  At the end of judging the class, every wine to have achieved Gold Medal status is re-tasted to determine the Trophy winner.  If there are no Gold Medal winning wines in the class, there will be no Trophy.

I like to encourage consistency in looking at medals for wines.  I often say that six Bronze Medals is a better indication of quality than one Gold Medal.  Keep in mind that not every wine is entered into every wine show and some are entered into many.  It’s an expense that some wineries do not wish to bear.   A wine that  does not have a medal from a wine show does not preclude it from being a darn good drop.

– Mike Zittritsch, Winery Wines,

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