Dominik Mueller

Wine is my hobby. Fine wine tasting notes and experiences.

How I rate wines

Posted on Wednesday, 17 April 2024

My motivation

Wine is my hobby, not my job. I'm not a professional wine critic. I'm a wine enthusiast. As such, I'm always looking for wines that I'll enjoy. I write tasting notes so I'll later be able to look up how I liked certain wines that I've already drunk before. This is my wine journal, so to speak, and a memory aid. I additionally score wines to make it easier to find the best wines I've tried, but also to be able to compare how a wine evolves over time, if I have the chance to taste the same wine more than once.

How I chose my rating scale

When I began tasting wines and writing notes on them, I started out using the internationally popular 100-point scale. Most major publications use this scale today, including Robert Parker's Wine Advocate, Decanter magazine, or Vinous.

However, I quickly became frustrated with the fact that most popular wine critics and publications tend to use only the range between 80 and 100 points. What about the other 79 points? In fact, in light of today's commercially motivated wide-spread "point inflation", I'd even argue that many tasters do not really score wines below 85 points anymore. (A notable exception is Marcus Hofschuster of German wine website

The same holds true for the more traditional 20-point scale, which has been more widely used in Europe, particularly in the United Kingdom. Jancis Robinson still uses that scale, for instance. Even with that scale many critics start rating wines at 10 or 12 points, instead of making use of the whole 20-point range.

It hasn't made sense to me to make scores appear better than they really were. This became most apparent to me when, one unfortunate day, I tried a particularly bad white wine. The wine smelt badly, it tasted as badly, it was undrinkable. There was no way I could give this anything near 80 points on the 100-point scale I'd used at the time. Even 70, 60 or 50 points would have seemed too generous. Why give points to a perfectly bad bottle of wine that I would hopefully never have to drink again? Marking the wine as "flawed" would have been incorrect, too. For me, a wine should be marked as flawed when there is a fault outside of the control of the winemaker, such as a corked wine or faults from bad storage conditions. In that case, I'm not able to rate the wine due to unfortunate circumstances and I make that apparent in my note by marking the bottle as flawed. In the case of that thoroughly poor white wine though, the wine wasn't spoilt; it was exactly the way the producer wanted it to be. I had to find a way to give 0 points to the thankfully few wines that deserve nothing else, in my personal opinion.

My 20-point scale

That's how I decided to convert my 100-point ratings to the 20-point scale by deducting 80 points from my original score. I couldn't be happier with that decision today, as it allows me to use the whole possible range from 0 to 20 points:

17-19grand vin
9-12very good

My ratings may appear low compared to the scores of most popular wine critics at first glance, but as you can see, "good" wines start at 5 points already! Also keep in mind that it's my goal to find the good wines and to be able to distinguish between them. I rather have a wider range available to more accurately rate good wines than for bad wines. (How bad can a wine be after all? If you can't get yourself to drink it, could it be any worse?)

On a last note, sometimes I don't give a rating to a wine. In that case you'll read "not rated" or the abbreviation "NR" in the tasting note. I might not give a rating if I tasted a wine only quickly without taking notes - at a winery, for example. Sometimes I might still want to note down an indication for a possible rating. In that case, I'll write a provisional score in the tasting note, but I'll always make that clear in the written note.

The 5-star scale

There was still one drawback, however: The 20-point scale is an absolute scale. That is, it judges the quality of a wine by itself. On the positive side, that makes me think really hard about which rating to give. The absolute score must make sense, it should correctly reflect a wine's quality compared to all wines. I was still missing a way to fairly compare a wine to its peers. For Burgundy, for example, it is logical that a village wine should generally receive fewer points than a grand cru wine on both the 20-point and the 100-point scale, although that particular village wine may still be an excellent wine within its category (type, character, and price segment). That is why I also find relative ratings extremely valuable. I was inspired by Jasper Morris from Inside Burgundy to use his star scale on which a maximum of 5 stars can be achieved:

5Outstanding achievements. These wines stand proudly at the top of their peer group.
4Excellent wines in their category. Almost at the top of their peer group in terms of personality and complexity.
3These wines are very well-made. They exceed expectations and are well above average within their peer group.
2Well-made wines of average quality relative to their peer group. Perfectly enjoyable and certainly not disappointing.
1Below average in their peer group, slightly disappointing.
0Extremely poor relative to their peer group. Luckily, this is the exception.

With this scale I take into account the quality of a wine relative to its peer group in order to allow well-made wines at all quality levels to stand out and get the attention they deserve.

Wines from this post

  • No wines were featured in this story.