Vintages - Understanding Wine Scores

Feature story: A Ratings & Reviews Primer

Understanding Wine Scores
(5 min. read)

Wine reviews and their accompanying scores are top tools for understanding the nuances of wine and finding something you love. A 90+ score from a trusted source can give you the confidence to select a wine you’ve never tried and explore a new region, varietal or price point at a glance. But like they say, knowledge is power. We encourage you to become familiar with different scoring systems, what scores mean, and the critics behind them so that you can more accurately assess their value to you specifically.


Though expert opinions can help inform our choices, it’s important to remember that tasting wine is a very personal experience. 

We all, critics included, have our preferences. If you don’t like sweet wines, a 99-point Wine Spectator score for a Sauternes will not make that wine taste any better to you. One of the most stimulating aspects of wine is the great diversity and range of styles and flavours available. Finding critics whose palates and recommendations, more often than not, align with your own inclinations can take some trial and error but can help guide your purchasing decisions, allowing you to zero in on exactly the wine you like or providing the confidence to take the plunge and try something new.


Reading and understanding a variety of critics is a great way to empower yourself when you want to discover new wines and regions.

Understanding what a 90+ from Lisa Perrotti-Brown of robertparker.com or Roger Voss of Wine Enthusiast means, or being able to recognize the value in a score of 88 or 89, can help you venture out of your comfort zone and take a chance on a wine or producer you’re completely unfamiliar with. Even if the wine proves to be not entirely to your taste, a review and/or score can give you assurance that it was an excellent example of that particular style, helping you identify and fine-tune your own palate. Scores can open up whole new regions and experiences to you, helping expand your personal reference points for all wines.


Professional wine tasters assess wine within a particular style’s own context, regardless of personal preferences.

This is why it’s also important to read their notes whenever you can – it might help you understand why a wine you don’t like received 93 points from a critic you do. It will also help you learn about benchmark characteristics of a particular grape or style. When possible, reading and comparing a variety of reviews for the same wine will help you calibrate your palate and your understanding of the scores. The credibility of your source is also important. Names such as Robert Parker, Wine Spectator, Jancis Robinson and Wine Enthusiast carry significant international weight, while sites such as winealign.com and winecurrent.com are just two of the excellent local resources you can draw on for dependable recommendations. Competitions, such as the Decanter World Wine Awards or the National Wine Awards of Canada, confer scores or medals that are based on the expert opinions of a panel of judges.

Know the score

It pays to be familiar with the concept and context of various rating systems, from the 100- and 20-point scales to stars and wine glasses. 

Of course, the numbers don’t tell the whole story – it’s important to find critics whose palates align with your own, and read the full tasting notes to get a deeper sense of the wine. 

Here’s a quick roundup of some rating systems frequently seen in our Vintages releases.

Popularized by Robert Parker Jr. in the early 1980s and now used by most mainstream critics, the 100-point scoring system revolutionized the wine world.

In Parker’s system, every wine is automatically given 50 points; further points are awarded for colour and appearance (up to 5), aroma (up to 15), flavour and finish (up to 20) and overall quality (up to 10). The 100-point system is embraced by publications such as Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast and Decanter as well as many Canadian critics.

This popular system borrows from the familiar hotel-rating system. New Zealand wine critic Michael Cooper favours this approach, as do some wine competitions.

Michael Cooper’s Buyer’s Guide to New Zealand Wines
5 Stars = Outstanding quality
4.5 Stars = Excellent quality, verging on outstanding
4 Stars = Excellent quality
3.5 Stars = Very good quality
3 Stars = Good quality

French and Italian wine guides Le Guide Hachette and Gambero Rosso Italian Wines both use scales out of 3. Similar to the Michelin Guide for restaurants, it’s an honour even to be mentioned in these guides.

Le Guide Hachette

3 Stars = Exceptional wine
2 Stars = Remarkable wine
1 Star = Very well-made wine
Mention = Well-made wine

Gambero Rosso Italian Wines
3 Glasses = Excellent wine in its category
2 Glasses = Very good to excellent in its category
1 Glass = Good wine in its category

A more traditional wine scale favoured notably by Jancis Robinson. Any wine she scores above 15 points is considered highly recommended.
20 = Truly exceptional
19 = A humdinger
18 = A cut above superior
17 = Superior
16 = Distinguished
15 = A perfectly nice drink

Wait, what if there is no score?

Scores, and particularly big scores, are fun and exciting and can help you decide on a wine. But scores are only one tool.

From time to time, you’ll encounter wines without a score. In many cases, these wines were released prior to having been reviewed by the world’s press, so we include notes that reflect the consensus of our expert tasting panel or that provide you with some background about the wines. Use these notes to guide you, and don’t forget to talk to your in-store Product Consultants. These friendly experts can tailor your purchases exactly to your needs and even help you refine your understanding of your own palate, as well as offering insight into the opinions of a particular critic or publication.

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