Question: When is 70% a failure and 90% just the edge of excellence?
Answer: When you’re a wine being reviewed under the Robert Parker inspired 100 point
system.

This is a measure devised and promoted by US wine guru Robert Parker and is followed by wine writers around the world.
But it is misunderstood, confusing and borders on the deceitful.

The measure looks like the percentage rating that we are all familiar with. The one where back in school days 50% in a maths test was a pass, 75% kept the parents really happy and anything over that was embarrassing.

Except this 100 point Parker type scale isn’t a percentage scale or anything like it and in my opinion It gives a misleading impression of the accuracy of the assessment and an equally false impression of the acuity of the reviewer.

Because, for some reason, this 100 point scale starts at 50! The 1 – 50 scores have disappeared. In fact even scores under 75 are rarely used and only fermented sump oil or yeast infused turnip juice would rate a mark near the 50’s zone!

Under the system, a wine getting 75/100 is really a failure. It’s still made from grapes, apparently, and will be a wine of ‘little distinction’ according to Parker. No one will be happy.

80/100 is, according to Saint Robert, ‘acceptable’. Mr or Ms Winemaker can keep their job but there’s some things to talk about and price might be one of them.

90/100 is on the brink of quality. The winemaker can consider taking out a mortgage on cottage in Martinborough or send to the Mercedes dealer for the latest catalogue.

95+/100 and the wine becomes unobtainable and share prices rise on the back of the seemingly stratospheric result.

So a difference of just 25% (75 -100) covers assessments of wines that Parker calls ‘average wines with little distinction’ to the absolute pinnacle 100/100 wines that are ‘ extraordinary wines of profound character’ Why employ a 100 point scale if you are not going to use it? It makes no sense.

In no other field of endeavour that I can think of, does a mark out of 100 really mean a mark out of 25! The perceived % accuracy of a wine review is just that – a perception.

To be sure Parker is entitled to review wines anyway he wants. My gripe is that so few people understand the weird intricacies of the 100 POINT SCALE THAT ISN’T and the slavish use of it to review and evaluate wine raises issues of transparency.

HERE’S A COMPARISON
Back in the day (quite a long time ago actually) when we sat School Certificate maths at the age of 15, anything over 50 was a pass and was good. A mark over 70 meant that you really had the topic sussed and the parents were ecstatic. A mark under 50 was seen as a failure and you had your play-station confiscated.

By and large the marks were fair. It was a system that was understood, even if there were problems with the pass/fail rubric Of course there were always the geeks who got scores in the 90’s by spending too much time on Pythagorus and learning nothing about the important arts of surfing or rugby.

And those that who got scores under the 40 mark after spending weekends and after school practising smoking skills and chatting up the girls from the school down the road. They weren’t necessarily stupid. They were just no good at maths and were interested in other things.

Down at the bottom of the scale were those who had managed to put their names on the paper correctly but had turned up for the wrong exam. They got nothing.

Wines are variable in many ways and the taster and the tasting occasions determine that the same wine may be received very differently by different wine scribes. So why give the impression that they can be assessed within a percentage point? At least with the School Cert maths exams, they could point to the mistakes you had made.

But under the 100 point option wines that Parker rates as “below average..containing noticeable deficiencies” score in the 60s! My maths teacher back in the day would have had no trouble as placing me in the ‘below average’ category as far as integral calculus was concerned and could have easily pointed to ‘noticeable deficiencies’. The highest score I ever got was downhill from 30% and deficiencies were definitely outlined somewhat tersely

Any wine commentator will tell you that wine is a beverage that can vary greatly from the sublime to the very ordinary according to how and where it is made, its age and the occasion on which it is tried. The only trouble is that they often do not agree which is which!

And that is a good. That’s a ‘rich tapestry of life’ type thing. If wine were able to be assessed empirically, as the 100 point scale suggests, it would only need one qualified wine taster to assess the beverage, give it a mark and that would be that.

We’d all know then and we could buy it or not as the case might be.

To be sure it is good to have a guide to help us choose the wines we want to buy for a variety of occasions and some sort of ranking system is useful, especially if accompanied by an experienced and thoughtful comment from someone whose palate we trust.

But we need to trust both the commentator and the scoring system and giving nonsensical scores that appear to be a percentage, that in fact are not, is not serving the consumer although it certainly imbues the taster with an aura of authority and expertise that may not be as valid as it seems. Maybe that’s why it’s so popular with the wine reviewing fraternity?

PS
Some of these concerns apply almost as equally to the now frequently used 20 point scale where scores of less than 10 are absent. A poor wine will score more than 50% of the marks available. That’s why Wineproof25 re-formats the results to a 10 point scale that is easily understood and uses all the scores available. That fermented turnip juice will get the 1/10 it deserves!