How I rate and describe wines

I rate the wines I review on this web site and in my newsletters on a five-point scale. With half-points, I find that this scale provides enough guidance to a wine’s overall quality without conveying what I think is the misleading precision of the 100-point system.

All wine tasters and reviewers know that how they perceive a wine depends on factors such as the wine that preceded it, whether it is tasted alone or with food, and even on the taster’s state of being. Given that our judgment of the same wine is likely to vary a little if we taste it on different occasions—because of factors that are external to the wine—I think it is appropriate and fair to rate wines on the more flexible five-point scale than the dogmatic 100-point system.

As for descriptions, I have moved away from the common formula, which employs descriptors that are mainly related to fruit, berries, spices and herbs. There now are no blackberries, red cherries, baked apples, tropical fruit, ground black pepper and garrigue in my wine reviews. No wet stones, hard-ridden horses, forest underbrush or dark espresso. Some reviewers seem to think that the more descriptors they can string together (I counted 19 in one review!), the better tasters they are.

I think anyone reading wine reviews knows what wine smells and tastes like, and has a good idea of the range of intensity, weight, sweetness, and tannins in wine. If they don’t, a description that sounds like the day’s leftovers in a restaurant dumpster won’t help them.

Instead, my reviews focus on the stylistic qualities of the wine under review: its weight, the fruit-acid-tannins balance, the intensity and complexity of the flavours, the degree of dryness or sweetness, and sometimes the aromas and the finish. I try to convey a sense of the style, and I generally recommend a food pairing that reinforces the image of the wine I am reviewing.

What Winepointer stars mean

I rate wines on a 5-point scale. With half-stars, that produces a 10-point range. The sole criterion is the quality of the wine that I taste, and that is a judgment that includes the wine’s complexity, balance, and overall character. I don’t take price into consideration.

Wines scoring 5 stars deliver the best quality and in general I would not recommend buying a wine that scored under 3 stars.

It’s probably not necessary to put words to stars, but here are some. I’ve also indicated the equivalents on the 100-point system that some reviewers use.

5 star

It’s hard to imagine better quality (94-100 points).

4.5 star
Excellent quality (90-93 points).
4 star
Very good quality (87-89 points).
3.5 star
Good quality (85-86 points).
3 star
Well-made wine but without distinction (82-84 points).
Drink now 
Best drunk young (within two years of vintage).
Drink or cellar

You can drink this now or cellar it for drinking in a few years.


It would be a pity to drink this now. Cellar it to allow it to evolve.

Last Updated ( Thursday, 28 February 2008 )