If you explore the Xtrawine site, you’ll see that a lot of the Italian wines in our store carry scores. This come from a range of different sources. We have our own ratings system, of course. But we also provide some insight into the scores that various wines have achieved from other sources.
The truth is that there’s no universal authority when it comes to judging the quality of a wine. Practically every major wine publication has its own judging criteria. Then, there are all of the competitions that judge wines and offer awards based on their quality too.
Having said that, there are some commonalities in the ways that judges examine and test every wine sample that comes to them.
This article looks at some of the things that Italian wine judges look at when they’re judging the quality of a wine. It also illuminates the process behind how a bottle of wine may be judged.
Creating the Panel
Before you can judge the quality of a bottle of wine, you need to find people who are capable of judging the bottle. Typically, most magazines and award shows operate using a panel of judges.
The reason for this is simple. Using a single judge may be the simpler solution. But it also opens the judgements up to bias. An individual has their own preferences and tastes. If they’re left to judge on their own, they’re more likely to provide a judgement that aligns to their own tastes, rather than being an objective examination of the wine.
By bringing a panel together, the wine receives a fair shake because it’s examined by several people who all have their own tastes.
This panel will typically include a number of experts from within the industry. It’s likely to have at least one sommelier. Plus, there’ll often be an influential figure or two from the production side of the industry. The point is that these panels bring together influencers and wine aficionados to create a group judgement on the wine in question. The more diverse the panel, the more likely you are to get a fair judgement.
Setting the Criteria
If left unguided, the judges will create their own criteria for judging a bottle of wine. Some may prefer to judge based on how stringently the wine sticks to DOC criteria. Others may appreciate creativity and breaks from tradition.
The point is that a lack of set criteria can lead to a skewed judgement. One panellist may love the wine because it meets their own criteria, whereas another may not like it for the same reason.
As such, a set of criteria is a key aspect of accurately judging a wine. This is also something that you need to be aware of when looking at scores. A 95 rating (or whatever the score may be) certainly looks impressive. But it’s important that you check the criteria used to judge the wine. In some cases, that criteria won’t mesh with the criteria that you would use yourself. Thus, the rating may not accurately reflect your own tastes.
Typically, these criteria can include the tannic profile, the wine’s balance, and its adherence to set traditions. The production methods may play a role in the final score. Of course, the bouquet and the taste are the biggest deciding factors. Nevertheless, it helps to know the specific criteria before you accept the judgement.
Blind vs. Seen
This is another important thing to understand in the world of wine judging. Some tests take place with the judges being able to see the wine and know which brand that they’re drinking. There’s some consternation about this judging method. Some argue that allowing a judge to know where the wine comes from could colour their opinion. For example, they may give a higher score to a wine that comes from a famous brand, even if the wine itself doesn’t deserve the score.
That’s why many tests follow a blind model today. The tester doesn’t see where the wine comes from in this model. They just get a glass of wine and are asked to judge it based on the assigned criteria. This ensures there can be no bias. Instead, the judge creates a score based solely on what they experience.
That’s not to say that seen testing automatically leads to bias. Most judges aim to provide as accurate an opinion as possible. After all, giving an unwarranted high score damages their reputation, which leads to fewer judging opportunities. But it’s still good to know which type of judging method was used to test a wine.
The Scoring System
Wine judging generally uses either a 20-point or 100-point scoring system. The 20-point system is the more traditional of the two and is the one that you’ll usually see the older judging organisations use.
The 100-point system is a new model that’s more in line with how the average person would judge a wine. It’s a rounder number and it’s easy to determine that a wine with a score of 90+ is a worthwhile wine.
Of course, you can always multiple the score achieved in a 20-point system by 5 to get a 100-point score. But generally, it’s best to leave the scores as they are and instead understand which of the systems are in place.
Xtrawine tends to prefer the 100-point scoring system. But these aren’t the only two systems out there. Other publications may use a 5-point system, for example.
The Final Word
The world of wine judging may seem somewhat murky and exclusive. But it’s become more open in recent years. This is perhaps because more wine enthusiasts have access to information that they wouldn’t have known before the rise of the Internet. Moreover, this openness allows for a greater spread of opinions. After all, a sommelier will have different judging standards than the average consumer.
Whatever the case may be, it’s important to remember that a wine’s score doesn’t automatically mean it’s good or bad. Your personal tastes play as much of a part in determining the “quality” of a wine as any judge’s score will.