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Explaining the Wine Spectator’s 100-Point Scale

For those who like to keep track of the global wine industry, The Wine Spectator, may be one of the most important magazines in the world. Started in the United States, the magazine has global circulation and brings together some of the foremost experts in wine to opine on what they drink and what they love.

The magazine covers wines from all of the globe, including Italian wines, as well as keeping track of trends in the industry. However, it’s the magazine’s in-depth reviews that keep people coming back for more.

Simply put, it’s the world’s most read wine publication, with about 400,000 paid subscribers and millions more who consume the magazine’s content online.

We could wax lyrical about what this magazine brings to the industry for pages of this blog. However, we wish to focus on one of its contributions in this article:

The 100-Point Scale

Every wine reviewed in the magazine receives a rating of between 50 and 100, which isn’t exactly a novel concept. What is novel is that there are very specific criteria that a wine must meet in order to get towards the upper echelons of the scale.

We’re going to look at each level of this scale in detail. But first, a word on how the magazine treats finished and unfinished wines.

The Different Ratings That You May See

The staff at The Wine Spectator understand better than anybody that most wines don’t exhibit their full qualities from the moment that they’re released. In fact, many an Italian red wine, for example, benefits from several years of ageing when it comes to its quality.

That’s why the magazine rates wines differently depending on whether or not they deem a wine to be “finished”. In other words, if they feel that the wine has reached its optimal level of maturity, they will rate it differently to a wine that they believe they’ve opened before it can reach its full potential.

Wines that the magazine deems as finished receive a single rating on the scale, which is simple to understand.

However, unfinished wines receive a rating that covers a four-point spread. For example, an unfinished wine may receive a rating of 84-87. This means that it has the potential to be as high as an 87, though the wine may also drop in quality to the point where it is an 85.

This spread is important to understand as it may cover two categories within the magazine’s scale. In fact, the example we just cited highlights this. If the finished wine ends up with an 84 rating, it actually drops down a category on the magazine’s fabled scale.

So, it’s about time that we explained what that scale actually is. These are the categories that you’ll see covered in the magazine.

Category #1 – 50-74

The magazine politely says that wines that achieve a score within this range are simply not recommend. However, the inference is that this are cheap and poorly-produced wines that aren’t worth a moment of your time.

It’s extremely rare for any reputable producer’s wines to receive a rating that falls into this part of the scale. What’s also interesting here is that the magazine’s scale does not extend below the number 50. Perhaps the writers believe that a score of 50 is humiliating enough, without rubbing salt in the wound by dropping it any lower.

Simply put, if The Wine Spectator gives a wine a rating in this category, it’s one that you must avoid.

Category #2 – 75-79

This is a wine that the magazine dubs “mediocre”, which has a negative connotation. However, what they’re really saying is that this is a perfectly drinkable wine without being anything that you’ll remember after drinking it.

Typically, wines in this category have a couple of minor flaws, such as the balance not being perfectly harmonious. They’re fine for general drinking but they’re not what you should expect to find at a high-end restaurant, for example.

Category #3 – 80-84

This is the category where the magazine busts out a special word – Good.

Wines that attain this score are considered to be of a high quality without being especially exceptional. The wine’s solid, has a good balance, and is very well-made. That means it’s more than suitable for anybody’s palate. 

However, there’s just a little something missing that would otherwise push the wine into the upper echelons.

Category #4 – 85-89

This is where you’re getting into the really quality stuff. The magazine considers this a “very good” wine, which means that it exhibits certain qualities that you’re not going to find in most wines.

This is the sort of wine that’s going to draw delighted exclamations if you serve it at a party. It’s a wine that stands out from the crowd, but it’s not quite one that generates awe in the drinker.

That’s reserved for…

Category #5 – 90-94

These are the wines that the magazine deems to be outstanding. Typically, they’re going to be amongst the best vintages released all year, which means you need to go out of your way to get your hands on them.

This wine has superior style and a character all of its own. It will delight the drinker and may even inspire awe. However, there’s one more category to consider.

Category #6 – 95-100

These are the absolute classics in the wine industry. 

A wine that receives this rating isn’t just a phenomenal wine. It’s a wine that’s so good that it’s going to be remember for generations to come. This is the sort of wine that investors are going to snap up because people will want to buy it.

The Final Word

If you’ve browsed the Xtrawine website, you’ll see that we use a similar rating system to The Wine Spectator. That’s because it’s one of the world’s most respected systems.

There isn’t a winemaker alive, Italian or otherwise, who doesn’t relish the thought of getting a 95-100 rating. However, very few will ever manage to achieve this feat.

We look forward to sampling the next wine that the magazine considers a classic. And with a little luck, that may just be a Italian wine.

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