Wine ratings: are those golden stickers all they’re cracked up to be?

With hundreds of wines to choose from on local shelves, are the point- and star-ratings from wine critics any use? Only if you dig a little deeper, says one expert

28 December 2018 - 00:00 By Richard Holmes
Most wineries publish the tasting sheets and winemaking notes on their websites, which can offer a deeper level of insight into the wine you’re considering splurging on.
Most wineries publish the tasting sheets and winemaking notes on their websites, which can offer a deeper level of insight into the wine you’re considering splurging on.
Image: 123RF/ammentorp

The wine industry was atwitter earlier this year when UK-based critic Tim Atkin awarded a perfect 100-point score to a South African wine for the first time. The wine in question was the 2015 vintage of Kanonkop’s Paul Sauer.

Originally sold at the cellar door for R595, today – if you can find a bottle – some retailers are offering the same bottle for nearly three times that.

Such is the power of wine ratings. But are those stars and points embossed on golden stickers all they’re cracked up to be?

“The problem with the 100-point system is that each scorer has a different idea of what constitutes a good score on that scale,” says Roland Peens, director of online wine retailer winecellar.co.za, and a respected local wine judge.

For instance, while Tim Atkin gave the 2015 Paul Sauer a perfect score, Christian Eedes of winemag.co.za rated it just 94 points.

Local wine judge Roland Peens says winemaking notes often mean more than the rating score.
Local wine judge Roland Peens says winemaking notes often mean more than the rating score.
Image: Supplied

So what’s a consumer to do? Wine drinkers looking for an assurance of quality need to take the stars and scores into account, but consider them in context, says Roland: “Consumers need to take a broader view. They need to understand the winemaker and follow the vintages. The committed consumer also shouldn’t only look at the score. It doesn’t help. They need to understand the taster, and what kind of wines that taster likes.” 

Finding more information on the wine is the next step. Most wineries publish the tasting sheets and winemaking notes on their websites, which can offer a deeper level of insight into the wine you’re considering splurging on.

“The notes often mean more than the score,” says Roland, “but consumers don’t have time, they want to quantify everything with a number. Instead of making a judgment on the notes about the wine, they make a judgment on the score.”

The lesson, if you’re serious about wine? Taste widely and compare scores to find a critic with a palate similar to your own. Follow them, read widely and dig out more information. But of course, if you’re just looking for an easy mid-week quaffer, don’t be shy to follow the shiniest label.

THE 100-POINT SYSTEM*

  • 95–100 Classic: a great wine
  • 90–94 Outstanding: a wine of superior character and style
  • 85–89 Very good: a wine with special qualities
  • 80–84 Good: a solid, well-made wine
  • 75–79 Mediocre: a drinkable wine that may have minor flaws
  • 50–74 Not recommended

*According to Wine Spectator.


This article was originally published in the Sunday Times Neighbourhood: Property and Lifestyle guide. Visit Yourneighbourhood.co.za


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