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Wine Ratings; what's the score?

A critique of the wine critics

There are many people who review and score wine; I am often asked which of these wine critics I rate. So below are those wine critics at the top of my list and why together with some information on the different ways in which they rate wine. I include what I think are the minimum wine scores that you should look for from each of my selected wine critics if you wish to ensure that you are getting a really good quality wine. Plus some things to bear in mind when looking generally at wine ratings.

Wines With Attitude's approach to wine ratings

Wines With Attitude Customers and regular readers of my wine blog posts will know that it is only after I have selected wines for the Wines With Attitude portfolio that I subsequently check whether the wines chosen have been reviewed and / or scored by wine critics. If they have I will include the scores and comments in order to give you, the consumers, more information upon which to base your wine-purchasing decision.

I don’t necessarily always agree with the reviews or scores – but they are another opinion – and usually any differences in opinion are more a question of taste than of the wine’s quality.

Things to bear in mind when looking at wine ratings

Firstly, remember that not all wines are reviewed. So if you see a wine that has no rating it could simply be that the producer or importer of that wine has chosen not to submit it for review. Some wines are reviewed religiously each year but more often than not a producer will seek ratings when they are trying to build up their reputation and increase sales. Once they hit the big time, they often rely more on the reputation that they have built rather than on other people’s opinions. The fact that a wine does not have a score attributed to it does not mean that it falls in the “Avoid this wine at all costs” category. If you restrict yourself to drinking only those that have a score, you may miss out on some amazing wines.

Wine ratings and reviews are considered by many to be crucial to the wine industry; they can make or break a wine’s reputation and ultimately its sales. The ratings and reviews given by wine critics carry a lot of weight, but it is interesting to note that they can differ greatly depending on who has written them.

Critics such as Jancis Robinson, The Wine Advocate and Decanter all have their own unique styles and preferences when it comes to tasting and rating wines, leading to a range of scores for the same wine. So, what do these wine critics look for when rating wine?

Jancis Robinson and team are known for their focus on balance and harmony in wines, favouring those that are elegant and restrained. The Wine Advocate or perpetuates the reputation that founder Robert Parker had for favouring bolder, richer wines with more intense fruit flavours. Decanter takes a more holistic approach, considering factors such as the wine’s ageability, complexity, and typicity i.e. how well it represents its style or region. These differing perspectives and preferences can lead to vastly different scores for the same wine, leaving consumers to navigate a sea of conflicting opinions.

Another factor that can influence wine ratings and reviews is personal taste. Although it should be wine quality rather than its taste that is judged, personal preference is bound to have an impact. At the end of the day, wine is a subjective experience, and what one person loves, another may hate. Critics are no exception to this rule – they have their own individual palates and preferences that will influence their ratings. Some may prefer certain grape varieties or regions over others, leading to higher scores for those wines. Others may be more inclined towards organic or biodynamic wines, giving such wines a higher rating even when other critics may find them lacking.

Furthermore, there is the influence of external factors that can affect wine ratings and reviews. These can include factors such as the critic’s mood or health on the day they tasted the wine, the setting in which the wine was tasted, or even their personal relationships with the winery or winemaker.

It is also important to say that sometimes the reviewers are tasting the wines straight from the barrel months before the wines are bottled and released – and as we know most wines of quality will change and improve over time – up to a point.

Different wine reviewers & their ratings

Jancis Robinson

Minimum Jancis rating by Wines With Attitude
I have to confess that Jancis is my wine hero not least for forging a path for other women in the wine industry (see photo of me receiving my WSET Diploma from Jancis). I also rate the scores because, like me, Jancis and her hugely experienced team (with at least ten Masters of Wine) are pretty strict markers in my view – though there are differences even between Jancis’ reviewers.

Their maximum score is 20 points for a “truly exceptional” wine but I don’t remember the last time I saw a score from Team Jancis higher than 17.5+ points and even that level is quite rare. Bear in mind also that that 17.5 points equates to 87.5 points out of 100 which for some of the other wine critics is only just in the realms of a good wine.

Other scores are:

“19 – A humdinger
18 – A cut above superior
17 – Superior
16 – Distinguished
15 – Average, a perfectly nice drink with no faults but not much excitement”

My view would be not to look below 15.5 points on the Jancis Robinson rating system.

Wine Advocate

Eighty five rating by Wines With Attitude

Although you may not be familiar with the name Wine Advocate, if you are interested in wine you will almost certainly have heard of “Parker Points”. Wine Advocate magazine was set up by Robert Parker and since 2019 has been a subsidiary of the Michelin Group. Often criticised in the past for awarding higher points to bigger, more powerful wines dominated by fruit that appealed to its mainly US-based readers, say that “the various twenty (20) point rating systems do not provide enough flexibility and often result in compressed and inflated wine ratings”, which is somewhat ironic.

Nevertheless I think the criticism is a little unfair these days as Wine Advocate has a bigger and more international team. I can’t say that I have noticed any discrimination against the more elegant style of wine.

Parker Points” range from 50 to 100 with anything below 60 believed to be unacceptable. It is rare to see wines in Wine Advocate’s top category of 96 points or above “extraordinary wine of profound and complex character displaying all the attributes expected of a classic wine of its variety”.Other rating bands worthy of note are:
“90 – 95:An outstanding wine of exceptional complexity and character. In short, these are terrific wines.

80 – 89: A barely above average to very good wine displaying various degrees of finesse and flavour as well as character with no noticeable flaws.”

I find some of Wine Advocate’s bands a little wide; for example in the band between 80 and 89 wines can range from “barely above average” to “very good wine”. My advice would be to avoid anything below 85 Parker Points.



Decanter is more likely to cover mainstream wines that are widely available though they do rate more unusual wines as well. They have an easy-to-use search page and access is free. Ratings were all moved to a one hundred point system some time ago but older reviews still use the 20 point system (and it is not quite as simple as using 5 as the multipyling or dividing factor to convert them). 86 or 16 points would be my recommended cut-off point.

Decanter has a wide number of Top Wine lists e.g. top Bordeaux of the year, top Californian Cabernets. In their Top 20 wines of 2016 list Pegasus Bay Pinot Noir 2013 featured with 95 points “Outstanding” (a later vintage of Pegasus Bay Pinot). See my comments below about making a comparison of ratings.


Wine Spectator

Eighty five rating by Wines With Attitude

I tend to see more scores in the 80s than in the 90s from Wine Spectator, 85-89 being “Very good: a wine with special qualities” and 80-84 “Good: a solid, well-made wine”. They also publish a list of Top 100 Wines each year but those wines don’t necessarily have the highest ratings of 95-100 “Classic: a great wine” or even 90-94 “Outstanding: a wine of superior character and style.” It therefore makes sense that some really great wines score in the 80s. As with Robert Parker though, my advice would be not to look below 85.

Sometimes Wine Spectator gives a score as a range e.g. 90-94 which means that the wine was tasted in barrel and gives them a little wiggle room for how the wine will develop before and after it is released.

Also worthy of a mention are...

Tim Atkin MW
A wine writer who produces very informative regional reviews, Tim is also a co-Chairman of the International Wine Challenge which might explain why he says of his ratings “I regard 85-89 points as being the equivalent of a bronze medal, 90-94 a silver and 95+ a gold.

James Halliday
For Australian wines specifically there is only really one critic and that is critic, James Halliday, who publishes Halliday Wine Companion guide annually and Halliday magazine. His ratings can be rather confusing with points awarded out of 100, 2.5 to 5 glasses and medals which overlap these. I find his ratings a little on the high side and suggest sticking to 89 and above.

Raymond Chan
Since Raymond sadly passed away in 2019, the Raymond Chan Wine Review is now operated by Candice Chow. The content which focuses on Australian and New Zealand wines is free unlike many of the others and uses several different scales, medals, a star rating system for a general overview and a 20 point scale for a more detailed judgement. A Four Star rating is equal to 17 – 18.4 points on the 20 point scale or 85 to 92 points out of 100 which is equal to a Silver award. A little confusing but what I really like are Raymond’s and now Candice’s detailed descriptions of the wines tasted.

There are many more and apologies to any I have missed out. And let’s not forget consumer ratings often via apps such as Vivino and Delectable.

A comparison of wine ratings for the same wine

When I first published a shorter version of this article on 22 September 2017, I managed to find one wine that was covered by all the main critics which is actually quite unusual. Pegasus Bay Pinot Noir 2013 was the closest I came to full coverage and here’s how each of the critics ranked it:

Jancis Robinson      16      Distinguished
Robert Parker           91     An outstanding wine of exceptional complexity and character. In short, these are terrific wines
Wine Spectator        88      Very good: a wine with special qualities
Decanter                  95      Outstanding
Raymond Chan        19      Somewhere in the middle of “Perfect to Outstanding”

Quite a range of scores though of course it is all a matter of opinion. The proof of the pudding as they say is in the eating or, in the case of wine, in the tasting – whether you like a wine or not is up to your personal taste and you may prefer to take no notice of the scores. If you do like to consider the opinion of others don’t forget to check out the ratings of our wines with attitude in their tasting notes.

Beware also that some less scrupulous wine retailers show ratings for a different vintage of a specific wine. I do not agree with this practice as there can be substantial differences in vintages; it is at best misleading consumers.


I am passionate about good quality wine and set up Wines With Attitude to share that passion with other wine lovers. If you’re feeling sociable why not follow me on social media or share my blog with others?

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