User ID:

Remember me
Lost password?

Friday Fishwrap
The Stupidest Debate in Wine Country—The 100-Point System

By Charles Olken

They are at it again. The folks who would tell us how to run our lives. They want us all to abandon wine ratings because they have outlived their usefulness—or, in the case of one winery—because they got crappy scores for their crappy wines.

Well, folks, just ask these purveyors of doom what it is they really want and you will get a blank stare and some mumbo-jumbo about words instead of numbers. I will have a lot more to say about this state of affairs in the coming weeks if this stupid, monotonous debate does not subside and die of its own weight.

But, here is the bottom line. Rating systems for critical reviews of similar, competing products have existed for a very long time now and they are not going away, are not out of date, are not of little or no use to those who read them. All it takes are a few well-thought out sentences in association with the rating system for the meaning of the rating to be incredibly clear to everyone—even those whose oxen are being gored.


The CGCW Experience - Take the Tour

Meet the New CGCW

For thirty-five years, Connoisseurs’ Guide has been the authoritative voice of the California wine consumer. With readers in all fifty states and twenty foreign countries, the Guide is valued by wine lovers everywhere for its honesty and for it strong adherence to the principles of transparency, unbiased, hard-hitting opinions. Now, it is becoming the California winelover’s most powerful online voice as well. And, our new features provide an unmatched array of advice and information for aficionados of every stripe.


crappy wines
by Santo
Posted on:8/5/2011 4:05:43 PM

I am in favor of not using points at all but using the notes that do come along with them.  To many times in the retail side of things I have heard people say "this wine got 90 points" in return people buy it for the fact it got 90 points.  No mention of the tasting notes or what the wine is like.  Seems odd to buy a wine without reading or even tasting the notes.  I thought thats what wine was about?  Maybe I was wrong.  You should taste the so-called crappy wines.  Red Mountain does have some of the best fruit in the world!

by Charlie Olken
Posted on:8/5/2011 6:39:41 PM

I have a feeling that you have never read CGCW, and I would love to give you that opportunity.

What you will find is that we write the longest, most detailed tasting notes of any of the comprehensive reviewers. And you will also discover we taste as many wines as we can get our hands on and and we comment on them all regardless of whether we like them or not.

As for Hedges, that winery used to send its wines out for review and did very well in its early years. Then it seemed to go off the boil, and now they hate the very ratings they used to like.

I don't mind any opinion about anything but this "score revolutionist" stuff is totally self-appointed, anti-consumer in direction.

I respect that neither you nor they like scores. But, consumers do and that is why they pay wine publications for the whole review, which includes scores.

by Thomas Pellechia
Posted on:8/6/2011 6:22:59 AM

...not sleeping because of your post, Charlie, but because the subject has reached its nadir and should die a silent death.

by Ed Masciana
Posted on:8/8/2011 10:06:52 AM

The subject has reached the zenith of nadirs.

Scores debate
by Patrick
Posted on:8/8/2011 10:13:05 AM

Wow, Charlie. I think you need to get a breath of fresh air. By defending scores, you are defending your own interest as a writer. Everyone can see that, and it's not pretty.

by Brujo
Posted on:8/8/2011 11:26:18 AM

My biggest problem with the 100 point scale is that it isn't. Anyone with an elementary knowledge of statistics knows that ratings scales are only really valid if the entire range is used. When was the last time you saw a wine receive 50 points? Fifteen points? Let's call it what it really is - the 40 point scale.

Very valid debate
by lukebohanan
Posted on:8/8/2011 11:28:31 AM

This is not a stupid debate at all.  Compairing the parker scale to any other consumer scaling is totally invalid, as even picking out something like a car or a computer has ratings broken down into catacories (like safety and performance) and are based on tangible, testible, objective information.  Having one guy taste a wine and give it a single score based on his personal prefferance is rediculous and obsolete in the computer age.  Think if we picked music this way?  Or what we eat for dinner?  People dont have the same tastes, and if two guys cant agree on the testable merits of Ford or Chevy (a heated debate in most parts of the country) how can something so subjective as taste possibly be true?  Do points benafit consumers and retalers, sure, but that dont make it right.

101 points
by Kurt Burris
Posted on:8/8/2011 11:38:37 AM

My post is one point better!  I like using the old scoring method of bad, indifferent, good, very good and I'll remember this glass of wine for the rest of my life.  All tempered with the "would I buy it again?' question.  Points are shorhand that, unfortunatly, lazy people use lazily.  But for those not in the trade, it's just wine and that's all it will ever be.  Drink up

wine scores
by Bob Miler
Posted on:8/8/2011 3:32:42 PM

Hi Charlie, Loooong time no talk to. In my previous life working in wine retail and wholesale I got the question all the time, "How many points did it get from ____?"  In retail we would have customers buy a case of something because of high points and later bring back 11 bottles after drinking one and finding that they didn't like it. Yet they woud still keep buying on points rather than descriptions or our recommendations based on what we knew they liked. That was back in the 70's and 80's. Some things never change. Your tastings were always interesting and good to have the wine without and with food. Bob

Information, please
by Sherman
Posted on:8/8/2011 3:42:37 PM
Scores are just shorthand bits of information that can quickly catch the eye of a harried and (perhaps) not too geeky wine consumer who needs a little help. While it would be better to have a detailed tasting note accompanying the score, and (even better yet) a real live knowledgeable sales person there to guide them -- the score is simply a data point for the consumer. They get to make the decision whether to accept its validity and whether or not they will rely on it. It's part of the educational evolution of the wine drinker and ultimately, they vote with their dollars.Whether they continue to vote with their dollars is the only valid assessment of whether the points rating system works.
Shjerman Is Right
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:8/8/2011 11:37:48 PM

There is a reason why thousands of people around the world read publications that rate wines. It is because they cannot taste their ways through ten of thousands of wines on their own.

And they do not have the time or the patience to read all the words that appear in the thousands and thousands of reviews of those thousands and thousands of wines.

The don't need a manifestio to help them decide if they trust Parker or CGCW. They vote with their readership.

Hey, Patrick--Come Back
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:8/8/2011 11:40:34 PM

Come back and face the music.

Are you so afraid to have someone disagree with you and believe in themselves that you have to insult their beliefs?

You are making a religion out of your beliefs and those of us who disagree are the heretics. What's next? Burning at the stake?

by Ian Johnson
Posted on:8/9/2011 9:45:14 AM

Do I think the 100 point system is ideal? No.  Do I think that there exists an ideal system for examining the quality of wines? No.  Do I think it's worth any amount of energy discussing my opinions of any ratings system? No.  This is a free society.  We have freedom of speach that makes it rediculous to talk about somehow stopping the 100 point system.  If there is a market for it then it will thrive.  If another system evolves that becomes more popular then so be it.  

I'm back
by Patrick
Posted on:8/9/2011 10:15:13 AM

I certainly do not intend to insult anyone's beliefs, and I regret it if I did.  I just think that some of the loudest defenders of the 100 point score, writers such as yourself, are overreacting.  And, with all due respect, I think your last post about it supports my view. This is a free debate about the relevance of that system, and people have differing views. My views, which I did not express in my post, do not amount to a religion and so far I have not felt the urge to burn anyone at the stake. 

Papa Don't Preach
by 1WineDude
Posted on:8/9/2011 12:16:44 PM

Pappy - while I am in agreement that this topic is pretty much dead many times over, I think you do need to concede that because you are a critic who uses a rating system, the simple act of taking a stand here publicly could be perceived as a bit of conflict of interest? 

Now, I know you and I am pretty damn confident that you are capable of divorcing your professional life from the platonic version of the debate, but I think you'd agree that others could be forgiven for perceiving a vested interest in your take on the scores debate.

Regarding scores/ratings - they do serve a purpose, but the shorthand versions have been abused by lazy retailers (not ALL retailers, mind you, BIG difference there) for a long, long, time.  I can hate the game without hating the players, as they say...

Preaching Daddy Speaks
by Charles E. Olken
Posted on:8/9/2011 3:39:39 PM

Hello My Internet Son--

The thing that sticks in my craw is the "my way or the highway" nature of the Manifesto. One swears allegiance to it for goodness sake, and if one does not, one must be a non-believer, a heretic.

I welcome all kinds of debate. There is great value in that, and if we come out of this ongoing silliness (because I do think that the Manifesto is silly and self-aggrandizing on the part of the Christophe Hedges, who may be a very nice guy otherwise for all I know), and it is directled at all of us who use a rating system, my son, including you.

And, Joe, who would you expect to speak on behalf of the way I choose to communicate about wine if not me. That is why Patrick's early comment was so offensive.

"You stand accused but I may not speak". Frankly, we did away wih that that system of justice after Devil's Island.

Oh puhleeze
by Pamela Heiligenthal
Posted on:8/9/2011 5:58:38 PM

Anti-points folks –

How is giving wine a number any different from how Rotten Tomatoes, Yelp, Zagat, Yahoo, Michelin Guide, Frommers rate things? …and when was the last time anyone saw a score with no notes/review to back it up?

Sorry folks, but most people love ratings. If they didn’t we wouldn’t see the explosion of sites and iphone apps that use them.

..and I don’t care if we’re talking about five puffs, A , 96 points, five stars, excellent QPR, kung pow badge – they all have similar meanings.

Joe  – regarding retailers and others who abuse the system, wouldn’t you agree this is a problem with the retailer NOT the ratings methodology?

Sanity Returns
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:8/9/2011 6:19:38 PM


I long ago adopted Joe Roberts. Perhaps I can adopt you too. Mark would not mind, would he?

It seems so simple. A rating is nothing more than a shorthand notation for the tasting notes that follow, and it lives within the context of both the tasting note and the surrounding essays that lay the ground by discussing vintage, place, variety, market etc.

You are so right about the misuse of ratings. It is not the writers who turn ratings into false gods, and while the author of the manifesto likes to say that he likes critics, his polemic about sole voices shows otherwise.

Thanks for stopping by.

orphan annie
by Pamela Heiligenthal
Posted on:8/9/2011 8:03:17 PM

That would make me twice adopted as the snarky hosemaster’s daughter and the Olkenator’s side kick? I’m honored :)

Well, duh...
by 1WineDude
Posted on:8/10/2011 3:07:05 PM

All I'm saying is that you have skin in the game, Paps!

Pamela - I do agree that the fault is more with the misuse and not with the system (though as you know, I'm less inclined towards systems that suggest pinpoint accuracy when it comes to wine, but that's a different debate entirely), and I've said that quite publicly on 1WD many times.  Not hating the players, hatin' the game, as they say. :)

by Charlie. Olken
Posted on:8/10/2011 3:40:12 PM

Dude, of course I have skin in the game. Do you think that the Hedges winery does not? They used to send wine out everywhere, and when folks like me who used to like their wine came by on our rounds, we were greeted warmly. Then, when they stopped getting the rankings they thought they deserved (talking about skin in the game), they attacked writers and then launched this absurd, incoherent manifesto.

There are lots of arguments against points. Some of htem are made by folks who use other systems. Some of them are made by folks who read every review in CGCW word by word regardless of ranking. And some of them are being made by folks who would prefer that they tell the world what to think--such aa wineries and retailers.

The bottom line here, Joe, is that the public creates us, buys into us on its own. If you have a following, it is because you earned it. And the same is true for every other publication that uses ranking systems. All I am standing up for is the system that I use. Perhaps that can be called skin in the game, but it does not mean that I should sit by while idiotic schemes and false gods and half-truths and cult-like oaths are being foisted on the world.

good going
by Eric
Posted on:8/11/2011 10:13:00 AM

write about this subject more please.  As you (and all other wine "critics") continue to throw gas on the fire the ScoRevolution just gets more signatures.  So I just wanted to stop in and say thanks.  And also that most of you critics have no idea how to rate wines that are a little bit over the edge and may dare i say be a bit funky.  All you seem to like are painfully obvious fruit bombs with a crap load of oak.  I always have thought the reason that the wines that get lower scores are most likely not the fault of the wine but of the tasters lack of ability to understand it.

by Charles E. Olken
Posted on:8/11/2011 2:42:35 PM

A bit childish on your part, wouldn't you say? Have you ever read Connoisseurs' Guide? I dare say not because you would discover tasting notes that speak for themselves.

But, do drop me an email via the contact button above and I will make sure that you get to know us better. Then, when you want to insult us, you will at least know what you are talking about.

by Eric
Posted on:8/11/2011 11:14:25 PM

perhaps it was a bit childish, which isnt usually my style.  You are correct in assuming that I do not know much about cgcw I speak more out of my experience with MOST critics.  However I do believe the attacks on ScoRevolution are becoming quite childish and can be somewhat offensive so maybe you just bore the brunt of a lot of pent of frustration if that is the case I apologize.  I will however spend some time investigating this page and I will let you know what I think.  

by John
Posted on:8/15/2011 7:17:09 AM

I just want one critic to tell me the difference between and 89 point wint and a 90 point wine (besides one sells)  Then be able to pick the 89's they rated out of a blind tasting vs the 90's they rated.  Then I'll believe in a 100 point system. 

by Gregg Burke
Posted on:8/15/2011 7:45:19 AM

First Dude I agree that scores have been abused by lazy retailers, winery reps, and distributors. If the retailers begin taking back control of their stores and out of the hands of critics a lot of this argument goes away.  

Charlie I have read your magazine and I respect your writing very much, but can you not agree that the system has flaws that need to be addressed? John voices a question that most of us have, what is the difference between and 89 & 90? It illustrates one of the flaws in the present system.How about we not throw the baby out with the bath water and push for corrections in the present system?

89 vs 90
by Charles E. Olken
Posted on:8/15/2011 8:36:33 AM

Gregg and John--

For its first 25 years, Connoisseurs' Guide did not use the 100-point system. We followed the Guide Michelin system of one, two and thee stars. We also rated most wines at zero stars and added a downturned glass for wiines that seem badly flawed.

But that system has real shortcomings as do all systems. Three forces convinced us to add the 100-point system to our three star system.

Frank Prial of the New York Times wrote, "I don't know what all the fuss is about. An 87 point rating means only that the taster liked the wine a little better in that moment than one rated at 86". Frankly, we all do that all the time--like one wine a little more than another.

And, thus the big flaw in our five tier system. The wines at the cusps are separated by enormous margins when such differences do not exist. Our two and three star wines were widely accepted as wonderful wines. But, there were dozens of wines at the upper margins of one-star that were barely different in quality from two-stars. And they were being ignored.

And, as the 100-point system took over, it became the lingua franca of wine reviews. We realized that we were becoming the "Betamax" of reviewers, and added all the factors up and adopted the system.

89 vs 90--Part 2
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:8/15/2011 9:02:45 AM

So, now we come to the other issues that you gentlemen have raised.

All systems have flaws. I explained above one of the problems with tiers. I much prefer to be able to separate our star ratings into four levels as we now do with the addition of the 100-point overlay. There are observable qualitative differences between the most admired wines at the top of any of our star tiers and those at the bottom of the same tier. Now those differences can be stated in a useful adjunct to the words.

As to replicability, that would be a giant problem if it were a real problem. Does it make a rat's ass worth of difference that one day I like Ridge Lytton Springs a point better than Geyserville and the next day, I reverse the order by one point? Both, if one point apart, are far closer to each other in perceived quality than they are apart.

It is argument, not fact, that 89 vs 90 or 86 vs 87 or 93 vs 94 needs to be replicable. They are nearly identical. There is, by any definition with which I am familiar, no significant statistical or organoleptical difference at one point--just a small matter of preference.

That is why I do not worry about one-point replicability and why I prefer to be able to state my preferences more clearly.

100 pts
by John
Posted on:8/15/2011 11:10:05 AM

ok then if you don't care about 89 vs 90 lets make it even easier.  I would love you to take 10 wines you rated 92 and 10 wines you rated 87.  Taste them again double blind.  Let's see if you can go 10 for 10 on the scores?  I bet you can't.  Is 5 points a big enough difference in quality that you could pick them all?  As a person in the industry for almost 20 years I don't know what an 87 or 92 pt wine is really.  The same wine that gets 92 in one magazine gets 87 in another.  Much harder to find a mag that can give you detailed notes then make up some number out of the sky.

Explain Please
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:8/15/2011 11:37:46 AM


What does you last sentence mean?

Detailed notes: you need to read Connoisseurs' Guide. I can hook you up with a complimentary look. Email via the CONTACT button above.

But, "make them out of the sky"? Sounds like you have something specific you are trying to say. As for us, we "make them up" out of knowledge and rigorous tastings.

You really do need to explain yourself and to read CGCW to see how words and points become a whole, meaningful entitiy.

by John
Posted on:8/15/2011 3:33:24 PM

I am not taking a shot at you or your business.  I like the guide very much.  I find your information much more accurate and honest then many other publications. I don't need a free copy I have seen it many times.  However, I just think the 100 pt system aspect is flawed.  If you could take the "87" pt wines and the "92" point wines and pick them out of a line up at a blind tasting you might make a beliver out of me.  Otherwise, I think the notes are great but the points don't add much as far as value. 


by Charlie Olken
Posted on:8/15/2011 5:45:43 PM


Thanks for your note and the kind words about the guide.

I am guessing that you do not usbscribe to many wine publications as most have tight rating system of some kind.

But, John, if I thought that proving to you that my panel can pick out the five 92 point wines against the five 87 point wines blind would make you a subscriber, I just might put them to the test.

By the way, we do not taste by points. We ask only rankings of our tasters. It is our job as the wirters to distill what we learn in the blind tasting and in the conversations that follow about each wine as much as we can in order to apply a point score.

We routinely, as a matter of principle, retaste every wine that is considered for 90 points or higher. I do believe that we could pass your test a high percentage of the time.

Ready to give Connoisseurs' Guide a try for a year?

Leave a comment below, but please limit your comments to 1,200 characters or less. We find it helpful to make a copy of our comments to be sure that they fit. In that way, you can edit them if they run long.

(Please note: your e-mail address will not be visible after posting)



Note: Refresh your browser to see your latest comments.

Having technical problems with the comment system? Click here.