Numbers and Wine: The meaning of scores

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Wine

Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson

Published 2006

  • About
Using a numerical score to denote a wine’s quality offers the apparent appeal of brevity, objectivity, and precision. Scores provide an immensely convenient shorthand for the taster, being quick to record and simple to share. They transcend language barriers and are universally understood. With up to 100 values available (if one uses the standard 100-point scale, beginning at 50 but allowing the use of ‘plus’), very fine discriminations can be recorded with absolute clarity
However, while the convenience of wine scoring is not in doubt, such objectivity and precision are somewhat illusory. This is because, despite appearances, scores do not measure an inherent property of wine against an independent scale. They are, rather, rankings of preference, which relate the perceived quality of several wines solely to one another. Although all scoring systems operate on a universal principle—that higher numbers denote higher quality—the choice of which specific numbers to ascribe to a given set of wines is completely arbitrary.