Four Star Wine Reviews


The San Francisco Chronicle has switched to using a STARRED rating system in it’s wine reviews inside its Thursday wine section. This is very good news.

I’m not sure when the change took place, but I noticed it today in their review of California Petite Sirahs. The new system rates wines from 2 STARS to 4 STARS with half stars in between, making it essentially a five level scale: Good to Excellent to Extraordinary with half starts in between.

The slap against the 100 points scale that makes the most sense to me is the degree of preciseness it implies. The classic question has always been, what’s the difference between an 88 point wine and an 89 point wine. In my more than 15 years following debate on rating scales never once have I heard any one describe this difference. And that makes sense. It can’t be described with any precision.


The SF Chronicle never used a 100 point system. However, prior to using the new 4 star system it didn’t give any ratings to wines…it just reviewed them. While I know this is a legitimate way to approach the review of wines, I always thought it discounted the readers desire to easily compare the various wines being reviewed.

The Chronicle’s 5 level rating system does not pretend to be precise. Rather, it categorizes wines in to broad categories of quality, exactly what consumers want and exactly what consumers can understand. Of course each rating also comes with a review at the Chronicle.

Linda Murphy, the SF Chronicle’s Wine Section editor wrote today’s reviews. And as they should, the written reviews contain far more information than the ratings. Here is the review of one of today’s top rated Petite Sirahs:

"2004 Michael-David Earthquake Lodi Petite Sirah ($28)
This is the big one,
with massive, jammy fruit (blackberry, black cherry and pie cherry), powerful
tannins and a Richter-scale 15.7 alcohol content. Rarely are wines of this size
balanced, yet Earthquake maintains its equilibrium and offers fine complexity
in its toast, smoked meat, cola,
vanilla and white-pepper notes.

Posted In: Rating Wine


One Response

  1. Beau - January 12, 2006

    Glad they’ve seen the light. I wondered why I was getting all those visitors from SF looking at my reviews.. 🙂

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