Same As It Ever Was: Wine Ratings (and prices)

No-ChangeWait! What? The score inflation inside the 100 Point Wine Rating Scale isn’t really inflation after all? How could that be. The defenders of freedom and consumers who hate wine ratings said so.

Claire Adamson writing at looked at average wine ratings now and then from the WineSearcher’s “own average wine scores, calculated from a range of the world’s most famous critics, and retrofitted them back to the 1990 vintage.” (not entirely sure what this means)

What did she find? The rate of change is “almost entirely horizontal”.

Adamson concludes, “So where is all this concern over skyrocketing wine scores coming from? Could it be that it’s an elite circle of hysteria, a kind of self-perpetuating myth? And is it all just adding to the intoxicating power of the wine score over consumers? Probably.”

My thought is that with the increase in the number of wines in release in 2014 over 1990 means with the same rate at which 95 point+ scores are given, it seems like there are more high scoring wines. Additionally, the fact that very low scores (68 points or 72 points) are rarely published anymore probably gives folks the impression that there are more high scores given up.

Adamson does a good job of reporting here assuming her numbers she uses are up to snuff. However, I do take issue with one thing she does write. This:

“Wine scores should reflect the quality of a wine, of course, but they should also surely reflect the price of the wine, not inflate it.”

Isn’t a wine great no matter what the price? Doesn’t a wine possess wonderful balance, layers of flavors and lovely structure no matter what it is priced? Outstanding wine is usually made in small amounts. There is usually great demand for these wines. They are priced high for this reason. It’s the same reason that many other products that are in high demand and low supply are priced out of the range of the vast majority of people there is nothing wrong with this. In fact, there are only two alternatives to correcting this supposed problem:

  1. Put a national price cap on wines (who thinks that’s going to happen?)
  2. Actively promote a movement to ignore really good wine.

So, no wine scoring inflation and the most celebrated wines are those that are most expensive and least available to the majority of wine drinkers. Sounds about right to me.

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2 Responses

  1. Tish - June 29, 2016

    This is a real non-sequiter of a post, Tom. Perception is the true reality. It does not matter one lick that the distribution of scores is comparable to the spread in decades past. the fact that sub-90 scores are rarely ever published seen online or even thought about is the crux of the issue here. For years now, wine scores have been compressed into a very simple equation: “it’s 90 or it’s not.” Sure, the occasional 94+ and under-$20 wine might jump up, but what wine shop (and ecommerce) browsers get is a preponderance of 90+ scores, which most definitely amount to a perception of grade inflation. Moreover, the continued use of scores from multiple sources gives the perception of interchangeability — what wine today is incapable of getting 90 points (or a “Best Buy”) from somewhere?
    Go into a wine shop and swing a dead cat — you’ll hit a 90 point wine fast enough.

  2. Tom Wark - June 29, 2016


    Assuming the Wine Searcher’s data is correct, then despite the perception, the claim that their is grade inflation is false.

    And frankly, this surprises me. One would expect it to be easier and easier to producer better and better wine with more and more information about winemaking and our terroirs.

    As for the lack of low scores published. I too can lament this as they reviews were among the best comedy in wine. I used to always read those first just for he comic value.

    But I wonder how many more wines are being released (and reviewed) annually today than 20 years ago. I could go check pretty easily, but I’m sure it is quite a lot more. A publisher could continue to expand and expand its published reviews but as you know, advertising will pay for only so many pages. That publisher can choose to lose money and publish them all, publish fewer of the high scores, publish fewer of the low scores or publish fewer from the entire spectrum.

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