Wine Talk

Snooth User: zufrieden

Robert Parker's Vintage Ratings

Posted by zufrieden, Mar 14, 2012.

Wanting to refresh my memory on certain French vintages in the Rhône Valley I came across (as I often do) the Robert Parker Vintage Chart.  Parker includes vintages from 1970 through 2010 on his website and scores them on the usual 100 point scale.  He claims that scores of 70-79 are "average" while those of 80-89 are "above average to excellent." This is fine as far as it goes, but being more mathematically curious I took the scorings for the wine regions of France and ran a histogram to analyze the true (empirical) distribution of scores.

As it turns out, the true average Parker vintage score is 86-87 and the most frequent score is 88.  In more recent vintages (primarily the last 10)  the most frequent score (or mode) is 95! I think the "new" average is about 90, so should you measure the potential of your wine purchases relative to that value  - assuming you take stock in anything Bob says?

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Reply by dmcker, Mar 14, 2012.

Good one, Zuf. Just another example of score inflation in his world. Only getting worse with Galloni, it would seem (shades of the future?). Plus we always knew he liked warmer fruit, anyway! Just imagine all that pricing pressure from his friends out in the winemaking and selling world--wouldn't ever want to talk the market down, would he?

Might be useful to look at a few examples of specific ratings for specific vintages for specific regions, thrown up against competing charts (Decanter, WE, whatever), as well as our own views and experience. Then we could even go to the notes on websites for specific growers and winemakers to add that extra little bit of leavening...

Reply by JonDerry, Mar 15, 2012.

I've always found that comical myself Zuf. "Average" vintages and average wines just hardly ever exist. Most everything is above average. There's got to be room for a website/blog that attempts to interpret the true meaning of what the talking heads are saying or trying to convey in their "notes".

Reply by EMark, Mar 15, 2012.

Thank you, Zuf, for the effort here.  Your work is eye-opening,  easy to understand and confirms most of my suspicions.

I know that the 100-point scale is the "currency of the trade" (credit to Charles Olken), but I really believe that I can live with a 4-point scale:

  • Great
  • Good
  • Acceptable
  • Not Acceptable 
Reply by Giacomo Pevere, Mar 15, 2012.

Zuf that inflation of vintage score is not just a Parker issue, in Italy all the most important Doc and Docg have official vintage rating and the last decade is everywhere the best ever. Of course that's impossible and this high ratings are just for pushing the market.

From 1997 to 2008 Barolo had seven 90+ vintages, four 80+ and just one average vintage. No vintages under average. 1947-1996 had four 90+ vintage, 50 years 4 great vintages!

Reply by shsim, Mar 16, 2012.

Statistic is a good way to go for plenty of things.

Haha I agree with you Emark. And agree to disagree. I actually like the wine cup rating system on Snooth. Especially when I dont have much to say about the wine. The most important thing for me is to keep track of what I enjoyed from what I have tasted. But then knowing why is good too.

Reply by GregT, Mar 16, 2012.

Well if you guys are interested, Parker tweeted this week about the 2011 vintage in Bordeaux  - 



Reply by dmcker, Mar 16, 2012.

Ooooh... is he begging for extra added attention, or what? Wonder what those cellar/lab wonks are blending up right now over in Bordeaux? Not that it'll have much to do with final bottlings....

Reply by zufrieden, Mar 16, 2012.

Of course, I was just having a bit of fun at Parker's expense (and I am sure he can afford it).  It is true that the issue of which I spoke is common throughout the wine world and is tied to the economic imperatives that drive the so-called market (as an economist I am allowed a bit of leeway on this one, I hope).  If time permits I should (or one of you - the interested) look into the matter where it impacts a region of interest for you.  I may reprise this examination of scores according to the suggestions you provide, only you all may have to be a bit patient.

I only used Parker as an example; I could, of course name a great many more reviewers.  Those with the consistency and palate that I admire shall for the moment remain unnamed ( I know, that is a bit coy), but I know a few of you could guess who those annointed few might be!

Anyway, I thought this kind of quick analysis might be fun.  Let's continue - especially on the 2011 Bordeaux vintage referred to above.  Thanks for all the comments; I think we need to be aware of the marketing ploys used by reviewers and producers alike.  Until the next comment, bottoms up and enjoy!

Reply by Michaelk, Mar 17, 2012.

I have always used a very simple scoring system.

I don't like it  –

I like it +

I like it alot ++

Much simpler and easier to sort through larger tastings!

I really don't know how these guys can decide between 88 or 89 points for example. I think that is one of the reasons the average is going up as well. Perhaps giving the wine a higher score is giving it "the benefit of the doubt".

Reply by GregT, Mar 17, 2012.

But Michael - Zuf was talking about vintage ratings, not wine ratings, although the issue is similar.

Problem with vintage ratings is that in a hilly place, you can have widely different different years over a small distance.  I've sat on a hillside and watched another hill in the distance get slammed with rain and hail while the vineyard we were sitting in was dry and sunny. Similarly, a hillside can get flooded out but dry out in a couple of days whereas farther down in the valley, they're going to end up with mold and rot or too much water. Or you might get a sudden late spring frost or whatever.

When you average those things out, you say one vineyard had a perfect vintage, 100 points or "A", and one had a horrid vintage, say 50 points or "E" and you end up with an average of 50 points or "C" for the overall vintage. But that makes zero sense because you're not going to blend those 2 wines.

It's not a problem of Parker or any other critic actually, it's just the way things are.  You can offer very broad and general observations, e.g. it was an El Nino year or in general we had more or less rain/sun/fog overall than we did in other years, but you can't say much more.  They get these vintage ratings in part by looking at how many wines they gave high scores to, but that's flawed too.  You can get wines that are nice young and later crap out as many 1997 Napa wines are doing and most 2007 CdPs probably will, or you can get wines that don't drink well today but that might blossom. 

Good example is 2001 Ribera del Duero.  Some say it was the greatest vintage ever in the region, or at least one of them. But the most important winery, Vega Sicilia, didn't make Unico that year because they had an early spring frost that killed the nascent buds on the vines. The winery thought that the grapes produced from a second flowering aren't as good. So how do you rate that vintage overall?

Reply by jaywalia, Mar 18, 2012.

While I dont go to the store with RP ratings armed I must admit I do tend to atleast consider his view amongst other reviews. I realised after I had my first few bottles of wine, the notes I had made were more similar to his albeit alot more amatuer however to me I buy what I like and I like what I like so for most part if I enjoyed it It'll fetch 90-99 on my ratings scale. Mr. Parkers views are just that, views, an advice or a guide but I'd prefer carving my own path,atleast thats how I'd like to keep it.

Reply by zufrieden, Mar 18, 2012.

Of course the views on vintages (and to expand a bit) the wines themselves are, charitably put, informed opinion. My point was that reviewers are in tough with regional producers if they declare a vintage to be "average" unless the opinions of the mass of reviewers out there happen to be in rare alignment as they were with the horrible 1992 Bordeaux vintage.  Reviewers are under pressure to at least passively support the absurdly high vintage rating values of the last 40 years - warm vintages preferred by the likes of Parker notwithstanding.

If global warming (or, if you prefer, climate change) is behind the raft of "average" vintage ratings inflating values to the rarified heights of 95 points (though still called exceptional) then my response is to re-scale.

Also, as pointed out in one of the postings, vineyards facing each other across a narrow valley can be exposed to viscissitudes of weather that differ significantly and which, consequentially, produce profoundly different results in the bottle.  So I realize these scores are highly general, but they could be a lot more meaningful if properly scaled and less influenced by marketing and hype.

Reply by duncan 906, Mar 19, 2012.

Robert Parker is a writer who expresses his opinions partly by using a points system but the bottom line is that they are his opinion.If we were all to drink the same bottle of wine we would probably have a thousand and one different opinions of it.Robert Parker's opinions are more valued than those of most of us however and are sometimes used for marketing purposes.Not for nothing but for his write-ups was he made an honary citizen in Chateau-neuf-du-Pape although he is actually a US citixen.On the other hand he fell out with some wine producers in Burgundy so he no longer goes to that region

Reply by Richard Foxall, Mar 20, 2012.

I commented on this in another thread, but it belongs here.  Has Parker ever downgraded a vintage or a wine?  I know he has upgraded wines and vintages, but has he ever said, five or six years in, "Hey, I was wrong about this, it doesn't really have the stuffing I thought it did.  Drink 'em now, fellas"?  And, if he's going to upgrade something, doesn't he have to downgrade others to maintain an average within the specified range, esp for vintages?  That would be true even if he wasn't wrong, just because overall quality was going up. 

Or maybe that's how he explains that his "average" vintage score is above what average vintages are supposed to get.  Maybe it's not graded on a curve at all. Or maybe there are lots of above average vintages in Lake Rhonebegon.

As to the value overall of vintage scores, I posted this thread a while ago--great comments by many posters--about Parker's vintage of a lifetime in 2007, an opinion I think he should revisit and downgrade, even on what seem to be his terms.

Reply by dmcker, Mar 20, 2012.

If he downgrades 2007 in the Rhone, what's he going to do with 2002 (or 2007 for that matter) in Bordeaux? Not that he even bothered to visit for en primeur that season of war paranoia. I've had more crap bottles from that year than any other the past decade or more, even than 2007 and 1997....

Reply by mistersplice, Mar 20, 2012.

I've been using the new 50-point wine rating scale. It's heavily influenced by Parker's 50-point scale, but it leaves out the component for judging the aging potential of a wine, which is difficult to determine for most people anyway. (For the record, Robert Parker also uses a 50 point scale, even though his average score is apparently 88 or 90.) This system also leaves out the school grading bias that affects the perception of a wine's quality and causes the scores to trend upward. Read more about the reasoning behind the new scoring system in detail at the link.

For the past year, I have only used the new system with the guy that came up with the idea, but our independently-calculated scores have always had less than a 5 point difference. It works, and it doesn't have the built-in limitation of Parker's system. I use it for my ratings here at Snooth as well, I just have to adjust the 50 points to fit the 5 wine glass ratings here.

Reply by Richard Foxall, Mar 20, 2012.

So then you just double your fifty point scale... I guess the whole question is whether any system of points is useful. 

Or you could just make it a ten point scale--and use the whole scale.  "I hate it" gets 0, "it's okay to swallow so my host isn't offended" gets 1, "not bad" covers 2-3, "good enough to have a second glass if it's on my parent's/host's table" gets 4-5, "I'd buy a bottle to have at home," gets 6-7, "This wine taught me something and I would happily talk about it" gets 8, and "I think everyone I care about should try this wine because they will think I am fabulous and have great taste" gets 9.  Life-changing wines get 10.

And when there are too many wines getting a ten?  Do like this guy:

When you need that extra little push over the cliff, turn it up to 11.

Reply by zufrieden, Mar 21, 2012.

I think the idea is to (a) reconsider one's earlier views of a vintage (or a wine, if you like) in the light of new information and (b) seriously reconsider the wisdom of not adhering to double-blind tastings - whether these apply to vintage assessments or the merits of individual wines.  I appreciate all your responses and feel at least a bit justified in feeling that tastings need to be a statistically reasonable amalgam of many reviewers - amateur and professional (so-called).  To achieve a score that represents the blind assessment of a reviewer must be the goal.

Reply by dmcker, Mar 22, 2012.

As per a comment of mine in another thread, I don't think wine should be rated only double blind. You never get the story of the wine that way, can't do verticals to gain perspective, etc. Especially when we're talking cattle-call tastings with potentially scores of wines all at once. Those tastings are, for how I choose to choose and drink wine, basically worthless.

And I thought we were talking about ratings of entire vintages for entire regions, anyway.  ;-)

Reply by Eric Guido, Mar 22, 2012.

What's amazing to me, is how many people agree that we've seen this massive score inflation, and yet the publications do nothing about it.  I remember the days when a 90-point wine was something to get excited about, and when a 95-99 was holy grail stuff--with100 being impossible to find.

It wouldn't bother me so much if they updated their scoring system so we all knew what it really meant.  In my mind, it seems like everything is scored on a 20 point system now.

For instance;

80 - 84 below standard

85 - 89 acceptable 

90 - 94 above average

95 - 99 good - great

100 - Excellent

(almost forgot Parker created a new one) 100+ Holy grail

If this is the way that WA and WS see wine, then at least let us know about it publicly. 

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