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Scoring Systems for Spirits: All roads lead to Parker

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Capn Jimbo
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PostPosted: Fri Jan 25, 2013 6:48 am    Post subject: Scoring Systems for Spirits: All roads lead to Parker Reply with quote

Scoring Systems for Spirits: All roads lead to Parker

Believe it or not scoring systems for spirits are actually relatively modern and began with Robert Parker - the super guru of wine rating. Parker's rating can easily make or break a wine release. Before Parker ratings were really a mish mosh. He'd noted the most common system of scoring - the American System. This is the perhaps the most basic system we know, the familiar A-B-C-D-F. We all understand the system and the fact that it creates a bell curve of scores with "C" being average and the largest, with fewer and fewer to each extreme.

A quote:

"The popularization of numerical scoring is widely credited to the American wine critic Robert Parker who patterned his system of numerical ratings on the American standardized grading system in the 1970s.
Over the last couple of decades, the 50-100 scale introduced by Robert M. Parker, Jr. has become commonly used. This or numerically similar scales are used by publications such as Wine Enthusiast, Wine Spectator, and Wine Advocate.[1][2] Other publications or critics, such as Jancis Robinson and Michael Broadbent, may use a 0-20 scale, or a 0-5 scale (often in terms of numbers of stars) either with or without half-star steps"

Let's review a few systems:


An extraordinary wine of profound and complex character displaying all the attributes expected of a classic wine of its variety. Wines of this caliber are worth a special effort to find, purchase, and consume.
90 - 95:
An outstanding wine of exceptional complexity and character. In short, these are terrific wines.
80 - 89:
A barely above average to very good wine displaying various degrees of finesse and flavor as well as character with no noticeable flaws.
70 - 79:
An average wine with little distinction except that it is a soundly made. In essence, a straightforward, innocuous wine.
60 - 69:
A below average wine containing noticeable deficiencies, such as excessive acidity and/or tannin, an absence of flavor, or possibly dirty aromas or flavors.
50 - 59:
A wine deemed to be unacceptable.

And his own interpretation:

"Here then is a general guide to interpreting the numerical ratings:

90-100 is equivalent to an A and is given only for an outstanding or special effort. Wines in this category are the very best produced of their type. There is a big difference between a 90 and 99, but both are top marks. As you will note through the text, there are few wines that actually make it into this top category because there are not many great wines.

80-89 is equivalent to a B in school and such a wine, particularly in the 85-89 range, is very, very good; many of the wines that fall into this range often are great values as well. I have many of these wines in my personal collection.

70-79 represents a C, or average mark, but obviously 79 is a much more desirable score than 70. Wines that receive scores between 75 and 79 are generally pleasant, straightforward wines that lack complexity, character, or depth. If inexpensive, they may be ideal for uncritical quaffing.

Below 70 is a D or F, depending on where you went to school. For wine, it is a sign of an imbalanced, flawed, or terribly dull or diluted product that will be of little interest to the discriminating consumer.

In terms of awarding points, my scoring system gives every wine a base of 50 points. The wine's general color and appearance merit up to 5 points. Since most wines today are well made, thanks to modern technology and the increased use of professional oenologists, they tend to receive at least 4, often 5 points. The aroma and bouquet merit up to 15 points, depending on the intensity level and dimension of the aroma and bouquet as well as the cleanliness of the wine. The flavor and finish merit up to 20 points, and again, intensity of flavor, balance, cleanliness, and depth and length on the palate are all important considerations when giving out points. Finally, the overall quality level or potential for further evolution and improvement—aging—merits up to 10 points."

Now let's consider Wine Spectators alterations...

Wine Spectator:

• 95-100 Classic: a great wine
• 90-94 Outstanding: a wine of superior character and style
• 85-89 Very good: a wine with special qualities
• 80-84 Good: a solid, well-made wine
• 75-79 Mediocre: a drinkable wine that may have minor flaws
• 50-74 Not recommended

The Specator has used the same overall range but has cleverly pumped them up just a bit. For example, 70-79 is no longer average, but what the Spectator would call 75-84. This is a five point gift to the producers and for a good reason. Wine advertisers and their shelf talkers will look at all the ratings then - naturally - pick the highest scores to publish. Accordingly the magazines - like Spectator - will get more mentions and accordingly sell more magazines. It's a circle jerk.

As an aside the winemakers have learned how to push their ratings by such techniques as using French oak, more new oak, allowing the grapes to mature longer, get sweeter, and to higher alcohol content. This produces big boomers that may score better but which in truth are overdone.

An extreme example of producer pushed ratings float is our good friend the Wolfman, whose "primary sippers" start at a score of "90"! His average score for sippers is close to 87!! The producers love this. Send him a risk-free freebie and enjoy the review. Still, his hundreds of "awards" are almost never quoted. Go figure.

Parker's Scale remains the Gold Standard. Those who alter it in any way have their own agendas and should be executed at sunrise.

Even so, how accurate are the "reviewers"?

Those who have read our Reviewer's Reviews at the top of the Scuttlebutt section will quickly find which reviewers are at least unbiased and have exhibited reliable palates. As for wine a researcher far more competent that I performed an excruciating analysis of the wine ratings...

In his first study the State of California allowed him to present wines to 70 notable judges of the prestigious of California State Fair Wine Competition. Over four years he presented 70 judges each year with the same 100 wines in a blind tasting. Each judge received the same wine, from the same bottle three times. He was shocked by the results: each judge on average varied their own scored by +/- 4 points - a tremendous variance in scores (a full category). Only one in ten judges was accurate between +/- 2 points. Although a few judges were consistent one year, they were not in the other years.

His most amazing finding was that a gold medal wine one year did not win the other years, and that the gold medals seemed "spread around" with "each wine having about a 9% chance of winning a gold medal in any given competition". Paso Robles Winery sent the same wine under three different labels to the same competion. "Two of the identical samples were rejected, he said, "one with the comment 'undrinkable.' " The third bottle was awarded a double gold medal."

Case closed.

Bottom Line:

The American Standard Scoring System, best expressed and finding universal favor under Robert Parket was, is and will remain the Gold Standard of rating. Whether you use a range of 50 to 100, A to F or one to five stars: this is the only system that is fair, honest and widely understood.

In rum there are only a handful of reviewers that you can trust: BTI, Dave Broom, Machete, Scotte, the Bilgemunky and of course - The Rum Project. When any of these reviewers speak especially highly of a rum you can trust them.

The worst by far is our frozen Canadian friend who not only uses a biased scale, but has actually demonstrated a noticeably bitter palate (with over half the rums scored being reported as "bitter").

Go to Save Caribbean Rum Petition!
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