Wine Scoring Systems: What You Need to Know

The Scoring Systems

Three systems are most commonly used for wine scoring today: Robert Parker’s 100 Point System, UC Davis’ 20 point System and the Gold-Silver-Bronze Medal designations. So, let’s dive into each and understand their components, focus and determine their real-world reliability.

UC Davis & Medal Scoring Systems

Often, these two are tied together.

Medal System:

  • Gold-medal:     18.5–20.0 points – Outstanding quality
  • Silver-medal:   17.0–18.4 points – Excellent standard
  • Bronze-medal: 15.5–16.9 points – Very good wine for its class

UC Davis System:

  • 17 – 20  Outstanding
  • 13 – 16   Standard wines with no defect
  • 9 – 12     Commercially acceptable with no defect
  • 5 – 8       Below commercial acceptability
  • 1 – 5       Completely spoiled
  1. Appearance (2 points)
  2. Color (2 points)
  3. Aroma and Bouquet (4 points)
  4. Total Acidity (2 points)
  5. Sugar (1 point)
  6. Body (1 point)
  7. Flavor (2 point)
  8. Acescency (Bitterness) (2 points)
  9. Astringency (Tannin) (2 points)
  10. General Quality (2 points)

The glaring missing pieces are Balance, Complexity, Finish and Age-Ability. Without these factors, fine wine cannot accurately be judged. The UC Davis System has an inherent bias toward poor to mediocre wines. The problem is the potential for a 16 pt. score (bronze medal) for a typical Concord sweet wine, in comparison to a 16 pt. score for a mediocre Mendocino Cabernet Sauvignon. The latter is eminently more drinkable, yet carries the same score. This system allows too much weight for components that would be assumed with fine wine, such as Appearance and Color and virtually none where fine wine shines, such as Balance, Age-ability, etc. This evens the playing field for amateur wines and narrows the gap between the professional and amateur wine categories. BEWARE of medal designations and UC Davis scoring. If you enjoy fine wines and in particular, if you collect Old World wines, this scoring system is not for you.

Parker’s 100 Point System

  • 50 Points for Showing Up 🙂
  • 5 Points for First Impression or Color
  • 15 Points for Aroma or Bouquet
  • 10 Points for Flavor
  • 10 Points for Finish
  • 10 Points for Aging Potential

OK, this has its problems too. Certainly not scientific, or very systematic, but it weighs the important characteristics of fine wines. This too is missing the balance and complexity components, but allows enough latitude to score (let’s say) a U.S. 1997 Robert Mondavi Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvigon versus a French 2000 Chateau La Gaffeliere. Something the UC Davis and Medal systems do not.

Frankly, this system will just not work for evaluating an amateur winemaker’s sweet 2017 Chambourcin (native hybrid grape), BECAUSE Old World style wine quality is in another category of its own. So far removed, that any 20 Point System equivalent would require adding decimal quantifiers (i.e. 19.1, 19.2, etc.) to attempt to make an equivalency work.

5/28/18 – I have had a few comments from those who follow my blog about not including the WSET “Systematic Approach to Tasting Wine”.  I have never seen this system used by a wine writer in their media product (although some components are similar to UC Davis system). I am not sure it would/could be a commercially viable solution. I would appreciate any feedback on this, though. I am sure there are some that are using it in the background and converting it to the more common scoring systems (WSET Graduates your thoughts?)

A ” Wine Judge Certification Program”

This year I had an interesting experience with a wine judge training/certification program (Wine Judge Certification Program – WJCP) run by the American Wine Society (AWS). There are very few programs like this, specifically certifying wine judges in the U.S.

This program introduced me to a whole new subset in the wine continuum: amateur winemakers, native grape species and fruit wines. It became very clear to me quickly, AWS has a significant piece of their membership focused on this area. In fact, they have changed the UC Davis scoring system to make it more internally friendly to these wines. I also found out, there are many wine competitions across the Eastern half of the U.S. specifically focused on these type of wines. Who knew!!

Full Disclosure: This focus seemed quite odd and I could never get my head around it. I did make the decision to stop investing in these classes and have since exited the program.

I had never seen a bottle of anything in this category, before these classes. My closest familiarity was the Mogen David Concord wine my parents drank over ice occasionally. Who knew there was a whole wine culture that focused on this type of wine. I still remember the worst hangover of my life from drinking 3 bottles of Annie Green Springs when I was a teenager. I suppose someone has to evaluate these wines, but using the same scoring system to evaluate an aged Napa Cabernet Sauvignon is nothing but tragic. What happened to the idea that wine and local cuisine is a match made in heaven? Certainly, not with these wines.

The Jumble and Ambiguity of Wine Scoring

If it hasn’t become clear yet, there is an enormous amount of confusion surrounding these scoring systems. So, how can we use them to choose wines to match our tastes? Personally, I ignore the 20 pt. and Medal Systems completely and I take the 100 pt. System scores with a grain of salt… unless I am familiar with the judges palate. For example, I have a pretty good idea of what these wine writers/judges rate highly: Parker, Suckling, Galloni and Tanzer. I can make a reasonable guess at quality from 100 pt. system scores generated by these wine writers.

So, what do you do? Well, if you are a fine wine drinker, I would surely ignore the 20 pt. and medal systems. From there, it is all homework. Get to know what your favorite wine writers tend to score highly, learn their palate a bit and use their scores to make your choices!


If I could develop my own scoring system for the wines I drink, it would be a version of a 100 pt. system and look something like this:

  • 5 Points for First Impression or Color
  • 15 Points for Acidity
  • 10 Points for Tannin and its Texture/Mouth-Feel
  • 15 Points for Aroma or Bouquet
  • 10 Points for Flavor
  • 10 Points for Finish
  • 15 Points for Balance
  • 10 Points for Complexity (mid-palate & layered flavors)
  • 10 Points for Aging Potential

A red wine theoretically could have a perfect score of 100. White/rose wine with no tannin would have 90 as a perfect score. Without balance, complexity and aging potential, 35 points are lost! With this type of system you could easily get the point swing needed to separate amateur wines from bottle-aged fine wines.

Many of these components are too subjective to make it onto a judges sheet at an amateur wine competition. The focus there has to be on the basics: no faults, or objectionable components. How many people get to formally judge better wines anyway? Only a lucky few…


Filed under Wine Collecting, Wine Critics, Wine Education, Wine Industry, Wine Marketing, Wine Tasting

7 responses to “Wine Scoring Systems: What You Need to Know

  1. Very interesting post and something I’ve been wondering about. I’ve recently become a sommelier in Italy and I’ve noticed that in America wines are described a bit differently. We have a 100 points system as well, but I’m not sure how similar it is to WSET… in a nutshell, 15 points for appearance and colour, 30 points for intensity, complexity and quality of the aromas, 40 points for structure, balance, intensity, persistence and quality of flavour, and 15 points for harmony which includes the evolutive state and overall character of the wine. I feel like it’s quite a complete analysis and guide for what to look for in a wine and has enough flexibility for different types of wine with an eye on quality. Not all wines are meant to be aged, and I don’t think they should be penalised for it. With that being said, I only vaguely refer to it in my own descriptions. But isn’t the whole point of a numbered score a way to give the larger public a tangible idea of the quality of the wine?


  2. Doug, what do you mean by aging potential. While I very much enjoy older Bordeaux and Burgundy, if wine number one will be great in 2-5 years and wine number two will be great in 10-15 years I would deduct points from wine number 2. Now if you are saying both will be great in 2-5 years but wine number two will still be great in 10-15 years if you happen to forget it in your cellar then I would add points. A wine should not get a higher score because you have to keep it in a controlled environment for years before you can drink it.


    • Peter, thanks for participating in the discussion. I meet with a fine wines collecting group every few months and I believe all of us would not see the world exactly as you have described. I am fortunate enough to drink bottle-aged wines almost exclusively and I enjoy the complex and layered profiles they develop. This is generally considered a positive. I don’t think it makes a difference whether the wine will be in a prime drinking window 5, 10, or 15 years from now. The idea is that the wine has the POTENTIAL to improve with age. Some wines may be very drinkable young, but too out of balance to age well. It is the dance of balance and finesse, with structure. I have drunk so much bottle-aged wine at this point, my palate has become accustomed to identifying these wines. In my opinion, there is a difference between scoring collectible wines, versus daily drinkers and I think that distinction should be made at the outset of any tasting. Would you agree?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Doug, Thanks for the explanation. I like bottle aged wines very much to but do not have the opportunity to drink them very often. If I had become interested in wine at a younger age I would be collecting bottles to enjoy in the future. I think the key word in your explanation is POTENTIAL. I would agree that those wines should score higher. However, I have sometimes heard “this wine really isn’t drinkable now but with age…”. Those ones I would score lower because most wine drinkers are either not interested or unable to age wine. As you mentioned, maybe we need a distinction for collectable wine, maybe not points but a note on the side.


    • Heidi, thanks for the comment. Looking at the WSET Level 4 “Systematic Approach to Tasting Wine”, it is a highly complex system and while it allows for a scoring point structure… in my opinion, it is more a detailed evaluation system. It separates assessing sensory components from quality too. I have never seen this system used by a wine writer in their media product (although some components are similar to UC Davis system). While this could be more viable, this swings the pendulum too far the other way and I am not sure it would/could be a commercially viable solution for the public. Although, I would be a fan of trying to use/modify lower WSET levels for public consumption (wine mags, books, tasting catalogs, etc.) Have you had some experience trying to use the WSET system in tasting/evaluating wine in your writing? Have you been able to explain how you arrived at your score in a way that was easily understood by a typical wine enthusiast? I would be interested in your comments…


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