ask dr. vinny

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, or "Vinny" for short. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the technical aspects of winemaking to the fine points of etiquette. I hope you find my answers educational and even amusing. Looking for a particular answer? Check my archive and my FAQs.


Dear Dr. Vinny,

Have you thought of running an article on wines that are rated low and why? Being such an amateur wine enthusiast, I don’t know what makes a rating what it is.

—Rachel F., Clackamas, Ore.

Dear Rachel,

First, it’s important to point out that here at Wine Spectator, we review wines in blind tastings, so how much a wine costs, how ugly or pretty the label is, or who the producer is doesn’t weigh into our final score.

Often a lot of attention goes only to the very highest-scoring wines, in the 90s, but if you look at the scoring scale, you can see that we recommend anything that earns 80 points or more. We really mean that, by the way. My colleagues and I often buy, drink and enjoy wines in the 80-point range.

Wines that fall below 80 points often have a flaw: they might be spritzy when they aren’t supposed to be; they might smell like rubber, or like rotten eggs, or like nail-polish remover. They might have a little too much barnyard in them, or they just might be muddled.

As for the wines that score between 80 and 100 points, a multitude of things can affect where they land on that scale, and by reading the tasting notes, you can get a clue of what the tasters are thinking in their scores. Sometimes a wine is fine, but it’s just a bit simple, innocuous, or modest in its intensity. Better-scoring wines tend to be more detailed, or have more concentration, more pleasing textures or a better finish. Sometimes the scores reflect a rough vintage, if it was difficult to ripen the grapes, or if rain made the grapes moldy or diluted their flavors. We also believe that a wine should reflect where and when it’s from, so if a young wine tastes old and tired, that could be a mark against it.

We’re happy that you’re looking at our wine scores, and we hope you’ll find them a useful guide to exploring new wines. And it should go without saying, but your own preferences and tastes should be the most important thing guiding your wine enjoyment.

—Dr. Vinny


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