Does Wine Spectator ever publish "bad" scores?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

I rarely see any wines in Wine Spectator that have scored below 85 points. Do you simply not publish the poorer scores?

—Michael, Noblesville, Ind.

Dear Michael,

I think your observations represent a few things that have come into play, the first of which is the great news that the quality of wine available in the United States has dramatically improved over the past few decades. It’s pretty rare that a wine is sold that has flaws that would merit a very low score. The median score on Wine Spectator's 100-point scale has certainly risen over the years.

The fact is that we actually do score and publish wines that fall below 80 points. There aren't very many—I counted less than 100 in the past year’s worth of tasting (representing nearly 16,000 wines reviewed). Part of this result is our selection process and our focus. We know we can’t taste every single wine on the market, so we concentrate on blind-tasting the wines we think we can recommend. We pick wines with good track records, reputations, or that have a combination of other factors that make it a good bet for something we think you’d like to drink. While it might be entertaining to read a bad review, we are certain our readers are looking to us for buying advice more than wine fails.

When bad reviews happen, we don’t pull our punches, but we proceed carefully. Any wines that score under 80 points (including wines we suspect are flawed) are automatically marked for retaste. If the second bottle in a second blind tasting shows consistently, we will publish the score, but the score might only appear in our online Wine Ratings Search. The magazine has limited space for reviews, so we typically reserve it for wines we are excited about. We might use the “tasted twice with consistent notes” phrase to let you know when a wine performs inconsistently with its track record.

If the second bottle shows inconsistently, we might ask for or purchase a third bottle. We make the effort to make sure the wines we are reviewing are representative of the production at large.

—Dr. Vinny

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