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Dear Dr. Vinny,

Is each point of a wine's score equal in value? For example, is the difference between 88 points and 89 considered the same as that of 89 and 90? And are ratings for the same varietal consistent regardless of region? Is a 90-point Cabernet from Chile the same quality as a 90-point Cabernet from Napa Valley?

—Larry S., Amelia Island, Fla.

Dear Larry,

Good questions. Our reviewers consider each point to be equal in value, but within Wine Spectator's 100-point scale, wines that score 85 to 89 points are categorized as “very good,” and wines that score 90 to 94 are “outstanding.” That means it seems like a leap from 89 to 90, but in fact the quality difference is the same as that between 88 and 89. One point is one point—it means that a wine showed better or worse than another wine, even when moving among these categories.

However, you’re perceptively touching on a truth about how the scores are interpreted. It sometimes makes me sad that so much focus is on the wines that score 90 points or more, or 95-plus. Those high-scoring wines are special, but in my everyday drinking life, I enjoy plenty of wines in the 85- to 89-point range, and even lower than that, depending on the scenario and the food at the table. What’s in my plastic cup at a picnic and what’s in my wineglass at a steak house are different, but no less enjoyable. If you’re at my house and I serve you an 88 pointer, it’s not because I don’t like you, but because I really think this crisp white is a terrific pairing with what I’m serving for dinner. The scores are a way to communicate about wine, but they shouldn’t be a distraction.

As to your second question, when we set up our blind tastings, we put wines in peer groups of similar varieties, regions and appellations, and reviewers are given information about the type of wine and the vintage that they are tasting (but obviously not the producer or the price). That way, when assigning a score, the taster can judge the wine based on how well it reflects its grape variety, region and vintage. So in your example, Chilean Cabernets are tasted with other Chilean Cabernets and Napa Cabernets are tasted with other Napa Cabernets. In each situation, the reviewer will assess the wines based on their own merit in their own peer groups. Any two wines that our tasters have awarded 90 points will have been perceived to be of the same quality level, regardless of where the wine is from, although the two wines may be made in very different styles.

—Dr. Vinny

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