Understanding and Using Wine Ratings

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The world of wine can be a complex and sometimes intimidating space with countless varieties, regions, and producers, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. This is where wine ratings come into play. They offer a guide to help navigate the vast landscape. However, it’s important to understand wine ratings to know why it’s likely you might not actually like some highly rated wines.

There are essentially two types of wine ratings. The first is a professional evaluation that focuses on the typicity of the wine. The second is personal, which centres on whether an individual or a group of people like the wine. It’s entirely possible to come across wines that are excellent representations of a type or region that you might not personally enjoy. Conversely, there might be wines that you favour that are not typical of a type or region.

When we talk about typicity in the context of wine, we’re referring to how well a wine showcases the characteristics typical of its varietal or region. Take, for example, a Chardonnay from Burgundy. Ideally, it should possess certain aromas, flavours, and textures that are characteristic of Chardonnays from that specific region. When a wine connoisseur speaks of typicity, they’re essentially commenting on the wine’s authenticity to its origin, not that they like the wine.

Several factors can influence a wine’s typicity. The terroir, encompassing the soil, climate, and topography of the vineyard, is pivotal. The winemaking process, spanning from fermentation to ageing also moulds the final product. A wine that robustly displays its typicity is often viewed as a hallmark of quality, reflecting the winemaker’s prowess in retaining the inherent attributes of the grape and its region. For those keen on digging deeper, ‘Defining wine typicity: sensory characterisation and consumer perspectives‘ offers a comprehensive read.

Publications like Decanter and accolades from the International Wine & Spirit Competition and International Wine Challenge, primarily focus on typicity. You should rely on these ratings for wines where you already like what’s typical for that type of wine or are eager to discern what a particular wine type should taste like. Decanter has an in-depth explanation of their judging process.

Platforms like Vivino and personal picks such as mine lean heavily on individual taste. A high rating on Vivino is essentially a collective appreciation of a wine’s pleasant taste and not that it is necessarily typical of its type. If you find that you enjoy a few of my picks, it’s likely you’ll appreciate the others as well but, again, they might not be typical of their type.

There are more nuances to this. For instance, judges at Decanter are also prompted to consider the retail value of the wine when scoring, which might influence ratings to some extent. Moreover, our perception of wine is deeply influenced by the context. Factors like mood, accompanying food, weather, the duration for which a bottle has been opened, the wine’s temperature, ambient music and numerous other elements can alter our experience. Additionally, it’s essential to remember that wines are dynamic entities. They evolve over time and attempting to define them at a singular moment might not do them justice.

Finally, in-depth analysis into the pricing of French red wines seems to reveal the significant influence of Vivino ratings, overshadowing the impact of expert evaluations.