“Quickly emptied:” Rating wine on a drinkability scale

After surveying several dozen choices last night in my basement last night–too cool an evening for a rosé, never enough Pinot around–I settled on the 2008 D. Coquelet, “vieilles vignes” from the often-overlooked appellation of Chiroubles. Still in his twenties, Damien Coquelet is both the stepson of Georges Descombes, the Morgon vigneron, and a rising star of Beaujolais.

I chose the wine because I wanted a good wine with dinner. I did harbor a hope that my wife and I could enjoy it over two nights, thus extending what I hoped would be a good bottle. But something happened: it was so delicious, we drank it all!

Somehow, the best bottles always seem to disappear quickly. Put out a bunch of wines, invite friends over for dinner, and (all things being equal) the bottle most quickly emptied is likely the best that evening.

That made me wonder if this might be the best way for wine drinkers to rate wines, where the highest praise is a rating of “quickly emptied.” The rest of the scale might look like this: empty, half-empty, sipped…and spit.

Sure, it’s kind of goofy, not very precise and has some obvious flaws, such as discounting future improvements of the wine. It’s very here and now and unabashedly so. But it is a great tonic to what ails the point system, which aims for precision and objectivity but often lands wide of the mark. In his memoir, A Life Uncorked, Hugh Johnson wrote, “The weakness of [the 100-point system] is that it is based on tasting, rather than drinking.” Indeed.

A rating system for wine drinkers instead of merely wine tasters reshuffles the deck: suddenly, being an utterly drinkable Riesling or Beaujolais becomes a trump card, rather than the hindrance it can be in a blind tasting lineup. Moreover, it limits the number of wines that can reasonably be reviewed to a hundred or more a year–really, how many people need thousands of wine recommendations? Also, it brings context in to the evaluation: the food, the seasonal appropriateness, where the wine is in its evolution, if you’re drinking it on a vacation. With the wine drinker’s ratings, the best wines become memories in a scrapbook, rather than trophies traded at auction in Hong Kong.

Anyway, it’s not perfect. But it’s worth discussing. And maybe even worth raising a glass to!

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35 Responses to ““Quickly emptied:” Rating wine on a drinkability scale”

  1. Whenever you get a critical mass of people and bottles — blind or open — given a couple hours and some food, the best bottles by definition are the ones drained first!

  2. I think that it’s a brilliant idea! Makes me wonder though about these numerical scores to begin with: why are they fixed for all time? As wines change with age, doesn’t it make sense to revise the scores, sort of akin to an IRA portfolio, credit score or the value of your house? Wine changes price value with time but it’s “taste value” is fixed permanently? I bet the fashion world wishes for something like that for clothing!

  3. Sometimes when wine is that good I save half the bottle for the next day so I can savor it again without opening another bottle!!


  4. What a wonderful way to think about it. I have a friend whose highest rating is “eminently quaffable,” which pretty much sums it up.

  5. My wife’s rating scale:

    Yummy or Yucky 🙂

  6. Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book contains just such a rating scale, which I am surprised I cannot find reproduced in full on the web. The lowest rating is one sniff, which conveys immediate distaste, and the ratings proceed up at reasonable increments of satisfaction through sniffs, sips, glasses, bottles, cases, etc.

  7. Matt – Nice! I’m glad Hugh’s on it! I haven’t seen a copy of his Pocket Guide in too long, obviously.

  8. Good post! I agree with the idea of “the highest praise is a rating of “quickly emptied.”” I’ve already experienced this several times when I’ve brought wine(s) to a party. At one party, the most “quickly emptied” wine was a Schmitt Sohne Mosel off-dry Riesling. This emptied fastest over all the “big-6” more expensive wines that others brought. Recently, at another party, the most “quickly emptied” was Seven Daughters White and Trapiche Oak Cask Malbec.

    Much of the time, I think the enjoyment of certain wines also has a lot to do with the where you are, the mood, ambiance, weather, environment and the people you’re with.

  9. Biggest cock in the winecellar? Had to say that.

    Been working on a new wine rating system that actually tells you about the wine itself and not “how good” it is or how good it might age. Want to test it first before I promote it. Nevertheless I don’t pay any attention to the 100 point scale.

    Aside from the above, this was all about the cock joke….

  10. Couldn’t agree with you more, Tyler, and have opined about it myself. Sometimes I bring home half-open bottles of wine from tastings, and often the “fascinating, complex” wine that got a good rating isn’t the one empty at the end of the night.

    This is particularly true of wines that are big and impressive on two sips, less so after a whole glass.

  11. Well done, Tyler…and while I haven’t had the 08, I’ve enjoyed previous vintages. Might even have one bottle left in the cellar.

  12. I believe the theoretical top end of Hugh’s scale is “the vineyard” – as in, I liked it so much I’d buy the vineyard if I could. 🙂

  13. Great post Dr V. I agree 100% in the process and it happens frequently at our house. To find the “crowd pleaser” wine is simple…the first couple of bottles to be finished off are the winners. What is often a surprise to me is that the pricier wines are rarely in the running to become winners.
    That is why I favor the results from certain wine competitions as the GOLD and Best of class or varietal, are a consensus of a group of tasters, blind or double blind. Good comments!

  14. I like to keep a review and score of most of the wines I drink so that when I look them up on Cork’d it jogs my memory. I do sometimes feel that I am over analyzing the experience but I am more alert to the aromas and tastes when I write down my impressions and I always ask my friends what they noted in the wine – it’s so easy to drink a glass or a bottle and have no lasting impression of what it was like. On the other hand, sometimes a wine is just a wine.

  15. This is spot on, I reckon. The best wine is the one that gets emptied first. Mega points rarely reflect drinkability.


  16. The real lesson of the evening could be that good Beaujolais is great wine, just underated. Critics and wine snobs too often snub Beaujolais because it’s pleasures are so readily appreciated. But what’s wrong with that.

  17. You are on to something Dr. V! You’ll get a kick out of this – Marc & I use to rate this way, rating by quarters, e.g. full bottle = sucked, empty bottle = damn good juice. We thought about reverting back to this method and to ditch the 100-point scoring method.

    Here is a crappy scribbling of some of our notes taken back in the 90’s http://tinyurl.com/237mkth (if the link isn’t highlighted, copy and paste it into a new browser window).

  18. I remember the way really delicious Cru Beaujolais first made me so happy, with it’s joyously pretty aromas and flavors, and I felt a surprising urge to sing, and dance naked in the rain! The new name for that kind of wine seems to be “Panty-Droppers.” Fundamental pleasure, no?

  19. Couldn’t agree more… even at tastings (when you’re technically not drinking the wine) I noticed the most praised wines are still being gone through the quickest because people find them so interesting they have to “revisit” them.

  20. I call it the empty bottle test – plonk a load of wines on the table, and while everyone might try the ones with the big reputation to start with, they’re not always the ones that get finished first.

    I stopped scoring out of 100 when I went to a tasting and ended up giving one wine (a 1900 Moscatel de Setubal) 120 points. I do have an alternative, not too serious scoring system here http://is.gd/cJW4C

  21. Steve Edmunds Rules!

  22. I always vaccum a good wine so I can get a last glass out of it. It keeps for a while! Check out my blog http://www.TheWineBitches.com


  23. Really curious about the word “Vermont” that appears on the label. Can anyone explain that? I apologize for being so “off-point;” however, we live in Vermont and I find it great fun to see it on a bottle of Beaujolais. Perhaps I’m not seeing it correctly?

    On rating systems, . . . I think of them as operating like secondary sources in academe or like movie or book critics: they provide a perspective, often a useful one if you know the critic but haven’t yet read the primary source or seen the movie or read the book. Having made that observation, there is no denying the reliability of the empty bottle measure!

  24. Marty, Vermont is a place in Beaujolais – your Vermont might even be named after it

  25. Glad you like the idea!

    @Cyrus – no surprise here about the joys of Beaujolais.

    @SteveEdmunds – are you proposing “dancing naked in the rain” as an even higher rating than “quickly emptied”? 😉

    @Marty – that’s the whole address–quaint, eh? Here it is in google maps: http://bit.ly/cLw6lI

    @Simon – Vermont, USA was derived from “les mont verts” or green mountains, no?

  26. Have to say American history isn’t my forte Tyler, but there are a few places in France called Vermont- maybe some of their sons ended up in and around New France?

  27. Interesting observation about the wines that disappear fastest at a gathering being criterion for being the best. I don’t pay much attention to points when buying wine, but I’ve noticed that cost probably affects my enjoyment; recently I sampled a cabernet sauvignon at a tasting and it was quite nice, but I didn’t think it was worth nearly $115 a bottle. So my experience of it was ‘kind of yummy, but not great’. I think I might have said ‘wow!’ if this same wine had been priced at $20. The palate should be experiencing same thing in both cases, but some other expectation or psychology is affecting the complete ‘pleasure experience’.

  28. […] stumped with this question. These were wines that weren’t Page 3 stunnas but which passed the empty bottle test. Should I mark good wines down because they’re not my personal taste – think early […]

  29. I agree totally!! I am a firm believer that it takes around 5 sips to adequately determine the essence of a wine…and initial sip and spit IMHO just doesn’t do it for me. To me, it’s like perfume….some wines intially are fantastic, but after a few sips, I am over them. Conversely, some wines don’t strike me as great in the first sip, but as the complexity is “realized” in my palatte, I want to extend the pleasure as long as possible.

    Wine ratings, to me, do not guarantee tasting success – I have tasted MANY a sub-par 90+ wine!

  30. Amen!
    On the other hand, I’ve come a full circle, and generally find that dropping a bunch of wines to let the party decide which ones are the best is not the most enjoyable way to go. I much prefer to limit the selection to a very small number like 1 or 2 depending on the phase of the party and the course of the meal. By limiting selection and not forcing people to compare, they pay much more attention to the wine(s) at hand, and I do think they enjoy more, especially if I accompany the wine with a relevant story behind it. Then I gently progress them to other wines throughout the meal.

  31. this rating system has been around for a long time and is published in the swiss wine magazine merum (www.merum.info). the test is called “the emptier the bottle… – the ultimate wine test”. they publish a list of all wines present at table and the number of centimeters left in the bottle at the end of the evening. I think it’s a great alternative to scoring wines. greetings from zurich, cp

  32. Yes drinkability is a very useful method for judging a wine and I now see the merits of taking note at dinner parties I attend. For example on several occasions a kind and often generous guest will bring a big name wine to share. Gut reaction would say that wine would be emptied first but that is not always the case. Sometimes the unknown bottle gets emptied first but I’m not calling for an end to the 100 point system.

    I think we are talking about two different systems: tastings vs. dinner drinkings. One is often quick the other can take an entire evening. Tastings often are a guide to dinner drinking and never before wondered if the opposite is true. Maybe. Tastings or testings are a completely different way to enjoy wine and have fun.

    Here is the question I like to ask for the drinkability is: What wine do you drink on a regular, steady basis? You know, the one you always go back to because it is a favorite, perhaps inexpensive but more importantly you feel comfortable opening a bottle just about anytime when no one is looking. That is the wine I would like to check for myself for my own enjoyment.

  33. […] Case in point: D. Ventura’s Vina do Burato, 2008 (about $19). Weighing in at a spare 12% alcohol, this is a great summer red, perfect for chilling and serving dining outside. It’s reminiscent of a cru Beaujolais, although a tad darker in color, but with that same lively acidity, bright fruit and scoring highly on the drinkability scale. […]

  34. […] just read a blog post about rating wines based on how fast they’re drunk.  It’s actually a pretty good idea, and I noticed the same about my tea drinking […]

  35. […] The best bottles are the quickest emptied. But you knew that. […]


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