Who invented wine’s 100-point scale?

100 point We quite often talk about the 100-point scale and its impact on wine, but is it correct to say that Robert Parker “invented” it? He certainly popularized the approach and it has come to be large part of his legacy as other magazines shifted to the numerical system.

In “The Emperor of Wine,” Elin McCoy writes that Parker and his friend Victor Morgenroth tried various systems of rating and evaluating wines in their (blind) tasting group in the mid-seventies. They tried letter grades from A to F as well as the UC Davis 20-point scale, which had already brought numerical ratings to wine with the gravitas of an institution. McCoy continues that “one of the men–Parker isn’t sure who–came up with the 100-point idea, which was really a 50-to-100 point scale…” (For international readers, the scale follows the system that we have in American schooling for most tests.) McCoy says that Parker and Morgenroth thought that the system was “much less likely to result in the inflated wine ratings they saw all around them.” Ironically, score inflation is the most likely threat to the 100-point system today.

Back on a thread in 2009, a commenter flagged Dan Murphy, an Australian, as pioneering a 100 point system. The retailer that bears his name today describes Murphy’s 100-point system as predating Parker’s use. Another commenter on the thread, Claude Kolm, relayed that in Maynard Amerine and Maynard Joslyn’s Table Wines (1970 edition) they discuss various scoring systems including a 50-point, 100-point and even a 200-point system.

Just for laffs, here are a few tasting notes and scores from one of first issues of the Wine Advocate: “a terrible wine…very thin and acidic with a dull, dumb bouquet and taste. A poorly made wine that should be avoided” (55 points). And another one: “atrocious wine devoid of any redeeming social value” (50 points). Care to guess which they were?

pixel

14 Responses to “Who invented wine’s 100-point scale?”


  1. I’d bet the first one is a Burgundy :)


  2. The latter is a Leoville-Poyferé, according to my Google search.


  3. they don’t rate ‘em like they used to


  4. the photo made my day.


  5. [...] Vino explores the history of the 100-point [...]


  6. No, *I* invented the 100 point scale!


  7. Jean-Luc: that’s what you’d expect today!

    Christine has got the second one, the 1973 Leoville-Poyferre. The first one is the Chateau Margaux, also 1973.

    Gabe – That is certainly true.

    jbh – ;-)


  8. [...] invented the 100 point system? I particular like it but Dr Vino gives a quick [...]


  9. I’m at a complete loss and always have been to understand why it starts at 50. If a wine is awful 1 point is perfectly legitimate. I could understand it if they only ever wrote about wines that achieved 50 or more, which is how I would write a food guide.

    Furthermore, the rush to give wines a 100 points is utterly crazy, in my opinion, and dumbs down the whole thing. In my entire life I have only drunk one wine I’d give 100 points to – 1945 Ch Mouton Rothschild and I have drunk quite a few.


  10. It’s not the scale but the authority (or lack of it) behind it that counts.


  11. @AnthonyRose *thumbs up*


  12. BULL CRAP!!! GOD MADE WINE!!!


  13. [...] 84 = Good: a solid, well-made wine.  If only wines got extra credit, for quality to price ratio, within the 100 point system.  For what it is worth, we take QPR into account [...]


  14. HEY “DOC,”

    HAVING BELATEDLY COME ACROSS THIS WINE BLOG WHILE READING OCTOBER 21, 2013′s “PARKER’S 100-POINT ENTHUSIASM” POST, A LITTLE BIT OF “HAGIOGRAPHY” ON THE POPE OF MONKTON.

    AMERICAN SCHOOLS USE A ZERO THROUGH 100 POINT GRADING SYSTEM.

    (ASIDE: NOT TURN IN YOUR HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT, AND YOU GET A BIG, FAT “ZERO” AS A GRADE.)

    PARKER, BEING A GRADUATE OF AN AMERICAN LAW SCHOOL THAT USES THE 50 TO 100 POINT GRADING SCALE, ADOPTED THAT AS HIS PARADIGM.

    BY HIS OWN ADMISSION HE USES TWO SCALES:

    A 40 POINT SCALE FOR WINES THAT DON’T IMPROVE WITH BOTTLE AGE.

    AND A 50 POINT SCALE FOR WINES THAT THEORETICALLY SHOULD IMPROVE WITH BOTTLE AGE.

    HE THEN ADDS ON AN EXTRA 50 POINTS TO BRING THE NUMERICAL SCORE TO 90 OR 100 POINTS.

    THE SALIENT QUOTE:

    “Theirs [Wine Spectator's], in fact, is advertised as a 100-point system; mine from the very beginning is a 50-point system. If you start at 50 and go to 100, it is clear it’s a 50-point system, and it has always been clear. Mine is basically two 20-point systems with a 10-point cushion on top for wines that have the ability to age. …”

    SEE BELOW …

    ~~ BOB

    Excerpts from Wine Times (September/October 1989) interview with Robert Parker, publisher of The Wine Advocate

    WINE TIMES: How is your scoring system different from The Wine Spectator’s?

    PARKER: Theirs is really a different animal than mine, though if someone just looks at both of them, they are, quote, two 100-point systems. Theirs, in fact, is advertised as a 100-point system; mine from the very beginning is a 50-point system. If you start at 50 and go to 100, it is clear it’s a 50-point system, and it has always been clear. Mine is basically two 20-point systems with a 10-point cushion on top for wines that have the ability to age. …

    … The newsletter was always meant to be a guide, one person’s opinion. The scoring system was always meant to be an accessory to the written reviews, tasting notes. That’s why I use sentences and try and make it interesting. Reading is a lost skill in America. There’s a certain segment of my readers who only look at numbers, but I think it is a much smaller segment than most wine writers would like to believe. The tasting notes are one thing, but in order to communicate effectively and quickly where a wine placed vis-à-vis its peer group, a numerical scale was necessary. If I didn’t do that, it would have been a sort of cop-out.

    I thought one of the jokes of the 20-point systems is that everyone uses half points, so it’s really a 40-point system — which no one will acknowledge — and mine is a 50-point system, and in most cases a 40-point system.

    WINE TIMES: But how do you split the hairs between an 81 and an 83?

    PARKER: It’s a fairly methodical system. The wine gets up to 5 points on color, up to 15 on bouquet and aroma, and up to 20 points on flavor, harmony and length. And that gets you 40 points right there. And then the [ balance of ] 10 points are … simply awarded to wines that have the ability to improve in the bottle. This is sort of arbitrary and gets me into trouble.

    WINE TIMES: You mean when you are in the cellars of Burgundy, you look at a wine and say this is a 4 for color, a 14 for bouquet, and so on [?]

    PARKER: Yes, most of the times. What happens is that I’ve done so many wines by now that I know virtually right away that it’s, say, upper 80s, and you sort of start working backwards. And color now is sort of an academic issue. The technology of color is refined and most color is fine. My system applies best to young wines because older wines, once they’ve passed their prime, end up getting lower scores.

    WINE TIMES: Your scores get 50 points added on and look like the grades boys and girls get in school, and I know that’s why you ended up with a system with 100 points, …


winepoliticsamz

Wine Maps


Classes

My next NYU wine classes: NYU

Recent Comments

Recent Posts

See my op-eds in the NYT
"Drink Outside the Box"
"Red, White, and Green"

Highlights

Monthly Archives

Categories


Blog posts via email


@drvino








Wine industry jobs

quotes

One of the “fresh voices taking wine journalism in new and important directions.” -World of Fine Wine

“His reporting over the past six months has had seismic consequences, which is a hell of an accomplishment for a blog.” -Forbes.com

"News of such activities, reported last month on a wine blog called Dr. Vino, have captivated wine enthusiasts and triggered a fierce online debate…" The Wall Street Journal

"...well-written, well-researched, calm and, dare we use the word, sober." -Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher, WSJ

jbf07James Beard Foundation awards

Saveur, best drinks blog, finalist 2012.

Winner, Best Wine Blog

One of the "seven best wine blogs." Food & Wine,

One of the three best wine blogs, Fast Company

See more media...

ayow150buy

Wine books on Amazon: