Vintage Voice

 
Wine Ratings FAQ


Who rates the wines on the Vintage Voice?

All wines are tasted, described and rated by Marcel Lachenmann.

So, Marcel, what do your ratings mean?

I use a rating system based on the letter grades common in schools in the USA, assigning wines a score using the letters A, B, C, D and F (with + and - symbols allowed). A rough translation would be:

A+

= Superior in every way. Accounts for fewer than 1/10 of 1% of wines I taste.

A

= Outstanding, a wine to seek out. Approximately 1% of tasted wines qualify.

A-

= Excellent; definitely worth a search. In the top 10% of wines tasted.

B+

= Highly recommended. Very good wines that are a pleasure to drink.

B

= Recommended. Good wines with no serious flaws.

B-

= Recommended with reservations. May have minor flaws or lack intensity.

C

= Passable but flawed. I wouldn't buy these wines on purpose.

D

= Serious flaws. I'd be extremely disappointed if I bought this wine.

F

= Undrinkable. I'd pour the bottle down the drain.

As with any ratings system, reading the notes is much more important than just scanning for the top rated wines.

If your scale goes down to F, why do all the wines on your site get A's and B's?

They don't quite all get A's and B's, but the vast majority do. However, that isn't because I give easy marks. There are actually two different reasons for this phenomenon. First, I don't usually write about wines unless I like them. For example, I won't include a wine in the Wines of the Month section unless I give it a B or better. I find that it is much more fun, and much more useful, to tell you about the really good wines I've found. Second, given limited time and money, I try not to taste wines that I will dislike. I make an effort to stay away from the neutral, mass-produced wines that would receive low grades.

How do your ratings correspond to other popular rating systems?

I believe that no two tasters have exactly the same preferences, so no two ratings systems from two different people are likely to match perfectly. However, as an approximate guide, you can translate my ratings into the familiar Robert Parker (Wine Advocate)/Wine Spectator 51-point scale as follows: A=90-100 (A+ = 97-100, A = 93-96, A- = 90-92; similar for other letters), B=80-89, C=70-79, D=60-69, F=50-59.

Do you assign specific numbers of points to specific aspects of the wine?

I do have general ranges, but I don't have a completely rigid system (e.g. 10 points for aroma, 10 points for taste, etc.). I find those types of systems to be overly constraining, particularly when one very bad feature of a wine can make it completely unacceptable, even if the other aspects of the wine are perfect. Could you really rate a wine that tasted like dirty sweatsocks, but which was otherwise perfect, a 90 (or A-), for example? I couldn't. I find that extraordinary features (both good and bad) can factor more heavily into my decisions when I am not encumbered by a rigid scoring framework.

So how do you assign ratings?

I try to judge my impression of the overall quality of the wine, both from an overall perspective and from the perspective of the peer group of the wine (e.g. other wines from the same region). In the notes I try to indicate whether I think the wine should be drunk now or cellared (in which case, I attempt to reflect the potential for improvement in the rating, as best I can). However, I do not "reserve" points for aging potential as some other tasters do. If a wine tastes like an "A" wine now, it has earned an "A", even if I don't think it will improve.

Isn't that subjective?

Yes, it certainly is -- as are all wine rating systems (no matter what some publications may claim). Ratings depend on the personal preferences of the taster to some degree, and those preferences are formed by the taster's own palate, as well as tasting experience and other peoples' opinions (e.g. opinions voiced by wine experts in various texts). My rating is based on my evaluation of the quality, given my experience with wine. I don't claim to be infallible. On the other hand, I think that most people would agree that some wines are just plain "bad" while others are "good", and that an experienced taster can often pick out a high-quality wine, even if it isn't really to his or her personal taste. As a result, I think there is some element of objectivity, too.

If your ratings are subjective, why should I pay attention to them?

No one said you should. If you find them helpful, go ahead and use them (even if you think I'm crazy and that the wines I rate lowest are the best--at least you can use the ratings to purchase the wines I hate). Whether you like the ratings or not, I think it is much more important to read the tasting notes. Hopefully, by reading the notes, you'll be able to guess what the wine is like and whether you would enjoy it, regardless of my own subjective rating.

Do you taste blind?

No. I'd like to have the resources to taste lots of wines blind, but I don't, so I mostly taste wines at various public tastings, and when I drink them with dinner. I'd rather enjoy a wine than "taste" it, and especially given limited resources, I prefer to have a nice wine which goes with my dinner, instead of guessing about a random wine's identity all night. Does that mean my ratings are less reliable? Possibly. I try to avoid bias, but no one is perfect. On the other hand, I tend to spend more time with a given wine than do the writers who regularly participate in "mega-tastings". You'll just have to decide for yourself whether the ratings are worthwhile. Again, regardless of your feelings about the letter ratings, the tasting notes should be helpful.


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Copyright 1999-2001 Marcel Lachenmann.