HOW TASTINGS WORK

The 100 Point Wine Scoring System and Blind versus Sighted Tastings

Michael Fridjhon's ratings, which form the heart of the database of wine quality assessments utilised by Wine Wizard, are based on a 100 point scoring system which has taken over thirty years to perfect. It is central to the website which has itself been designed to direct wine drinkers to the best available wines, within a particular category, at a given price point, and for a specified occasion. All wines are tasted blind under controlled conditions in the Wine Wizard tasting room. However, please note that when Michael attends events such as the pre-auction presentations of wines destined for sale at the annual Nederburg or Cape Wine Makers Guild Auctions and these wines are tasted sighted, his scores are marked accordingly.

When Michael began the process of developing his scoring system, there were a number of different ways of calibrating wine quality. These included the 7 point, the 10 point, the 20 point and the 5 stars system. Later American critic Robert Parker created his own 100 point system, a scale which was then adopted over time by most critics and publications.

The 100 point system is now widely applied, though not all 100 point systems are the same. Lately there has been considerable controversy over its lack of rigour. Tasters seeking the approval of producers, or hoping to build their brands amongst consumers, have become particularly generous. Whereas ten years ago a score of 90 was a real achievement and very few wines scored in the top five point range (96-100), many judges now dish out 90 as a base score and have over 20% of their current ratings at 96 or above. It's a safe assumption that this trend will continue – which means that within a few years, almost all wines will be scored within a 7 point range of 91-98, with very few outliers on either side of this bracket.

It would be pointless to suggest that Michael is impervious to this trend. He has already re-calibrated the entire Wine Wizard database once. However, his scores are still on average at least 5 points lower than most of the other critics using the 100 point system. The effect of this is inevitably a little confusing: when Michael scores a wine 88, this is an indication that the wine is very good. (To test this assumption, simply add 5 points to 88 and the resultant 93 indicates a wine of undoubted merit). A wine at 92 would be a 97 anywhere else, while 95 would be 100.

You might well ask why he doesn't simply recalibrate again to bring his scores more in line with the hyper-inflationary system currently in place. The answer is two fold: the first is that there is already a traffic jam at the top end of the international spectrum: no one cares much for any score under 93 while only 98 upwards attracts any interest. If the standard is to have any meaning, there should be very few 100 point wines, and not very many in the 96-99 point range. Giving in to the pressure to score everything in the high 90s offers no real service to wine drinkers trying to make a purchase decision: you need a spread of more than 7 points to cover the various possibilities.

Michael's objective had always been to add greater nuance and precision in a field where the very subjective nature of the judgement discourages this approach. He has argued that a 100 point system, in which very few wines ever score below 90, is nothing other than a 10 point system where all quality wines will be bunched together within 5 points of each other. Users of this site can be confident that any wine scoring from the mid-80s upwards will be quality products guaranteeing real drinking pleasure. Taking Michael's scores into account, and applying the value ratings will ensure as much certainty as you can expect in a field as imprecise as taste.

However, in an endeavour to help readers and consumers to match his more nuanced scores with ratings provided by other critics Michael now also provides a second score on the site, solely as a guideline. This rating, indicated by a secondary score in brackets when viewing details of the wine. The score cross-calibrates to the 100 point system applied internationally, and increasingly by local online publications.

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