Are “Five Star” Wine Rating Systems Too Simple?

Before Robert Parker Jr. introduced the 100-point wine-rating system to the world back in 1978, wine tasters, if they used any scoring method at all, would generally use a simple “five star” scale to rate their wines.

You can apply stars to wine, or you can actually learn something about wine.

You can apply stars to wine, or you can actually learn something about wine.

This five star (or five point) system is best understood as:

1  Poor
3  Good
4  Excellent
5  Outstanding

Naturally, it is simplicity that differentiates a five-star system from Parker’s system. After all, what budding connoisseur intrigued by wine would not choose to begin their lifetime of passion de vin with something elemental, readily grasped? And who among us can really tell the difference between an 83-point wine and an 84-point wine?

While there is much that is ludicrous about the Parker scale (e.g., a 76-point wine can be just as undrinkable as a 38-point wine), it’s much easier to understand the five-point system because we can readily identify with it – it corresponds with the letter-grade system many of us grew up with in grammar school. A simple system, yes. But very, very dull! Fortunately, other ardent wine rating personae have tackled the notion of dressing up this simple little system with rating thresholds of their own.

Jon Bonné, lifestyle editor for (and Amuse-Bouche wine blogger) expands the aforementioned scale to the following:

1.0, Undrinkable: Major flaws that make the wine too bad to drink.
2.0, Marginally drinkable: You’d drink it if stranded on a desert island, but not otherwise.
3.0, Acceptable: Wine free of any major flaws, but not otherwise worth mentioning.
3.5, Good: Decent and drinkable wine, competently made and enjoyable to the average drinker.
4.0, Very good: Highly pleasurable wine with excellent qualities, the product of top-notch winemaking.
4.5: Excellent: Wine that excels in every aspect, true to its terroir and origin and of exceptional quality.
5.0, Extraordinary: Classic wine of rare and unparalleled quality.

Bonné suggests that:

“Wines below 3.0 aren’t worthy of consideration at all, and 3.5 is a decent starting point for wine worth buying. Beyond that? It’s really a matter of personal taste and preference.”

Deceptively simple. Yet notice how the five-point scale is already stretching out to something beyond five points. In his defense, Bonné only bases his ratings on a five-point system. But whoa – he’s willing to rate incrementally by half-points. Perceptively tedious!

Erin over at Grape Juice quips that she has her parents to thank for her growing alcoholism. Her wine rating methodology goes beyond the five-star rating system, too, though I’d have to say it’s more of a five-bar raving system. Or raging system – take your pick:

Not Even On Pain of Death: I’d pretty much run screaming from this wine if I ever saw it again.
I Wouldn’t Make Faces: Not my choice, but if someone were to serve it to me at a gathering of some sort, I wouldn’t turn up my nose.
I’d Hit It: A good wine, but not necessarily mindblowing. I’d consider buying it again.
Repeat Offender: I’ll be buying this one again. A wine with a certain “je ne sais quoi”.
Bet Your Bottom Dollar: A sure-fire hit. Even your mother-in-law would like this one.

Hmmm, I wonder how Erin can taste wine with her tongue in her cheek like that. Come to think of it, if I had a mother-in-law, she’d probably only drink white zinfandel. At the other end of the wine-scoring spectrum, Rod Phillips at Worlds of Wine suggests a 1,000-point wine-scoring scale.

Methinks Rod jesteth overtly. But yikes!! Talk about tedious. Well then, could there be a wine tasting methodology that isn’t boorishly elemental, deceptively simple, flagrantly tedious, or mincingly ambiguous? Something that goes beyond “trite” yet doesn’t have you mired in point-shaving schemes?

You bet. It’s a moderately sane 20-point system, and it’s freely available to all. If you like wine but want to know why you like it, or if you would choose to educate yourself further about wine, then here’s a little guidance, some developmental history, and a place to download the winehiker’s scoring sheet for nearly everyone.



The Journey of a Winehiking Novice

Rebecca came from the Midwest to discover winehiking, though she didn’t know it at the time. The following is an illuminating record of our recent correspondence.

Hi Russ,

I’ve really been enjoying the hikes I’ve been doing lately, and I have discovered that I like hiking a lot more than I thought I did. That all means that it’s time to consider trying one of the hikes led by the best hike leader around. But I wanted to ask, before signing up for your next hike: the distance doesn’t scare me and I think I could handle the elevation gain though it would be a challenge. But I am wondering about the pace?  If you do all of this at a fast pace then maybe I’ll just have to resign myself to joining one of your hikes later on, after I’m more up to speed. But if you go no faster than the pace that the hike w/Debbie went a couple weeks back, then I think I could do it?  What do you think?  Also, I’m not really a wine person, but I gather it’s OK to do your hikes and either skip the wine part or just go along for the social aspect but not the wine stuff?  It’s all lost on me, though I finally identified that I like red better than white. That’s about as far as it goes for me though.

P.S. Never mind, looks like your hike has filled up already. Thanks anyway though.

Shoot, Rebecca, I’m sorry I couldn’t get back to you earlier while there was still room on the guest list.

Judging by the crowd, I’d have to say that this hike may indeed be fast-paced. Nevertheless, your predisposition toward hills and distance says to me: “2 out of 3 ain’t bad!” So, you might consider signing on to the wait list.

As to post-hike wine tasting, there’s no pressure to participate, but you’re welcome to come along, as you say, for the social aspect — which is what it’s really all about, anyway. The thing I like about wine tasting most is that, because there are so many styles and flavors of wine, every tasting is a learning opportunity, and delicious fun too.

Keep on keepin’ on down that trail, Rebecca!


Well, if they’re all pros, then I guess I’d be the one people complain about afterwards, who holds up the group. So, best to wait. Hopefully it won’t take long.  I lapsed in my running in the past year but have started up again along w/the hiking so I should hopefully be ready for one of your hikes before too long.

As for the wine, we should have a conversation about it some time. You strike me as very down-to-earth, as well as someone I like a lot from what I’ve seen of you, and all this doesn’t jive w/my (stupid, close-minded) stereotypes of the wine-tasting culture. Honestly it’s all a big mystery to me why people would choose to invest so much time and energy in tasting and discussing different forms of a beverage. I went wine tasting once up in Sonoma and it made me laugh. But that’s just my Midwestern ignorance and narrow-mindedness coming out. Maybe sometime you can help unravel this mystery for me. It was Mark, from Bay Area Linkup, who unraveled the hiking mystery for me. So BAL is doing pretty well at challenging my stupid preconceived notions.

Anyway, thanks for your reply, hope to see you on one of your hikes before too long.


Rebecca, you seriously crack me up. I think I should invite you to a wine tasting at my home on the 27th. Feel free to check out my posting: I hope you can come!


??? Gewurtz what???  If I can’t say it will I still be allowed in?  Before you allow me to sign up I should confess to you now that my wine rack (yes, I have one, for guests of course, but my well-kept secret, until now that is, is that I don’t know how to use my corkscrew so I just casually hand it to the guests while I pretend to be busy with something else) gets stocked according to two criteria: 1) Price (about $16 is what I typically go for, seems I am in line w/what you are recommending for your event!!!) and 2) Attractiveness of the label. I’ve never heard of a Gewurtzraminer, have no idea if I have one of those in my wine rack, though now you have piqued my curiosity, so after I send this email I will have to go check!

OK, I will sign up for your event. Is it OK if I laugh?  I’ll be laughing WITH you. You can laugh back WITH me for organizing a cooking event, where we talk at length about such things as how the food was prepared.
Uh-oh, just read your event post to the end. What’s a foil cap?  Oh boy, in over my head. It’s worse than a hike w/ a 2000 foot elevation gain.


Ah, the foil cap!  Alas, poor Rebecca….

We shall learn a few things. But I’m willing to bet that you can piece together what a foil cap is — the “cap” being what covers the cork, and the foil being what the cap is made of; sometimes these features, by virtue of brand labeling, colors, etc., can give away something about the wine within to the cognoscenti. (Yes, I have actually been able to declare a wine just by seeing the top of the bottle — don’t ask me how or why). So, removing the foil cap is just being fair to all — but it ain’t no big thang.

I’ll also open the wines myself unless one of the other guests really wishes to. Nevertheless, I’ll be happy to perform a demonstration of proper technique if’n ya like.

In the end, this here Geh-VERTZ-tra-Mee-ner tasting will be just like your foodie exploits: we talk about it, we develop our learning about it, and we have a few laughs in the process!

Glad you’re coming, Rebecca.


OK, yes, I did figure out the foil cap when I went to look at my wine rack (no Gewurztraminer there, seems to be just the usual stuff, though I see I somehow managed to sneakily slip in some sparkling cider too.)  Anyway, in the process of examining my extensive and varied wine collection I discovered that in addition to having a propensity for $16 wines I seem to also have a propensity for burgundy-colored (oh, I get it!!) foil caps.

If I told you I have half a bottle of wine in my fridge left over from a dinner party about two months ago would it make it clear to you the extent of the problem you now have on your hands?  It won’t be pretty, I can tell you. I promise to observe proper decorum though. This is serious business!

Anyway, thanks for the invitation. I’ll go brush up on my German, do some mind-opening exercises, and see you on the 26th! (or the 20-whatever). Forgot already, but will put it on the calendar and be there on the right day.)


Rebecca –

TRULY, ya done cracked me up six ways from sideways. How’re you going to top yourself?

Russ recommends the following:

1) Pull that bottle out of your fridge, pull the cork immediately, and set it on your favorite table.

2) Fetch your best wine glass, and set it on the table next to the bottle.

3) Wait 30 minutes. Or do something! But do it for 30 minutes.

4) Sit down to the table.

5) S-L-O-W-L-Y pour yourself a 1/4-glass of that wine, observing every nuance of the pour.

5a) OK, I’m kidding about that last predicate there. (Maybe.)

6) Twirl the glass, sniff its contents, and pull it into your mouth to savor the flavor, S-L-O-W-L-Y.

7) Repeat until content.

8) Return to Step 5.

Oh, and: that’s Thursday the twenty-seventhththtthhh.


ummm, wouldn’t two-month old wine, I mean after it’s already opened, be vinegar by now? I am kind of afraid to find out. Good thing it’s way at the back of the fridge.

Ah-HA! Thy words thus speaketh unto steps 1-3 above.

The fact that the wine has remained chilled has probably preserved the wine fairly well. But, to really taste the wine, one must let it release its flavors. The only way to do that is to let the wine remain open so that it warms to just-near room temperature — or longer if you can wait longer than 30 minutes (but no more than 60!). Then, after a fit of mild patience (in my case), you can receive the full panoply of the wine’s aroma and taste.

Wash down your dinner with it. And then decide if it’s vinegar.

We’ll do this again on the 27th, but we’ll do it so that we can compare each wine’s subtle proponents. You’ll drop your midwest “twang” oncet fer good. Guaran-dang-TEED!


Umm, OK, I’ll try that. But will have to wait until the weekend. Being basically a one-glass-of-wine-per-year kind of girl, I can’t really do that on a school night – it would be like you drinking a keg of beer or something. Not sure how I’ll get through tasting six wines and still remain intact, but maybe I’ll start practicing so I’ll be in shape by then. Like gearing up for a Russ hike, I guess.


The student doth learn Lesson One!