by Jeff Miller of Artisan Family of Wines (Seven Artisans, Sly Dog Cellars, Red Côte Rosé)

jeff-smI recently wrote about the objective side of wine tasting.  Scorecards are, to varying degrees, an attempt to record the objective (though also subjective) aspects of tasting a wine.

What is the point of a scorecard?  Others may disagree with me, but for me the goal of a scorecard should be to tell you what the wine tastes like.

davis-20-point-scorecardWhile no doubt scorecards have existed in some form from time immemorial, the Davis 20 point system, shown above, is, at least to my knowledge, the first real modern effort to score a wine’s quality.

This system is still much used, but I can’t fathom why.  While some of the categories (e.g., color, clarity) are objective in nature, most (flavor, taste, finish, quality) are conclusory and subjective, and really don’t tell you anything more than how much the taster liked the wine.  For example, one of the categories is sweetness:


Appropriate, balanced, normal           = 1.0

Slightly sweet, slightly lacking           = 0.5

Syrupy, very lacking                         = 0.0

There are two problems with this category.  First, what is “appropriate” to me (warranting the full point) may not be at all “appropriate” for you, who would give it a lower sweetness score. Second, a wine warrants a zero if it’s either “syrupy” or “very lacking” in sweetness.  Knowing a taster assigned a zero to a wine tells you he didn’t like the wine, at least as far as sweetness is concerned, but whether it was excessively sweet, or excessively dry, is a mystery.

If the point of a scorecard is nothing more or less than to record how much you liked a particular wine, then this system may work okay.  But if the point is to have some idea of what the wine actually tastes like, then the system is pretty much a waste of time.

In fairness, I understand that the Davis scorecard was created largely to identify flaws in a wine.  But two wines can both be without significant flaws, and yet be very different from each other.  So just knowing they lack flaws isn’t that helpful, particularly when, with the passage of time, wines have become cleaner and relatively (repeat relatively) flaw-free.  So maybe the Davis system has some use, but, at least by my standard, it’s pretty worthless.

Napa Valley College’s viticulture and enology program attempted to improve on the Davis system.  It’s scorecard  (see below) while different than the Davis ons, suffers from the same defect-it tells you more about how much the taster liked the wine than what the wine was like.  Maybe “odor intensity” could quality as being at least semi-objective, but others, e.g., “aroma in mouth”, are almost entirely subjective.


More on scorecards in my next post.

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2 Responses to “Scorecards”

  1. randy says:

    Yikes, Great post, however if the current way of “scoring” is irrelevant, and allows too much grey, opinion, why are they still still being printed? Let’s all wonder together. Why we in this industry must treat wine tasting as a competetion. There are too many variables to have one wine pitted (albeit often blind) against another? THIS ISN”T A COMPETETION folks. Would one ever put a Rembrant up against a Van Gouh simply because they’re from the same city of Amsterdam? Different artist, different intent. Capitilism and it’s winner-take-all mentality has creeped into a world of art and impressions.

    Why don’t we simply use our words to describe the impression the wine gives? Jeff has got it right… These templates are to find the flaws in wine rather than what’s good or tasty about it.

    Let’s take wine back to what it once was… Art.

  2. Chris Riney says:

    Over time I’ve used a couple of different “modified” ‘Davis 20 point’ systems. The devil is in how the form is designed, and documented, and how the information is disseminated. The forms for these have included space for comments as well as a score for each evaluation point. What is needed it to get these comments posted with the scores.

    The good point about the “magazine” ratings, is you can compare how their rating fits with your perception of a wine, and with experience allows an individual to use the score as a basis if they may like it or not. The down side is that without any reference descriptors (pro or con) accompanying a score it’s difficult to place a particular wine in the scale. Another mixed point about the “magazine” ratings is that it represents a known individual or groups averaged opinion about the wine.

    Of course one would hope that a professional reviewer would rate a wine based on it’s style (sweet/dry, clarity, coloring, oaked/un-oaked, variety, etc), not their personal preference.

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