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Wine & Spirits / Dec 18, 2023

Wine Critics & Scoring – What Should Your Strategy Be?

Lauren Liebler

Lauren Liebler

Account Executive

While wine connoisseurs have been giving their personal reviews for as long as they have been consuming it, our modern-day conception of wine critiquing and scoring in the United States can be traced back to approximately the 1970s. Robert Parker, in his direct-mailer newsletter, which is now known as The Wine Advocate, introduced the 100-point system, much like the American grading system. With this new marketing tool, he made it easier for consumers and retailers to make purchasing decisions without ever trying the wine. Since then, many wine publications have followed this scoring system.

The system's impact on the wine industry goes well beyond what Parker perhaps initially intended. For many wine brands, garnering good scores has become as important — if not more important — for their importing and distributing tiers as it is for their end consumer. Where consumers look for recommendations on what to buy has shifted, with peer or influencer recommendations often shaping their decisions more than traditional advertising efforts.

How Is Wine Scored? 

Many wine scorings operate as blind tastings where wines are presented to the reviewer alongside others of the same varietal, region, and/or vintage without viewing the labels or knowing details about the producers. This secrecy ensures impartiality from a reviewer who may show prejudice to specific locations, prices, reputation, or other considerations. The critic will provide a written opinion along with a score based on their internal procedures and standard of rating, most commonly using the 100-point system or 20-point system.

The 100-Point Scale 

This scale, which most reviewers use, is much like the standard American grading system in which a single score is provided. It goes a bit further, breaking down the ranges like academic letter grades (A+, A, A-, B+, etc.). For instance, a score of 95-100 points is considered “extraordinary,” 90-94 is considered “outstanding to superior,” 85-89 is “good to very good,” and 80-84 is “above average to good.” Most scores under 80 are “mediocre,” though they are still considered drinkable with minor flaws. Anything below 75 is considered flawed; these results are rarely published. 

The 20-Point Scale

The 20-point scale, based on the French higher education standard, follows a more precise model. Instead of using ranges, it gives each score a meaning. The Jancis Robinson scale is as follows:

20 – Truly exceptional
19 – A humdinger
18 – A cut above superior
17 – Superior
16 – Distinguished
15 – Average, a perfectly nice drink with no faults but not much excitement
14 – Deadly dull
13 – Borderline faulty or unbalanced
12 – Faulty or unbalanced  

Consider Wine Scoring in Your Marketing Strategy

So, what does your brand need to know or think about when deciding to submit a wine for scoring? First would be the intended goal and audience you need to reach. Next would be how you can leverage the score when generated. And finally, the process and logistics of submitting your wines. You’ll want to include your Sales, PR, and Marketing teams in these discussions so that all stakeholders have some awareness and say in the process.

Why Submit Your Wine? 

If you are looking to bolster your distribution and sales to retailers, solid wine scores can be an important tool. 

Who Do You Want To Reach?

From end consumers to buyers at the distribution and retail levels, readers of all kinds use reviews to compare wines to others of the same varietal, style, or geographic location. Many times, this comparison guides their buying decisions.

Should you believe the chances of receiving a favorable rating (90 and above) are high for your wine, it’s beneficial to submit it for scoring based on the possible return on investment.

High scores will help your sales teams garner attention for the wine. However, only a small percentage of wines submitted are likely to garner a 90+ point score. With this in mind, look at the scores that your brand’s competition has received to judge how your wine might fare with any given reviewer.

While high scores will also capture the attention of the end consumer, consider whether your consumer is likely to pay attention to a point score from a wine-focused publication. Or would they be more likely to be excited by a product recommendation from another publication or influencer? If so, a different strategy led by your PR team might be a better bet here.

Learn more: 6 Wine Marketing Tactics That Actually Work

Communicating With Critics

Another part of your PR strategy to consider is developing relationships with key critics. Initiating a conversation with a well-known critic can be difficult. While you may find their email easily, the chances of getting a response are slim. It’s always beneficial to reach out to specialty reviewers, especially those who are also editors that focus on the region or varietal that most relates to your wines. Make an introduction or send an update on newsworthy stories to keep them interested in your brand should they be working on a story with a regional focus. While they may not be able to taste your wine, they can cover it in other ways. Also, note that most reviewers taste blind, so this strategy will not affect the end score for your wine. That said, it may help garner an inclusion in an editorial if you can position yourself as a news or story source.

How To Use Scoring in Marketing and PR

Scores can be used in a variety of ways to help promote your wine. At retail, the most popular way would be to create a “necker” or “shelf talker,” promotional material that features information that entices shoppers to make a purchase. Updating all digital platforms with the score is another tactic. Examples include adding a badge on an e-commerce website, a post on social media, or text surrounding the product online. When pitching a wine to journalists, including the wine’s score can help the wine stand out, but be careful not to include a review from a competitor publication. (Note: Each publication has rules around the use of their reviews and logos).

How To Submit Your Wine: The Logistics

Each publication has its own process for wine submissions, depending on how it conducts its tastings. Navigating these procedures and timing takes a lot of attention to detail. There will be submission forms to complete, tasting calendars to reference for the timing of submissions, and, of course, shipping to the reviewer or main office of the publication to arrange. It is helpful to have a point person who can corral all of this information and keep tabs on everything. Developing a master list of what has been submitted and reviewed can help you ensure you are best positioned to get a review for a current vintage of an SKU in as timely a manner as possible. Keep in mind that it often takes several months for a review or score to be published.

The Future of Wine Critics & Scoring

While wine scores will continue to be necessary to assist buyers in making purchases, the gatekeepers as we know them will become less relevant. With platforms like Vivino that crowdsource reviews, retailers that post customer reviews, and the emergence of influencers and sommeliers that critique wines for audiences, there will be a shift in the importance placed on traditional wine critics. This is a positive development for wineries that produce quality wine but do not rate highly with traditional critics. The availability of choice will give the smaller producers a chance to be recognized as well. 


Want to learn more about how to leverage scores for your marketing? Let’s connect!

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