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Study Finds Red Wines Gets Higher Scores for No Apparent Reason


 Red Wine and Expert Bias

Red v White Wine Scores
Red v White Wine Scores

Do experts rate red wines more highly than white wines, regardless of price, vintage, and region? Does this mean there is a critical bias toward red wines?

That may well be the case after a study analyzed more than 64,000 scores dating from the 1970s from the major wine magazines. The report, compiled by Suneal Chaudhary, PhD, and Jeff Siegel on the Wine Curmudgeon website, winecurmudgeon.com, found that:

  • More reds score higher than whites, while red wines are overrepresented above 90 points and whites are overrepresented below 90 points. In fact, reds are 1.2 times more likely to be rated higher than 90.
  • As an expert score crossed 90 points, selling price and selling price variation increased quickly – in some cases leading to non-intuitive results, such as median reds costing more than more highly-rated whites.
  • When two experts rate the same wine, about the only thing they agree on is if a wine is better or worse than 90 points. When the wines are scored higher than 90, the variation in the ratings increases considerably. In this, the wine experts’ rating may not be as accurate as those for other agricultural products, like potatoes.

“Wine scores have always been controversial, and there has been plenty of anecdotal evidence that they were inherently flawed,” says Siegel. “With this study, which uses one of the largest databases of wine scores ever studied, we hope that the inconsistencies that we’ve found add to the evidence that scores don’t reflect wine quality as much as they reflect the personal taste of the critics who give the scores.”

The study, say the authors, is not intended to be conclusive, given the variables involved. Rather, their goal is to present the information to allow wine drinkers to make up their own minds.

Chaudhary says a variety of factors could have influenced the results. Perhaps red wines are really better than white wines. In this, he found what he calls the chicken-egg-chick dilemma, where critics rate red wine more highly because it’s more prestigious, where producers spend more money to make red wine because critics see it as more prestigious and consumers are willing to pay for that prestige, and where consumers are willing to pay a premium for red wine because producers and critics see it as more prestigious.

A copy of the report is available at winecurmudgeon.com.

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  1. Geez, I’ve been wine blog commenting about this phenomenon for years.

    Robert Parker imposes a 90 point score “ceiling” on certain grape varieties/wine varietals.

    Let’s jump into our H.G. Wells time travel machine back to 1989.

    Robert Parker is being interviewed for Wine Times magazine. (Later renamed Wine Enthusiast magazine.)


    WINE TIMES: How is your scoring system different from The Wine Spectator’s?

    PARKER: Theirs is really a different animal than mine, though if someone just looks at both of them, they are, quote, two 100-point systems. Theirs, in fact, is advertised as a 100-point system; mine from the very beginning is a 50-point system. If you start at 50 and go to 100, it is clear it’s a 50-point system, and it has always been clear. Mine is basically two 20-point systems with a 10-point cushion on top for wines that have the ability to age. …

    . . .

    WINE TIMES: But how do you split the hairs between an 81 and an 83?

    PARKER: It’s a fairly methodical system. The wine gets up to 5 points on color, up to 15 on bouquet and aroma, and up to 20 points on flavor, harmony and length. And that gets you 40 points right there. And then the [balance of] 10 points are … simply awarded to wines that have the ability to improve in the bottle. This is sort of arbitrary and gets me into trouble.

    . . .

    WINE TIMES: Do you have a bias toward red wines? Why aren’t white wines getting as many scores in the upper 90s? Is it you or is it the wine?

    PARKER: Because of that 10-point cushion. Points are assigned to the overall quality but also to the potential period of time that wine can provide pleasure. And white Burgundies today have a lifespan of, at most, a decade with rare exceptions. Most top red wines can last 15 years and most top Bordeaux can last 20, 25 years. It’s a sign of the system that a great 1985 Morgon [cru Beaujolais] is not going to get 100 points because it’s not fair to the reader to equate a Beaujolais with a 1982 Mouton-Rothschild. You only have three or four years to drink the Beaujolais.

    WINE TIMES: In your system, what would be the highest rated Beaujolais?

    PARKER: 90. That would be a perfect Beaujolais, and I’ve never given one. I have given a lot of 87s and 88s.

    [Bob’s comment: In 1990, Parker awarded a score of 92 points to the 1989 vintage Georges Duboeuf “Jean Descombes” Morgon cru Beaujolais, contradicting his then year-old statement above.

    Fast forward to 2011: the stellar 2009 vintage cru Beaujolaises garnered scores in the 91 to 94 point range from Wine Advocate. As have subsequent vintages.]

    WINE TIMES: So it’s the aging potential that is the key factor that gets a wine into the 90s.

    PARKER: Yes. And it goes back to how I evaluate vintages in general. To me the greatness of a vintage is assessed two ways: 1) its ability to provide great pleasure — wine provides, above all, pleasure; 2) the time period over which it can provide that pleasure.

    If a vintage can provide pleasure after 4 or 5 years and continue for 25 to 30 years, all the time being drinkable and providing immense satisfaction, that’s an extraordinary vintage. If you have to wait 20 years before you can drink the wines and you have basically a 5 or 10 year period to drink them before [the fruit flavors] “dry out,” it’s debatable then whether that’s a great vintage.


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