On Scoring Wines below 95

by Robert Millman

Why did I choose 95 points as my cutoff? Because it seems that for some time now, this has been beginning point for scoring wines of any note and reputation. In fact, under 95 may seem to indicate a wine that is merely very good and no more. This has led to a 94 points score becoming the new 90 from twenty years ago. Is it because wines have become so much better as many would claim, for the pundits to dole out higher scores? I will agree that there have been significant advances in understanding the geology and terroir properties that underlie winemaking and that vignerons worldwide have become much more conscious of vineyard and environmental health. Of course some of this has become ideological and quasi-religious in character. I have argued earlier on the TerroirSense website that a new aesthetic of austerity has come into play both in Burgundy and the west coast of America which has the effect of robbing wine of it sensuality. Not all change is simply progress. Of course, wine writers have to respond to what is happening in the here and now. But those with a long memory and the moral freedom not to function as promoters of contemporary trends, bring a depth of experience to bear on reviewing which is indispensable.

Years ago, scores in the mid to upper-80s were relatively common. So, when a high score appeared it is notable. Stephen Tanzer and Ian D’Agata scored in such a way that each scoring had significance. When I look back at this period—roughly 1995 to 2013—I smile. A range from 86 to perhaps 95 was in active use. Not 94 to 100. Parker is often blamed for this compression. But that is far from fair or honest. There are plenty of scores in the 89-92 range in older Wine Advocate reviews. No one forced other reviewers to elevate scores to the point that nowadays roughly one third of wines receive 95 or higher. It seems to me that most of the current wine writers are trapped by, and in, this compression. It serves no one— the wine makers or the wine buyers to see every score most of the time. It is boring and uninformative. Too many wine writers then tailor their words to match the scores. It has gotten to the point that 95 is almost a downgrade not a remarkable achievement. Thankfully, so long as publications like TerroirSense and Jasper Morris’ Inside Burgundy utilize scores in the 89-92 range appropriately, then the occasional 95-99 rating makes sense.

A final point: wine collectors who ignore all wine under 95 points are actually diminishing the value of the wines they collect and hopefully drink. This is because without a generous experience of the many fine wines in the 90-93 range, the real value of the exceptional wines cannot be properly understood.


Robert Millman

Robert Millman’s wine career began in the early 1980s, when he began working from Morrell & Company, one of the USA’s top wine retailers. During that time, he co-founded Executive Wine Seminars (EWS) with Howard Kaplan, which over the years became one of NYC’s most highly regarded wine events companies. EWS organized and conducted over 1000 wine events during its prestigious thirty-three year history. High points included Robert Parker being a regular guest presenter at the tastings, and through 2011, the results of the tastings were published on the Wine Advocate website. Having reached an age where taking a step back from the wear and tear of life in the wine fast lane made sense, Millman currently enjoys being a taster and wine writer for Grapes the Wine Company, an excellent, leading e-retailer based in Westchester (NY). 

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Robert Millman