We all use wine ratings. I know I do when selling wine online, and retailers use them as a major sales tool to highlight their products.

There are quite a few wine personalities and magazines offering ratings. Wine Advocate (or WA), started by Robert Parker (or RP) with the current star being Neal Martin (NM) is a top source. Other top critics include: Wine Enthusiast (WA), Steve Tanzer of the International Wine Cellar (IWC), Antonio Galloni (AG) of Vinous, Allen Meadows, affectionally called the Burghound (BH), Decanter (DEC), better known in Europe, Jancis Robinson (JR) who rates in a system out of 20 points instead of 100 points and James Suckling (JS).

All have their followers and all have their detractors. Many think Suckling is too generous with his points, others think the Wine Advocate does not understand Burgundy and they trust Tanzer or Burghound best. The older generation generally trusts Parker most as they grew up with his ratings. Jancis Robinson is known for her straight talk as her battle with the “ Pavie-style of winemaking” documents.

The Good about ratings:
They certainly give you a good idea as to the quality of a wine. After all, these wine professionals have tasted thousands of wines, are schooled in the art of tasting and posess the necessary know how. If they all agree on the quality (or lack of it) in a wine, you know you can’t go wrong with that. Additionally, many of us have never tasted wines from some regions such as South Africa, Brazil or even Gascony and first-hand information is always appreciated.

The Bad about ratings:
Many regions or sub regions don’t see their wines rated. In Puisseguin Saint Emilion, wineries actually suffer from the proximity to Saint Emilion and their wines are often considered “lesser” as a result. Even more so, the pros who do the rating usually hesitate to give these wines a high rating as they did not give high ratings in the past and the mold is hard to break…Also, you have to know that a wine must be imported into the US to qualify for a rating (except with Decanter) and that the importer has to make the effort to send samples to the magazines, to hope for them to rate the wines…

Moreover, can you really compare a 95 pts Belle Glos Clarke and Telephone Pinot Noir ($45) with a 93 pts Grands Echezeaux from Romanee Conti ($775). These wines are neither in the same price league, not the same quality level…

The Ugly about ratings:
There have been allegations of special treatment offered to these raters, either in the form of gifts or advertisement in their magazines, casting a dark shadow over the business. For me, specifically, I remember purchasing years ago, at a very low price, a Saint Julien Chateau from an older vintage like 1976. I checked the Parker rating and it was lower than I had seen in a long time, something like 80 points! It was labelled “Over the Hill”. I opened the bottle, and to this day remember it as one of the most beautiful wines I ever tasted!

In the end:
The Good beats the Bad and the Ugly, since ratings – even though subjective – are a good starting point to guide us in learning to enjoy wines and making smart purchases. My suggestion is that you find a rater who matches your preferences best, and follow him/her, while still keeping in mind that your taste profile may evolve. It is very important to keep one’s options open and to remember that in the end, your pleasure and your palate matter most with the wines sitting in your cellar.

A few Interesting Notes:
Since 2005, Chateau Pontet Canet has received some of the highest aggregate ratings in of all Bordeaux. And it’s no wonder: Pontet Canet is now using Biodynamic practices and Mr Tesseron (the owner) says he now works twice as hard as before to make his wine…

Chateau Canon 2015 is one of the stars of the vintage. Why? Huge investments both in vineyards, cellar and property have been made in the past few years resulting in higher quality products.

The Best of the 2015 Futures Released this Week

Highest Rated
Chateau Gracia (Saint-Emilion) JS 97-98, $86.99 – Only a few bottles available
Chateau Pichon-Longueville (Pauillac) NM 96-98, $124.99
Chateau Malartic la Graviere Rouge (Pessac-Leognan) NM 94-96, $47.99
Chateau Malartic la Graviere Blanc (Pessac-Leognan) NM 94-96, $52.99
Chateau Leoville-Poyferre (Saint-Julien) WE 95-97, $74.99
Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc (Pessac-Leognan) AG 95-98, $81.99
Domaine de Chevalier Blanc (Pessac-Leognan) JS 97-98, $87.99

Best Buys
Chateau d’Issan (Margaux) NM 93-95, $54.99
Chateau Brane-Cantenac (Margaux) NM 93-95, $59.99
Chateau Beausejour-Becot (Saint-Emilion) AG 93-96, $59.99
Chateau Calon-Segur (Saint-Estephe) WE 94-96, $69.99
Chateau Durfort-Vivens (Margaux) WE 94-96, $44.99
Blason d’Issan (Margaux) NM 98-91, $27.99