Learning to evaluate your wine is critical to becoming a great winemaker.Being able to evaluate your wine objectively is vitally important to successful winemakers. You should know how to discern whether your wine is of good quality or not. Whether you like your wine or not is much less important.

It’s possible to make a high quality wine that you just don’t like personally. I for one am not a fan of Sauvignon Blanc, regardless of how well made it is. But as I wine maker you and I both should be able to tell if it’s well made.

The Scoring of Wines

We’re all familiar with the various wine scoring systems of Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast, right? Many of these systems are based on a scale of 100. With 100 being exceptional and 80 being passable. Wine competitions often use a similar system for their evaluations.

The point of these systems (no pun intended) is to separate well made wines from those with defects. Judges, as you can imagine, taste all sorts of wine. Many they may not like. However, they judge quality not how well it suits their palate.

Here’s another way to look at it.

Let’s say you’re in the market for a house and the real estate agent takes you to a ranch style home. This home has got the best siding, aluminum roof, and top notch appliances. It’s a well built house.

You, however, are in the market for a three story “cabin” in the woods. The ranch home is well built, modern, yada yada. However, it’s not what you like. It doesn’t suit you. Just because it doesn’t suit you doesn’t mean you can’t tell if it’s well made or not.

The same goes for wine. A cloudy wine is not well made, there’s something wrong with it. Having a hint of sardine on the nose is not a sign of quality. You get the picture.

How to Evaluate Your Wine

Wine judges score wines using a point system, as I mentioned earlier. They judge different aspects of wine such as: clarity, acidity, bouquet, aroma, finish, etc. Just because one aspect is off doesn’t mean they all are. Thus each aspect is judged independently.

To keep all of this straight during a competition judges use scoring cards. The American Wine Society publishes the score cards their judges use along with a guide to help you through the evaluation process. You can download a copy here.

If you take a look at the first page you’ll notice that different aspects of the wine get different amounts of points. Appearance, for example is rated from 0 to 3 while aroma and bouquet are rated from 0 to 6. This means that cloudiness is or off colors is more tolerable than funky aromas.

The cards come with a description of what to look for as well. For example a wine with “good” taste and texture will have good balance, be smooth, but may exhibit minor flaws. Exceptional appearance would be “brilliant with outstanding characteristic color”.

Print out the form and use it to evaluate your wine point by point as a judge would. The “overall impression” and “total score” columns are of much less interest. What we winemakers want to know is where we’re doing well in the winemaking process and where we need to improve.

Practice Practice Practice

This is one of the great benefits to making wine. We get to hone our skills by drinking more wine! The more time you spend evaluating wines, yours or not, the easier all of this will get.

I recommend you keep a few copies of the form in the kitchen. Whenever you open a bottle take a minute, and a glass, and evaluate it. Evaluate commercial wines, locally produced, as well as your own.

Don’t get carried away though! Non-winos tend to take the running commentary and evaluation as snobbery. So leave the forms behind when in the company of normal folk.

Photograph by: Klaus Post