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Wine Spider Methodology


The Principles of Wine Evaluation

The development of Wine Spider comes from a deep seated distrust of current wine evaluation systems and the need to create a simple, yet objective way of representing the qualities of a wine.

Without conducting a detailed survey of show judging systems in Australia and elsewhere, there is evidence that these systems have failed to be comprehensive to the general wine enthusiast, and based upon a numerical scoring system that is 'unnatural' and difficult to use.

Take as an example the Australian Show judging system, which whilst it has some positive aspects, is in desperate need of an overhaul.

In the 1998 Royal Melbourne Wine Show Catalogue of Results, the "Notes on Wine Judging" are worth scrutinizing, because they reflect the basis on which some awards are given out.

Notes on Wine Judging

Exhibits in all Australian Wine Shows are judged on a comparative basis, ie. all the entries are judged at the same time. The other method used in Varietal classes in Adelaide is the International system where the wines are judged and pointed individually.

Exhibits are judged on a point score with a maximum of 20 points. On the judging sheet this is divided into:

  1. 3 points for colour and condition; usually wines with poor colour are rejected for defect on both nose and palate.
  2. 7 points for nose.
  3. 10 points for palate: a wine with an excellent nose may fall down on the palate due to excessive acidity or tannin defects. Conversely, some wines with only a fair nose may have excellent balance on the palate.

Medals are awarded for the following points:

18.5-20 -Gold Medal 17.0-18.4 -Silver Medal 15.5-16.9 -Bronze Medal

All exhibits are judged "blind". Judges do not handle the bottles.

In Melbourne the judges are arranged into four groups, each with three judges, with a Chairman of judges who arranges the group of judges, divides the classes to be judged between four groups, gives guidance and occasionally resolves disagreements.

Each class is set up and poured by associates for the wine judges.

The judges assess the wines, point them, and then collaborate on the medals awarded. The points listed in the results section represented the total of the three judges assessments.

Judges are generally selected from those who work in or are connected with the wine industry. Potential judges are recommended to the Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria and are given experience as associate judges. New judges are selected from the best performers.

The difficulty with the 20 point system is inherent in the numbers themselves. Three points are allocated for colour and condition, seven points for nose, and ten points for palate. Humans generally find it difficult to think in numbers that are not in groups of ten. A score out of three is more difficult to assign than a score out of ten, as is a score out of seven. The human being has two hands of five fingers, giving him a total of ten units. Watch a child learn to count, and it's the fingers that provide the guideposts for the brain to comprehend, so it only appears logical to consider the component part to be evaluated out of a total score of ten. Ten out of ten is easy to comprehend, it's a perfect score, it's two hands, it's two feet with ten toes, it's the basis of our digital numerical system, and it comes to people of all ages and levels of intelligence and education as a natural process, so why change the course of evolution? On that basis one could argue then for a show evaluation system that is out of thirty, ten for colour and condition, ten for nose, and ten for palate. In some ways it becomes easier to score, yet it presents another problem, which is also inherent in the three, seven, and ten system, in that it has a very narrow spread of numbers, thus giving only a limited profile to the wine that is being evaluated, but wine is a far more complex liquid than that.

Consider, then, the system favoured by American wine writers, providing a score out of one hundred. The good thing here is that one hundred can be broken up into ten groups of ten and is easily understood, except for the fact that nowhere do the ten groups of ten seem to be explained. How is a score of eighty five, ninety, ninety five or ninety four out of one hundred arrived at? My gut feeling was, and has since been substantiated, that it is arrived at on an intuitive basis. The logic goes something like this. The taster is supposed to be an experienced wine person, who has been exposed to a lot of different wines; wines that vary in their grape varieties, method of cultivation and vinification, maturation, age and origin. These individuals then develop an intuitive skill which is based totally upon their vast experience of tasting over many years and are capable of assigning a mark to a wine, that is then held in high esteem by all. The system has many obvious flaws, the most dramatic being the fact that by the time a taster has had such a comprehensive exposure and experience of such a vast variety of wines, his taste buds and his ability to discern the nuances of various wines is on the decline. Furthermore, the system is almost totally subjective and takes into account past associations, friendships, great deals, cross-promotional dollars and the pressure to produce a great number for a favourite vigneron or client. True, some tasters may be fearless in their assessment, but it is difficult to know which ones. It is even more difficult to know why a wine got a poor score. What are the elements that make for a 95/100 wine as against one say at 65/100? Was it the colour, nose or the palate that failed to impress? Was it the day, temperature of the wine or the personal health and condition of the taster?

Wine Spider's objective is to remove the mystery behind the numbers and allow mere mortals to participate and analyse the positive and negative qualities of a wine with confidence. Furthermore, the process should be reproducible; that is, a taster in France, Italy or Spain should be able to reach a similar conclusion to a taster in California or Australia. Wine Spider seeks to replace the intuitive process with a process that has some logical foundations which can provide a complete profile of a wine and which can be scrutinized by others. The system proposed is a dynamic one and takes into account the evolution of the wine over a period.

Historically high priests have invented languages that are secretive, full of mystery and certainly not available to the masses. That time has now passed, and coded, mysterious rituals of meaningless numbers are no longer acceptable without proper explanation of the derivative process.

The number 100 is now so widely used in the most influential wine markets that it appears impossible to remove from the evaluation process, and yet if we adhere to the principles of evaluating each component part out of 10, then we either limit the number of component parts or develop a broader system that looks at a wide number of component parts and then mathematically calculates the number, through an adjustment to the overall score, to provide a score out of 100. In short, Wine Spider will accept as the International standard, the need to produce an adjusted score to be - /100.

As an integral part of the evaluation process, it will be necessary for Wine Spider judges to have a good understanding of what qualities make a good or bad wine, and what is the difference between good and great. The Wine Spider system does not rely on the wine's pedigree, which may upset some producers who under the present rating system would automatically receive a high score based upon their historic standing in the wine community. Pedigree must be continuously justified and not simply assumed on the basis of past performance or favour.

In the evaluation process Wine Spider considers it appropriate to evaluate like with like; consequently in line-ups it is proposed that wines are rated due to their varietal nature, rather than by broad terms such as 'Dry White table wines' or 'Light-bodied Reds'. Hence a Cabernet Sauvignon from anywhere in the world will be accessed on the desirable qualities of the varietal and on how it has been developed and expressed as a result of terroir and winemaking, and not by an arbitrary 'Group' classification.

Regional differences are important, and should be recognized as such and encouraged. Wine Spider does not promote the concept of universal wine making by formula; rather, that the component parts that are common in all great wines are observed without prejudice or influence, and are considered objectively and in a learned manner.

Wine Spider also gives the ability to store the evaluation of a wine in a computer, which makes it possible to return to that same wine at a later date and track its evolution in the bottle. It is then possible to map the progress or decline of a wine over a period of time.

The evaluation of a wine over a period of time will allow an overlay of the Wine Spider score to occur, and visually provide a quick reference as to the direction in which the wine is heading. If the area of the Wine Spider web is increasing, and the individual ratings are being scored higher, then the wine is improving in all sectors. However, if on the other hand the Wine Spider is reducing in size, then the wine is beginning to fade and should be consumed sooner than later.

Wine Spider also provides the wine maker or professional merchant with the ability to visually observe a wine's trend, say prior to bottling, immediately after bottling and some time later again, with the view to create a visual map of how the component parts are tracking. From a wine buyer's point of view, in a restaurant or wine shop with little time to read detailed tasting notes, the Wine Spider has proved to be most effective in making quality buying decisions quickly. In terms of matching wine and food a visual examination of the Wine Spider will reveal a wine's strengths and weakness and determine factors such as acid / oiliness, compatibility between wine and food pairings.

Consumers can also compare their evaluations of wines with those of other wine authorities and thus establish a profile of the authorities' strengths and weaknesses compared with their own. The Wine Spider provides an overlay of expert opinion over consumer opinion and thus quickly establishes a rapport between the experts and the public.

The Wine Spider evaluation web is easily 'transportable' across National and International boundaries and produces the first universal comparative evaluation technique. Language differences no longer impact upon the interpretation of a wine, as careful observation is all that is required to create a web that can be understood universally.

Like all evaluation techniques there are limitations, and for a complete and comprehensive description of a wine, words are also necessary; however pictures, numbers and a Wine Spider web provide the complete portrait of a wine.

Words on their own are useful but have their own shortcomings as descriptors, since many wine experts have tended to invent their own vocabulary in order to protect their 'High Priest' status as authorities. The classic descriptors offered by one visiting English Master of Wine when confronted by a big North East Victorian red was that "It smells like fresh droppings from a Suffolk lamb on a summer's day in a Sussex lane." Another learned English wine writer came up with the innovative expression of "Dingo doo" as an aroma found in Goulburn Valley Shiraz. These terms are totally meaningless and beg the question. What are these English MW's doing sniffing up all these arses and piles of shit?

In the Wine Spider wine program the topics of a meaningful wine language are detailed, and a set of wine terms which are universal and have as their basis the presence of specific chemical compounds, and thus molecules, is discussed in detail.

The Wine Spider is based around the four major categories of wine evaluation:

  1. Sight
  2. Nose
  3. Palate
  4. Finish
  1. Sight consists of four categories:
    (a) colour
    (b) viscosity
    (c) brilliance
    (d) depth
  2. Nose consists of four categories:
    (a) aroma
    (b) faults
    (c) variety
    (d) intensity
  3. Palate consists of four categories:
    (a) complexity
    (b) concentration
    (c) fruit
    (d) length
  4. Finish consists of four categories:
    (a) aftertaste
    (b) balance
    (c) tannin / phenolics
    (d) acid