Monday, May 27, 2024

Score data show that wine vintages have generally improved in quality recently

There are many people and organizations that report on wine quality. Sometimes there is a simple 3-star system for each wine, where increasing stars indicate increasing quality. Other times there is a numerical system, notably either 10, 20 or 100 points (although the latter actually covers only 50 points, since the lowest score is 50 points).

One thing we might be interested in, though, is whether those scores have changed in any repeatable way through time, between vintages. Obviously, we could not look at all of the scores, because there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of them. What we need is some way of simplifying things.

One way to do this is, instead of being concerned with scores for each vintage of individual wines, we use a single score for a whole wine-making region for each vintage. That is, there would be one number summarizing the vintage quality on average across a specified wine-making region, which is a much more manageable set of numbers.

Wine Enthusiast title

The best known of these regional systems is the one provided by Wine Enthusiast: The Official 2024 Wine Vintage Chart. They note:
Wine Enthusiast reviewers update the vintage chart annually to reflect [environmental] factors and indicate the average quality and drinkability of vintage-dated wines to help you know which to buy and when to enjoy them. The ratings are broad indications, however, so be aware that many wineries make excellent wines in lower–rated years.
The score interpretations are listed as:
  • 98—100   Classic
  • 94—97    Superb
  • 90—93    Excellent
  • 87—89    Very Good
  • 83—86    Good
  • 80—82    Acceptable
Wine Enthusiast uses some of the previously defined official geographical regions within each wine–producing country, and a single quality score is provided for each region each year. However, to simplify things for my purposes here, I have averaged the scores across six broad combinations of these regions:
  • France
  • Italy
  • Rest of Europe (Spain, Portugal, Germany, Austria)
  • California
  • Rest of USA (Oregon, Washington, New York)
  • Southern hemisphere (Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Chile, Argentina).
Data are currently provided by Wine Enthusiast for the 26 years 1997—2022, inclusive. I have plotted my yearly averages of these data in the graphs below.

France average quality scores

Note that for France the scores for the years 1997—2008 are low, for 2009—2017 they are erratic, and for 2015—2022 they are high.

Italy average quality scores

For Italy the data generally vary within a narrow range, but that several poor years were also present.

Rest of Europe average quality scores

For the Rest of Europe average scores generally seem to increase.

California average quality scores

For California, the scores are erratic for the years 1997—2011, and are then higher for 2012—2022.

Rest of USA average quality scores

For the Rest of the USA_graph, the scores follow roughly this same pattern as for California. That is, it is a general pattern for North America.

Southern hemisphere average quality scores

For the Southern Hemisphere graph, the scores for 1997—2004 are low, for 2005—2017 they are erratic, and for 2018—2022 the scores are relatively high.

Returning now to my original question, about possible consistent patterns through time, one interesting question is about whether there is actually an increase in average quality score through time, in any of these graphs. Mathematically, for a linear increase this is measured by the Coefficient of Determination, as a percentage (0—100%). The numbers for our graphs are:
  • France                        67%
  • Italy                             1%
  • Rest of Europe            51%
  • California                   36%
  • Rest of USA                 39%
  • Southern hemisphere  39%
Note that France is apparently very linear (two-thirds percentage), while the linearity of the increase for the Rest of Europe was referred to above (half percentage). Three of the other regions are also notably linear (one-third percentage).

As a visualization, for France I have added the line of best fit to this next copy of the scores graph, to illustrate the increase. Apparently, French wine has continued to get better over the past 2.5 decades. This cannot continue indefinitely, of course, although the line on the graph forecasts that an average quality score of 100 will be achieved in c. 2040 (16 vintages from now)!

France linear trend in average quality scores

My analysis here is mainly theoretical, of course. First, there is the matter of how much practical value there is to a single quality score for a whole region. Clearly, vintages vary in response to the weather, and so we do recognize differences in quality, and we can clearly put a number to this, as provided by Wine Enthusiast. Second, there is the matter of whether we can average these regional scores across larger areas, as I have done here. Numbers can always be averaged, and this is basically what Wine Enthusiast does for the regions anyway, by averaging the wines themselves; and so I am simply extending that concept. Third, the linear trends clearly evident in two of the graphs, and to a lesser extent in three others, is noteworthy; but it is unclear that there is any simple interpretation of this.


  1. I'm afraid that is a misinterpretation of data. As wine prices keep increasing at an alarming rate, there's obviously a need for inflating wine scores. After all, would consumers pay $ 250 for a 90 or 91 point California Cab or a Cru Classe from the Medoc? I think not...
    you can go around most well established wine regions and repeat this argument.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.



      You are making a Quality-to-Price-Ratio argument in favor of "good value" . . . and what an astute wine buyer would rationally pay for a bottle.

      But those First Growth and Second Growth and maybe even Third Growth Bordeaux producers don't necessarily lower their asking prices in an "average" quality year.

      Likewise "cult" Napa Valley producers.

      Many of those "average" quality overpriced Napa wines "disappear" from sellers' unsold inventories through "flash sales" at deeply discounted prices.

      I invite you to read this Los Angeles Times article published during The Great Recession when Napa Valley "cult" Cabs went begging for buyers:

      "Glass is half-empty for premium-priced Cabernets"


      ~~ Bob

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.


      Further commenting on this subject . . .

      From the current issue of Wine Spectator magazine (July 31, 2024) one finds this "Grapevine" news column (page 15) by Mitch Frank:

      "Bordeaux Cuts Prices in Hope of Sales"

      URL: [ not available . . . yet ]

      "When the top names in Bordeaux began releasing their futures for the 2023 vintage at the end of April, the prices were impressive. Château Lafite Rothschild offered its futures for 31% less than the 2022 futures. Neighbor Mouton-Rothschild countered with a 36% price drop. Haut-Brion followed with a 39% reduction. Cheval Blanc trimmed by 20%. Super seconds Lynch-Bages and Léoville Las Cases also cut prices by more than 30%.

      "It appears that many leading châteaus heard the message from négociants, retailers and consumers: The 2023 vintage, which is not a blockbuster (see James Molesworth's impressions 'Key Takeaways for 2023 Futures,' page 34), needed to be priced [lower] to sell. And most wineries (though not all) complied. So could this reenergize the futures game?

      "How Did Bordeaux Get in This Mess?

      "The premise of en primeurs is fairly simple: The top wineries of the region sell futures the spring after harvest, while the wines are still aging in barrels. They get cash up front. The négociants -- as well as the retailers, restaurants and consumers they sell the futures to -- get first dibs on the wine, theoretically at a lower than when it's bottled and released two years later.

      "Five vintages shatter this concept, however 2022, 2021, 2020, 2018 and 2017. According to Liv-Ex, a London-based marketplace that tracks collectible wines, the current prices of the top 500 Bordeaux estates from those five harvests are all below their futures prices. Only the 2019 vintage has proven a worthwhile investment.

      "For a decade now, châteaus have been aggressive with pricing, using futures less as a sales opportunity and more as a way to position their brands as true luxuries. They've also released smaller amounts of futures, creating scarcity. But in recent years, the wines haven't been selling well."

  2. A lot of college education gets a lot of credit. I never made wine but attended Napa Valley College 4 years. Now, for 20 years, many go to school to learn actual vine science, from dirt and roots, all the way through what temperature to toast a barrel for different flavors. Worldwide we are tasting well made wines, grown well, and hi scores probably are the result. Nobody can sell mediocre wine and the market can be ruthless.