About the 20 Point System


A few days ago, I received an email from a subscriber asking if he could obtain permission to use my 20 point system in a blind Barbera tasting and what it would cost. I replied: "It won't cost you anything and you don't need my permission." I explained that the system isn't really new, It was originated by the University of California at Davis in the late 1950's.


The Davis 20 point system was commonly used in evaluating wines until the Wine Advocate and the Wine Spectator came along with the 100 point system. The Davis faculty experimented with 100 points in the 1940's, then came to the conclusion later that a 20 point system provided more precise results. The Davis system assigned points on a form: Clarity (2 points) Color (2) Bouquet (4) Total acidity (1) Sweetness (1) Body/Texture (2) Flavor/Taste (2) Acescensy (Bitterness) (1) Astingency (1) Overall quality (4). The last allows for more subjectivity than the other criteria, but less so than a 100 point scale. I generally don't use the forms when evaluating, but have them in the back of my head.


One interesting thing about the U.C. Davis system is that wines scoring 17-20 points are considered "wines of outstanding characteristics having no defects." This must mean that some wines are more outstanding than others. This is what the 17-20 point range means to me:


17 points - Very good, above the average for "premium" wines.

18 points - Exceptional, particularly fine wines.

18.5 points - A step higher, more complex and nuanced.

19 points - Outstanding, wines with great complexity.

19.5 points - A step higher into the realm of superlative depth and complexity.


Occasionally (but not often) I will use a + to indicate a wine that is a notch above it's point level in complexity.


The beauty of the 20 point system is its simplicity which reduces (but does not eliminate) the influence of subjectivity into the evaluation process. Wines get rated on the basis of their overall balance and total performance. This is what I strive to do.


For more information about the Davis 20 Point System go to: http://www.musingsonthevine.com/tops_rate.shtml


Super September Buys at Esquin


In its September mailer, Esquin Wine Merchants is offering more great buys. Here are three that are not to be missed.


2008 Barnard Griffin Pinot Gris, Columbia Valley ($7.99 bottle / Regular $13)

This is one of the best buys in an everyday white I've found in a long time. Rich nose of melon, peach and honeysuckle. The fruit compote flavors are bright and vivid with cream and lichee nut undertones. The lively juiciness pour on through into a bright orange peel and lime juice finish. 17.5/20 points.


2004 Sandhill Merlot, Red Mountain ($9.99 bottle / Regular $25)

Esquin sold out of the 2003 vintage, and now has the 2004. It emits a bouquet of roasted berries and cherries, cigar box and sage. The dark flavors are underlain with Red Mountain loam and minerals along with bittersweet chocolate, espresso and roasted nuts followed by dry tannins. The only negative is the slightly bitter dusty tannin edge on the finish (drink with a juicy steak to cut this edge). Hence 18.5 points minus .5 points for acescensy (bitterness) - see the 20 point system above - equals 18/20 points, still impressive for $9.99.


2006 Waters Syrah, Columbia Valley ($18.99 bottle / Regular $28)

Principally from the Minnick vineyard near Prosser, this wine exhibits a deep color with a rich, smoky boysenberry and cassis nose with scents of crushed roses, tobacco and sage. The rich earthy, terroir-driven flavors are underlain with basalt minerals and tones of espresso coffee, licorice and bittersweet chocolate. The back palate contains vibrant pomegranate and plum fruits that are imbued with a creme brulee texture and spices in the silky tannin finish. It doesn't hit you as being real big, but the nuances are more complex than any Syrah I've tasted for under $20. 18.5/20 points.