Halliday points – ratings of Australian wines compared to French, German and others

In the 2010 list of “James Halliday’s Top 100 Wines” in The Australian newspaper (13th Nov 2010) James Halliday answers the question of whether or not his ratings for Australian sparkling wines are comparable to the point scores he gives for the Champagnes (the only imports featured on the list).  And he says…..

“no they are not.  Nor would points for great red burgundies compare to those for Australian and New Zealand pinot noirs, First Growth Bordeauxs with Margaret River cabernet merlots.”

It’s very good that Halliday makes this clear.  It would be easy to think that the points in his Australian Wine Companion were against some international standard, but like most wine writers based firmly within one market (Halliday is the leading Australian wine writer) he has to give his readers what they want – which is high scores for local wines.  John Platter one year experimented with giving internationally based points for his South African wine annual, and experienced an immediate backlash from his readers (and no doubt the SA wineries).

Halliday’s mention of “great red burgundies” and “First Growth Bordeauxs” (sic)  is truly odd though.  Is he saying that the points aren’t comparable against these pinnacle wines, but would be comparable against lesser French wines?  But that doesn’t make sense because the points he gives for first growths are, of course, comparable against the points he gives for 2nd growths, and 3rd, 4th, 5th and unclassed Bordeaux.

Ah well, all is explained when he writes “points are as subjective as the words in tasting notes….Australian can never make Champagne, a Burgundy or a Bordeaux [nor presumably a Hermitage?  I ask] so direct point comparison is fraught with contradictions and qualifications”.  Hmmmm, indeed, such as the contradiction above.

The only way to make sense of this is to infer that Halliday is saying that his points are very contextual and should only be used to compare like with like, e.g. Champagne with Champagne.  What’s not clear is whether or not Margaret River cabernet can be compared with a less successful region for the variety (say Hunter Valley).  Also is the rating for a $10 wine comparable to a rating for a $50 wine – here Halliday often hints that they can, that he doesn’t factor in price, but I suspect that in reality he does.

Personally I adopt the practice of allocating points against an international standard.  They reflect the excitment the wine gives me – from its quality, not novelty.  But I know I judge the wine within a price level, so I’m not quite so hard on cheap wines and somewhat harder on the very expensive.  In other words, I have certain expectations before tasting a wine which I know I can’t entirely shake off.

Unlike most wine writers I’m not writing for my living, so I don’t have to review “new releases” all the time (in fact I hardly ever review these).  So I can allocate points largely on how the wine tastes like now (not a guess on how great it will be), this means that old wines will usually out-score young wines, as would be expected.  Dishing out 100 points to a barely fermented red seems odd to me – can it not get better (only worse)?

So I think the highest rated wine on this blog currently is the glorious Chateau Rausan-Segla 1985 (rated in 2010, i.e. at 25 years old).

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2 thoughts on “Halliday points – ratings of Australian wines compared to French, German and others

  1. Ahhh… rating numbers again. First, we know human beings are not born with rating scales built in their heads. Even using Best-Worst Scaling, which can get closer to ratio-level comparisons, than other measurement techniques, only the items shown are compared; measurements are relative. Anything not tested cannot be compared, and might be better (more important) than the items or scenarios tested. It is hard to imagine keeping all wines simultaneously in one’s head in order to make relative and valid point scores.

    Second, I see nothing wrong with individuals rating wines. Their scores represent their value system as best as they can remember and maintain some constant criteria. But these scores still represent someone’s implicit value system for wines, which may not coincide with mine or someone else’s, especially if we have different wine experiences and different physical receptors.

  2. I´m not a big fan of using point systems when it comes to rating such things as wines.
    The subject is just far too complex to be summed up in such a mathematical order.

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