This 20-point score sheet was adapted from the UC Davis scoring system, pioneered some 50 years ago by Maynard Amerine and others. The concept is to analyze how a wine looks, smells and tastes, with a few extra points at the end for overall ranking. Assume every wine is perfect, then start knocking off points in half-point (0.5) increments based on your appreciation for the wine. Once you’ve done this many times, you will build in your own internal rating system, based on your sensitivities and personal preferences. You will be able to put things into context with other wines you’ve liked, or not. The ultimate goal is developing your own calibration system because it’s all about the most important bottom line: if you like it, it’s good!

Here is the Rosetta Stone for decoding the scale:

PHILOSOPHY ON TASTING – the 20-point UC Davis scale

(To be used with the scoring)

  • Assume that a wine is perfect is each category and work down in half-point. (.5) increments, rather than starting with zero and working up.
  • With modern technology, the “look” of a wine is rarely wrong. The obvious aberrations are white wines that are turning brown from oxydation, red wines that are much too thin and watery for the style, and any wine that is cloudy from bacteria.
  • There is nothing wrong with sediment. There is nothing wrong with tartrate crystals, which can form on cork or in the bottom of wine that hasn’t been cold stabilized.
  • On the smell, look for nuances such as any regional characteristics (terroir), wood aging or the blending of different grapes (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, for example). Is it true to the varietal? Does the wine have a distinct style, or is it just pure grape juice? What raises it above the ordinary and expected?
  • Vinegariness is rare; it shouldn’t be there.
  • On sugar, dry wines should be dry – fitting the category – and dessert wines should be sweet. There are many levels in between, whether it’s a German Mosel or a French Champagne (Brut, Dry, Extra Dry, etc.).
  • On body, the feel should also be appropriate to the style. Put it into the proper framework, such as a powerful Rhone, a subtle Burgundy, a steely and delicate Chablis, a rich Bordeaux with nuances from four or five different grapes, a spicy Gewurztraminer and wines with other characteristics.
  • On flavor, the acids, sugar, body and fruit come together for an impression. Does it taste good? To you? Not to anyone else.
  • Astringency refers to the tannins you feel on the edge of your palate (tongue), particularly in young red wines. Tannins in themselves are not a fault because they contribute to aging. Again, is it appropriate to the wine, its age, style, origins, grapes and what the vintage offered?
  • Overall quality is a summation. You really like it and want to set aside several cases for your cellar (closet), you may buy a few bottles, or you will avoid it.
  • The most important: youare the judge. Some people are more sensitive to sugars, others to acids, tannins or fruit. Our palates have individual personalities and sensitivities. The more you taste, the more your sensitivities emerge. You calibrate your taste buds and set your own standards. And as it develops, you can’t be wrong about a wine. It is your palate and judgment. You are always right. Someone else may have a sensitivity that makes a different opinion right for him or her. Enjoy!
Great, classic




Average to good


Below average



Below 14