Posts Tagged ‘HistoryOf100PointScale’

“That we may know the relative value of their own manufacture”:  The spread of the 100-point wine scale in late 19th century America

January 6, 2015 5 comments

By the 1850s Ohio was the largest wine producing state in the country with the Catawba vine the mostly widely planted.  These vines soon began to show disease.  In response, the American Wine Growers’ Association of Cincinnati, Ohio set out to find hardier vines that would produce wine just as good as their favorite Catawba.  To evaluate experimental lots of wine the Association developed a 100-point wine scale which they first employed in 1853.  This scale continued to be used by the Association for the rating of all wines through at least 1870.  Ohio was not the only state to employ the 100-point scale.

The spread of the 100-point scale follows the rise of state horticultural societies interested in the cultivation of vineyards and production of wine. The spread appears particularly active in the 1860s.  There was an interest in improving the quality of wine to gain access to the sales market of domestic and foreign wine.  The scale facilitated judging committees in picking the top wines from several dozen samples as well as to compare both within and across tastings.  Judging committees were typically made up of three to five members.  The final score for a wine was simply the average of each judge’s score.  The top wines were then those with the highest final score.

Best Catawba. [4]

Best Catawba. [4]

The scale was actively used by several associations in Missouri.  Wines were exhibited at the fourth annual Missouri State Horticultural Society meeting held in January 1863.[1]  Though this was the second time wines were showed it appears to be the first in which they were rated.  The American Pomological Society held a large exhibition of American wines in St. Louis, Missouri during September, 1867.[2]  Not only were their wines from various states but so were the judges.  The committee that rated the Catawba wines was composed of two men from Ohio and one from Washington.  The 100-point scale continued to be used throughout the 1860s[3]  such as by the Mississippi Valley Grape Growers’ Association.[4]

Illinois wine ratings. [11]

Illinois wine ratings. [11]

Other states soon followed as evidenced by the report on the annual meeting of the Illinois State Horticultural Society in 1868.[5]  Here the Wine Committee did not use a “general comparative scale” rather one that was a “specific standard for each particular grape.”  Any new varieties would be compared using the scale of the wine most similar.  The Iowa State Agricultural Society used the scale in 1870 with “100 points representing perfection”.[6]  This is in contrast to the goal-minded Ohio scale where 100 was the benchmark of “good Catawba”.  The State Pomological Society of Michigan used the scale at their 1874 meeting.[7]  It is here that the 85 point “John Reisig’s Norton’s Virginia” was described as “considered as equal to many of the fine Bordeaux wines of France.”

PLATE II.- Lower Portion of Center Piece. [Midwinter International Exposition]  [8]

PLATE II.- Lower Portion of Center Piece. [Midwinter International Exposition] [8]

In response to a “trying experience at Chicago” the California Board of State Viticultural Commissioners implemented a study to determine the best system for making awards.[8]  This study was made by Arpad Haraszthy and implemented for the Midwinter International Exposition held in San Francisco during 1894.  The judging requirements were quite thorough with serving temperatures of 60 °F to 65 °F for red wines, 50 °F to 57 °F for white wines, and 40 °F to 50 °F for sparkling wines.  The wines were to be judged in a room at 60 °F and tasted out of regulation glasses that were “thin” and “perfectly white”.  The bottles were to be presented wrapped in paper with the corks and capsules already removed.  Still wines were judged on eight different categories and sparkling wines on ten.  For each category “if perfect, would be given 100” otherwise a lower number would be assigned.  The points for each category were totaled up then divided by the number of categories resulting in a final score out of 100 points.

  1. Brightness of the wine
  2. Beauty of color or shades of color
  3. Perfection of bouquet
  4. Purity and delicacy of taste
  5. Quality of body
  6. Quality of savor
  7. Proper alcohol strength
  8. Harmonious perfection of the whole
  9. [Sparkling only] Vivacity of spark
  10. [Sparkling only] Duration of sparkle

Amongst the various societies, the 100-point wine scale was applied both uniformly across wine types and also specific to a wine type.  The point range itself was also used to different affect.  In Ohio the full range of points from 0 through 100 was used.  The tasters in Missouri were a bit more practical, perhaps due to tasting bad wine, with “100 being the maximum, or the best wine ever tried, and 50 the minimum. What was under 50 was considered unworthy of mention.”  Robert Parker famously employs the 50 to 100 point range in The Wine Advocate.  The Missouri comments echo Hugh Johnson’s comparison of Robert Parker’s scale to the “American High School marking system” where “you get 50 points just for showing up”.[9]

However, I do not believe the 100-point scale is based on any school marking system.  The period of interest was a time of great scientific curiosity about the best practices to cultivate a vineyard, manufacture wine, and determine the composition of wine.  For example, the term “wine scale”, meaning hydrometer, appears throughout the 1840s and 1850s in the reports of the American Wine Growers’ Association.[10]  Discussions appear obsessive with accounts of must measurements, specific gravity, temperature, sugar, and alcohol.  The goal was to produce the best “pure wine” so these measurements were viewed as important.  A hydrometer measures the density of the grape must which indicates the level of grape ripeness and sugar content.  The sugar level in turn suggests the alcohol level of the finished wine.  Wines that were made from the addition of sugar could be ruled out by a committee.

Oechsle Must Scale. 1862. [12]

Oechsle Must Scale. 1862. [12]

The tie between the 100-point scale and the science of the vine and wine needs further exploration.  An early, albeit contrary, tie is illustrated in the letters exchanged between John H. Carleton of Arkansas, a vineyard owner and winemaker, with the editor of The Grape Culturist in 1870.[11]  The editor went so far as to claim John H. Carleton “confounds Oechsle’s must scale with the imaginary scale of taste of a wine committee”.  At the time an Oechsle’s Must-Scale was divided into degrees from 50 to 100 which was the same range of points used to score wine in Missouri.[12]

[1] Proceedings of the Missouri State Horticultural Society. 1863. URL:
[2] Reavis, L. U. Saint Louis: the Future Great City of the World. 1871. URL:
[3] Annual Report of the State Board of Agriculture, Volume 4. 1869. URL:
[4] Fifth Annual Report of the State Board of Agriculture. 1870. URL:
[5] Transactions of the Illinois State Horticultural Society, Volume 2. 1869. URL:
[6] Annual Report of the Iowa State Agricultural Society. 1870. URL:
[7] Annual Report of the Secretary of the State Horticultural Society of Michigan, Volume 4. 1875. URL:
[8] Annual Report of the Board of State Viticultural Commissioners. 1890. URL:
[9] Johnson, Hugh. Wine A Life Uncorked.  University of California Press.
[10] The Horticultural review and botanical magazine, Volume 1. 1851. URL:
[11] Husmann, George H. The Grape Culturist, Volume 2. 1870. URL:
[12] Haraszthy, Agoston. Grape culture, wines and wine-making. 1862. URL:

“Assuming 100 to be the standard for best”: The 100-point wine scale predates Robert Parker’s by 125 years

December 31, 2014 1 comment

During my recent visit to Albuquerque I came across numerous references indicating that the wines of Bernalillo, located just north of Albuquerque, were celebrated next to those of El Paso in what is now Texas.  One such example appears in Colonel James F. Meline’s account of his summer tour Two Thousand Miles on Horseback (1866).[1] Colonel Meline took time to stop and taste several of the wines in Bernalillo.  He found that the “wines are capable, with proper treatment, of being made excellent” from the “superior” grapes.  Unfortunately, the wine was “inexpertly handled” and “used almost as fast as made”.  Thus old wines were “almost out of the question.”  It was later in Albuquerque that he was able to drink a Bernalillo wine “that was quite as good as any made at El Paso.”

Colonel Meline must have been suitably impressed by the Bernalillo wine he tasted in Albuquerque for he sent two bottles to the American Wine Growers’ Association of Cincinnati, Ohio.  The Association published in its proceedings, which Colonel Meline reproduced in his appendix, that the 1861 white wine received a “vote 90” and the red wine “81.”  According to George Graham, Esquire, President of the Association, the white wine “was considered better than most wines of the same age, either of Catawba or good Rhine wine.”  The wines were judged “by figures marked up to 100, which is the highest character of wine of any kind…Most of our Ohio wine does not reach the excellence of the wine presented to you.”


It is by pure chance then that I should encounter descriptions of an early 100-point rating system in the history of the wines of New Mexico.  The rating system was equally applied to all wines and in this instance alone, to those of New Mexico, Ohio, and Germany. This is a remarkable discovery given that Robert Parker is credited with promulgating the 100-point scale over a century later with his launch of The Wine Advocate in 1978.  This scale is much criticized by Hugh Johnson who wrote it “is apparently based on the American High School marking system”.[2]  There were earlier 100-point scales in use such as one created by Professor William Cruess in 1935.[3]  That the scale used by the American Wine Growers’ Association predates Prohibition and even the American Civil War places it in the early years of the American commercial wine industry.

The American Wine Growers Association of Cincinnati was founded in 1851 as an outgrowth of the Cincinnati Horticultural Society.[4]  It was modeled on the German Wein Bau Verbesserungs Gesellschaft (Wine Farmers’ Improvement Society) to “promote the cultivation of the grape, the preparation of wine in its greatest purity, and the encouragement of such efforts”.  The society was to measure “the specific gravity of wines, and noting their properties and qualities.”  This was a very important association for by 1859, Ohio was the top producer of wine in America.[5]


The Wine Growers Association held monthly meetings where they visited vineyards, discussed techniques, and tasted wines.  They immediately held a “Wine Examination” where they tasted 45 different wines on March 29, 1851.  These wines were “marked with numbers, in uniform bottles, without any designation”.  The wines were tasted four at a time with each member of the committee silently voting on their “choice sample”.  From each group, the bottle with the majority vote was set aside for additional rounds of tasting until the top three wines were chosen.  This method remained the standard for nearly two years.

The association continued to critically examine and rank wine. The majority of the wines tasted were made from Catawba since that was the favorite grape of the state.  The Association soon realized that it needed to hedge against the increasing spread of Catawba vines exhibiting disease.  To find other hardy varieties that made equally good wine, a group of eight gentlemen visited the estate of Nicholas Longworth during October 1852.  Nicholas Longworth is considered a pioneer in the American wine commercial industry.  Over several years Nicholas Longworth had accumulated some 100 grapevines from different parts of America.   The group took the opportunity to taste and note grapes from 27 different varieties.  From these vines Nicholas Longworth produced small batches of wine that were submitted to the association for critical tasting.  These wines were tasted several months later on January 29, 1853.  For the first time, the wines were rated using a 100-point scale with “good Catawba being assumed 100”.[6]  The scale allowed the Association to decide “upon the merits of the wines”.   The tasters assigned a “grade…at such lower number as he deemed it entitled to”.  Final grades were formed from all of the results.

Rating of Nicholas Longworth's wines using 100-point scale.

Rating of Nicholas Longworth’s wines using 100-point scale.

Here are a few of the wines rated on January 29, 1853.

Of Mr. Longworth’s specimens, “all new wines”:

  • Cox, rated at 70. High perfume: Mosher, marked 100.
  • Danville, rated at 50. High flavor, Brace; others poor.
  • Winter, rated at 24. Some marked 0.
  • Fermented on skin, rated as 31. Marked 0 by three.

Mr. Rehfuss’ “experimental wines”

  • Catawba, 1851, manured, rated 97.
  • Catawba, 1851, not manured, rated 89.
  • Catawba, 1852, manured, rated 100. Better than other new wines.
  • Catawba, 1852, not manured, rated 92.

Other wines:

  • Catawba (Ohio) 1848, Rehfuss, rated 93. Good.
  • Catawba (Kentucky) 1848, Rehfuss, rated 93. Good.
  • Catawba (Kentucky) 1852, J. Rintz, rated 91. Fine, very good.
  • Missouri, 1848, rated 35. Spoiled.
  • Foreign wine, (Hock,) 1846, rated 45. Very pleasant.
  • Foreign wine, (Hock,) 1846, rated 71. Very bitter.

I have not yet found any discussion regarding the specific implementation of this scale.  It does appear this scale was required to scientifically determine the best replacement for the Catawba vine.  This 100-point scale became the subsequent standard for all of the Association’s tastings including the best in class tastings.  The scale was applied to both experimental and commercial domestic wine as well as foreign wines.  The scale continued to be used as a “vote upon the quality” of wine through at least 1870.[7]  The results of these tastings were published in horticultural journals and occasionally in the newspapers.  It appears that the 100-point scale has deeper roots in the American wine industry than previously credited.

[1] Meline, James Florant. Two Thousand Miles on Horseback. 1868. URL:
[2] Johnson, Hugh. Wine A Life Uncorked.  University of California Press.
[3] Noble, A.C. “Wine tasting is a science”, California Agriculture, July 1980. URL:
[4] The Horticultural review and botanical magazine, Volume 1. 1851. URL:
[5] History of Ohio Wines. The Ohio Department of Agriculture. URL:
[6] The Horticultural review and botanical magazine, Volume 3. 1853. URL:
[7] American Wine-Growers’ Association. Saturday, June 25. Date: Sunday, June 26, 1870    Paper: Cincinnati Daily Enquirer (Cincinnati, OH)   Volume: XXXIV   Issue: 176   Page: 4