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Our scoring system explained

The Globe and Mail's 100-point scoring system represents the critic's overall, gut-level impression of a wine, spirit or beer. Canadians generally are comfortable with the 100-point scale because it's widely used in high schools and universities to grade assignments. However - more or less in keeping with the international norm of 100-point wine scoring - the starting point for a pleasant beverage that deserves to be recommended is roughly 75. Below 75 denotes a substandard product we feel is not worthy of attention.

Here's what the numbers mean:

90 to 100: extraordinary - great complexity and harmony of flavours

85 to 89: very good - well-crafted, often a fine example of its category, just not a blockbuster

80 to 84: good - pleasant, well-made but lacking a special spark

75 to 79: fair -gulpable, decent but unmemorable

The number takes into account a variety of accepted attributes. Colour is given marginal consideration, whereas aroma, flavour complexity and balance are given the most weight.

These are the scoring criteria (taking wine as the example):

* Colour: A young wine should have a brilliant hue. Some styles are naturally light in colour, such as sauvignon blanc and pinot noir, whereas others, notably cabernet sauvignon and syrah, tend to be more saturated because of the grape's pigmentation. Wines sold several years after harvest -- notably Rioja from Spain, which tends to be cellared for extended periods prior to release - may show a brick-like tinge in the glass around the fluid's rim if red or a dark-yellow colour if white. Those are not considered defects but rather appropriate signs of age.

* Aroma: Wines that display a complex layering of nuances tend to garner higher scores. Those with simpler aromatics will score lower. A white muscadet, for example, tends to have muted aromatics, so it's unlikely to garner a 95, as a great cabernet might. It may be a fine muscadet, just less arresting than the finest cabernets. Again, this is in keeping with the generally accepted principle of 100-point scoring.

* Complexity: A wine, spirit or beer should never be a one-note affair. Ideally, it will deliver layers of flavour - nuances that unfold as you swirl, sip, swallow and savour.

* Balance: A harmonious balance of tastes, most importantly between fruity sweetness and crisp acidity, is critical. Other factors can contribute to balance as well. A wine that displays too much oak from time spent in barrel, for example, without sufficient fruit ripeness and concentration to support the wood's vanilla, coconut or toasty components is considered off-kilter. The bottom line: Is it harmonious? Would you crave a second glass?

* Varietal "typicity": Each grape (often a wine will be a blend of several) tends to have a signature flavour profile. Wines are judged heavily against those established norms. Good pinot noirs, for example, tend to be medium-bodied and display nuances of fresh berries. Many of the best, notably as exemplified by fine red Burgundy, also can offer up an earthy note of beetroot as well as hints of spice, such as cinnamon. But flavours tend to vary from region to region, so each wine is judged with consideration to its geographical origin.

* Finish: The flavour of a good wine tends to linger in the mouth. This is one reason full-bodied reds, such as cabernet sauvignon and syrah, tend to score higher than wines based on generally less-persistent varieties, such as gamay.

* Cellar-worthiness: Only a small fraction of wines are built for aging. Those that are (and they tend to be expensive, usually above $25 but often much more) qualify for a higher score because it's assumed they often will be consumed down the road as their flavours blossom.

* Flaws: Wine and cork are natural products. They can behave in unpredictable ways. Too much oxygen contact, from negligent winemaking or a faulty cork, leads to pruny, bruised-fruit flavour in reds, for example. Unsanitary winemaking can lead to a number of problems, including volatile acidity, or a vinegary smell and taste. A minute amount of volatile acidity may be considered pleasant in some wines, but the flavour should never be conspicuous. A flawed wine that might otherwise rate a high score for its essential flavour will get a lower score depending on the degree of the defect. Wines so flawed as to be unpleasant in the mouth generally are described as such if they are reviewed at all, and they are given a score below 75.