by Alexander J. Pandell, Ph.D.

I have devised a system of numerical descriptors for wine tasting based on six important characteristics of a wine: Color, Nose, Fruit, Acid, Tannin, and End. (Is the scientist in me showing?) CNFATE is the acronym pronounced “SIN-fate.” In addition, another indicator, TFR (Tannin-to-Fruit Ratio), is introduced to give a more complete picture of the wine. Each category (C,N,F,A,T,E and TFR) is described by a number between 1 and 5 that has a specific definition. It is important to remember that CNFATE-TFR is a system of numerical descriptors, NOT numerical ratings. A perfect set of descriptors are 5,5,5,3,3,5 with a TFR of 3. A SCORE based on a 100-point scale is also reported for each wine. There is a direct relationship between the numerical descriptors assigned a wine and the SCORE given that wine. Not only is the SCORE consistent with CNFATE/TFR, but it includes a small intangible component related to my overall appraisal of the wine. The result is that two wines could have identical numerical descriptors, but slightly different SCORES. The difference is usually not more than three points out of 100. The CNFATE/TFR numerical descriptor system is easy to use and understand, and avoids the repetition inherent in describing wine with words. It also allows for a concise, organized, logical listing of wines.


CNFATE and TFR make it easier to calibrate your palate with mine and other tasters. You may not agree with my assessment of a wine but with CNFATE and TFR you will be able to quickly see where we differ. Specific aroma and flavor descriptions such as cedar, chocolate, mint, tobacco, cigar box, coffee, prune, fig, green bean, green olive, etc. are avoided since it’s very difficult to get an aroma and flavor consensus for the variety of palates represented by wine consumers. Different people have different perceptions of aromas and tastes. One person might describe a flavor in a wine as strawberry while another will call it raspberry. Both descriptions are valid for each taster. Each knows what THEY taste.

DEFINITIONS: A list of CNFATE and TFR numerical descriptor definitions follow.

C: Color. Red wines:

5=dark red (ruby, garnet, purple), opaque;

4=very dark but not opaque;

3=medium red;

2=light red;

1=very light red.

One asterisk (*) following number (e.g., 2*) indicates brick/brown edges. Two asterisks (e.g., 2**) denotes brown throughout the wine.

C: Color – White wines:

5=very deep golden yellow;

4=deep golden yellow;

3=medium yellow color;

2=light yellow color;


One asterisk (*) following the number indicates a wine with a rusty or orange-yellow color. For white wines this is usually a sign of oxidation and spoilage.

N: Nose (odor, aroma).

5=strong aromas associated with principal varietal; very desirable aromas associated with fermentation and bottle aging; strong, pleasant aromas associated with the wine type (e.g., good red burgundy possesses a nose that is sometimes described as earth, barnyard, or truffle. These are considered desirable characteristics if they do not overwhelm the wine.)

4=very pleasant aromas as above but to a lesser degree;

3=nice aromas but nothing to get excited about;

2=some unpleasant aromas;

1=very unpleasant aromas, e.g., sewer, wet cardboard, old newspapers, lacquer, gym socks, medicinal, antiseptic, etc.

F: Fruit.

5=highly extracted; rich, luscious, deep fruit; huge fruit extraction, mouth-coating richness.

4=excellent extraction, good richness;

3=mid-level extraction and richness of fruit;

2=lean, thin; if older vintage, fruit drying out (disappearing).

1=where’s the fruit? For younger vintages, thin and watery. For older vintages, fruit gone.

A: Acid

5=very tart, sour; very high acid;

4=obvious tart, sour; high acid;

3=moderate, well-integrated acid level;

2=lacking acid; low acidity;

1=flat; very low acidity.

T: Tannins.

Tannins give a wine a bitter taste and an astringent mouth-feel.

5=very high levels; very bitter and astringent;

4=high; bitter and astringent;

3=moderate; soft, well-integrated tannins; less bitter and astringent;

2=low; very soft; too soft to provide backbone to wine;

1=where are the tannins?

E: End (finish, aftertaste).

5=wow! Long, complex, layered;

4=moderately long, complex;

3=medium length, good finish;

2=short, little to get excited about;

1=short, abrupt, nondescript.

TFR: Tannin to Fruit Ratio.

5=tannins overwhelming fruit; as wine ages, fruit will probably dry out (disappear) faster than tannins soften.

4=tannins significantly dominate (exceed) fruit at this time; fruit may dry out before balance is achieved; monitor this wine.

3=tannins and fruit are both powerful forces in the wine; fruit should last as tannins soften with time; a harmonious aging combination.

2=tannins are soft and fruit dominates; may not be desirable for long term aging.

1=wine will not improve with more bottle age; wine is ready to drink.

A TFR of 3 offers the best potential for harmonious aging. Wines with TFRs of 5 will never balance with respect to tannin and fruit. The fruit will dry out (slowly disappear) while the tannins continue to live on and dominate. Although TFR is difficult to evaluate, it is most telling of how a wine will evolve with time.

SCORE: CNFATE and TFR are used to arrive at a 100 point score, and the precise relationship will be discussed in a future publication. Clearly, the better the CNFATE and TFR numerical descriptors, the higher the SCORE. However, it is obvious from the definitions above that a “5” for fruit is desirable whereas a “5” for tannins is undesirable. Therefore, simple addition of the numerical descriptors does not relate directly to the final SCORE. Each category does have an approximate “percentage of influence” on SCORE as follows:

C, 10%; N, 20%; F, 20%; A, 10%; T, 10%; E, 20%; TFR, 10%.

SCORES: Grade Equivalent
100-97 Outstanding A
96-94 Excellent A-
93-90 Very good B+
89-87 Good B
86-82 Between good and average. B-
81-80 Average C
79-70 Below average D
<70 Bad F

Tasting Notes: Wine reviews are presented in the following format.

Vintage, Producer, Wine Type, Appellation, Estimated Cost (if known), Score, CNFATE/TFR ratings. Brief description.


1994 Chateau Montelena, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, $70, 99, C4N4F5A3T4E5TFR3. This wine possesses a deep red color, huge extraction and great balance with medium soft tannins and a long, complex layered finish. An awesome 94 cab.

Note numerical descriptors follow each CNFATE/TFR designation. Thus, Color is 4, Nose 4 and so on.