|April 07, 2004|
|He sniffs, he sips, he scores!|
Now and again, readers ask me to score the wines I review, and recently someone recommended the100-point scale that Wine Spectator has made famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view).
I have several problems with this scale.
First, it uses at most 50 points, maybe 40: wines rated 50 to 59 are “poor, undrinkable; not recommended” and there are no ratings between zero and 49. Why have 100 points if half of them have no meaning?
This scale (which a depressing number of wine reviewers have picked up) is even narrower than it appears. Wines scoring 70 to 79 are “average” and the 60 to 69 range is described as “below average” and are not recommended.
What does “average” mean here? Does it mean that if you took the average score of all wines tasted by Wine Spectator’s reviewers it would fall between 70 and 79? Or is there a notion of average quality in the minds of the reviewers?
Look through any issue and you’ll be hard-pressed to find wines under 80 points. In a tasting of 315 California Pinot Noirs last year, Wine Spectator listed 22 at 90 points or higher, 279 in the 80 to 89 range, and 14 in the 70 to 79s. How much help is a scale when 90 per cent of the wines score in the same 10-mark range.
Then there’s the Wine Spectator statement that the score for each wine is “relative to other wines in its category.” Does this mean that in any given tasting of, say, 315 California Pinots, the best will score 90-plus no matter what their quality? Probably not, because the rating also reflects the wine’s “overall quality.”
So which is it? The wine’s quality or its relative quality? They’re not the same thing.
My other issue with the 100-point system is that it’s become so commercialized that people look only at the scores. They often ignore very good wines when they fall in the low 80s, even though Wine Spectator describes them as “good: a solid, well-made wine.”
There’s just too much made of wines that score “90 Points in Wine Spectator,” as if that’s the final word on any wine. That’s not Wine Spectator’s fault; it does advise consumers to read their tasting notes, too. But the scoring system fosters the attitude, nonetheless.
My sense is that if we do score wine, we should use a system that’s as broad as possible. Not so long ago, I listened to two wine writers (not from Wine Spectator) argue about whether a wine should be 87 or 91 points. Ninety-one! Talk about angels on the head of a pin.
And, speaking of angels, attitudes to scoring wines echo the way religions differ in the way they see people relating to God. Some religions insist on having a priest as an intermediary, others like to have believers establish a direct relationship with their God. Too often, wine reviewers set themselves up as priests, and too often consumers are willing to be their passive followers: Show them a 90-plus rated wine and they’ll flock to worship the bottle.
I’d rather describe a wine and my reaction to it, and leave it to readers to take it up if it looks interesting and the sort of wine they might enjoy.
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Ruffino Pinot Grigio 2003 A delicious glassful that shows why Italian Pinot Grigio is riding so high. Look for luscious fruit (peach, apricot), clean acidity and excellent balance. Try it with lightly spiced seafood dishes. Alcohol 12.5 per cent; $12.95 a bottle. LCBO No. 589101.
Domaine Boyar Chardonnay 2002 A well-made Chardonnay from Bulgaria. Attractive fruit (pear, peach, tropical) is nicely balanced with acidity. It’s medium-bodied, well-structured with a decent finish, and it pairs very well with lightly seasoned chicken dishes. Alcohol 13 per cent; $7.20 a bottle. LCBO No. 428540.
Concha y Toro Casillero del Diablo Merlot 2003 A really delicious and well-made Merlot from Chile. It’s young and will mellow out more; it has attractive rich fruit power and good balance with firm tannins. A great match for rare-medium grilled lamb. Alcohol 13.5 per cent; $10.95 a bottle. LCBO No. 427088.
Hardy’s Nottage Hill Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz 2001 A classic Australian Cab-Shiraz blend and a well-priced companion to a wide range of dishes — from simple hamburgers to well-seasoned roasted rack of lamb. Look for generous berry fruit with spicy notes and soft tannins. Alcohol 13.5 per cent; $12.50 a bottle. LCBO No. 283440.
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