Judge wine by more than its score

Grand Magazine - - CONTENTS - MICHAEL PINKUS

Wine cri­tique is as old as the drink it­self. From the time of the first sip, there has al­ways been some­one ut­ter­ing ei­ther, “Mmm, that’s re­ally good,” or “What is this garbage you’re mak­ing me drink?”

Many peo­ple feel a good way to con­vey how they feel about a par­tic­u­lar wine is to give it a score. And no one person is more re­spon­si­ble for the mod­ern scor­ing of wine than Robert Parker, founder of The Wine Ad­vo­cate, a pub­li­ca­tion launched in 1978. Sure, wine had been scored and rated be­fore, but this Amer­i­can made it ac­ces­si­ble to the masses by us­ing a 100-point scale – some­thing we can all re­late to. A lawyer by trade, Parker claimed he rated all bot­tles he bought per­son­ally; hence he was not in­flu­enced by “fa­mil­iar­iza­tion” trips or free wine.

By us­ing per­cent­age-style scor­ing, he made it clearly un­der­stood where a wine ranked – one man, one vi­sion, one palate.

Parker’s scale re­ally started at 80; it was rare to see a score un­der that. At the time, an 88 or 89 from him was a solid score and, as his pop­u­lar­ity grew, any­thing above 90 was a sure-fire hit and would guar­an­tee sales. It truly was a rev­o­lu­tion­ary way to rate wine, and it took the wine world by storm.

As with any­thing pop­u­lar, the scale was soon co-opted by other re­view­ers and publi­ca­tions. The prob­lem with this co-opted scale is that we are no longer deal­ing with one man, one vi­sion, one palate. We have a bunch of peo­ple – with dif­fer­ent palates – tast­ing wine us­ing a sys­tem made pop­u­lar by one person whose scores meant some­thing.

And then comes an even big­ger prob­lem. Although dif­fer­ent voices in the mix can be ben­e­fi­cial, with more and more re­view­ers wa­ter­ing down the pool the only way to be heard is by be­ing louder, and the only way to do that is by giv­ing higher scores.

So, a wine that once re­ceived an 87 might now get a 94, not because it’s bet­ter, but because 87 no longer cuts it. A score of 87 won’t end up in a win­ery’s mar­ket­ing ef­forts, but a 94 cer­tainly does – com­plete with ac­cred­i­ta­tion and in­stant no­to­ri­ety for the re­viewer.

Con­sumers end up get­ting caught in the mid­dle. They might find them­selves lured into buy­ing wines they per­ceive to be “great,” only to find them­selves say­ing, “I like it, but I don’t get 94.”

The real is­sue is this: 94 is just six points shy of per­fec­tion. If re­view­ers feel the need to push their scores higher and higher to get ink in this tough me­dia land­scape, what will they do when they re­ally taste great­ness? Are we due for a new sys­tem that pushes the scor­ing above 100?

Rat­ing wines on a chart or graph makes sense in com­pe­ti­tions, where you need to score wines and come up with a win­ner head to head. But what about the con­sumer?

Do you sip on a Yel­low Tail and say, “I’d give that an 86,” or a bot­tle of Dr. L. Ries­ling and say, “That’s an 89 for me.” No, you de­scribe it as smooth, soft or fruity. You may say things like, “I re­ally like this,” but I doubt num­bers ever come into the dis­cus­sion, un­less you are dis­cussing the price: “You paid $12 for that? Re­ally? No way it’s that cheap.” Or if your host tries to impress you by say­ing “Parker gave it a 92,” your re­sponse is one of two things: “Oh, re­ally?” or “I wouldn’t give it a 92.”

Just think about wine and its role in your life: happy oc­ca­sions, sad oc­ca­sions, fes­tive oc­ca­sions – what­ever the oc­ca­sion, where does wine fit in? Do you rate your oc­ca­sions on a scale of 1 to 100 or do you use words such as awe­some, amaz­ing, fun, in­cred­i­ble, best, worst?

Wine is al­ways about you. You make the choice to buy the bot­tle; you de­cide when to pull the cork; you make a de­ci­sion about how long to keep it open; you de­cide on what oc­ca­sion to pour it. You also de­cide whether you like it or not.

I can help guide you by point­ing out a good bot­tle. You can agree with me about de­scrip­tors such as red fruit, cran­berry, choco­late, peaches, ap­ples – and thus de­rive your own re­view. But I’m not about to de­fend a 92 or 86 points.

Wine is ul­ti­mately about you and your per­cep­tion.

WINES TO TRY

These were my favourite Ni­a­gara wines re­leased in 2017. Two will re­quire a visit to the win­ery. Creek­side Es­tate Win­ery 2012 Caber­net

Sauvi­gnon Re­serve ($34.95 - Win­ery only) A pow­er­ful Caber­net that’s big, meaty and oak-driven but with so much spice, cas­sis, black­berry, mocha and more wait­ing in the back­ground for its mo­ment in the sun. The fin­ish has big tan­nins, black pep­per and great acid­ity for bal­ance. The linger of cas­sis, black­berry and baker’s co­coa on the tongue will keep you com­ing back for more. Hold at least two to five years. Icel­lars 2015 Arinna ($39 - Win­ery only)

A red blend of 54 per cent Caber­net Sauvi­gnon, 28 per cent Mer­lot and 18 per cent Caber­net Franc. This wine is quite sim­ply gor­geous, from the aro­mas of cas­sis, mocha and cherry to the smoky-white pep­per and grippy tan­nin struc­ture at the back end. Even the dark fruit mid-palate shows fi­nesse. Only 225 cases pro­duced. Drink: 2019 to 2029. Vineland 2016 Caber­net Franc ($14.95 - #594127)

This peren­nial favourite has ar­rived and the 2016 is quite sim­ply a steal. If you’re not buy­ing this by the case, then at min­i­mum a half case is a must. This is pure On­tario Caber­net Franc with none of the draw­backs. It has cherry-rasp fruit with to­bacco in­ter­laced through­out and is so bal­anced, so tasty, I defy you not to open a sec­ond bot­tle on the same night you open the first. Still the best value in On­tario Franc.

Henry of Pel­ham 2012 Cu­vee Catharine Carte Blanche, Blanc de

Blanc ($44.95 - #315200) Prob­a­bly one of the best bub­bles to come out of the cel­lar doors at Henry of Pel­ham. It spends five years on lees; made from 100 per cent all-es­tate Chardon­nay, which has de­vel­oped a very leesy, smoky, toasty, bis­cu­ity essence that sur­rounds ev­ery as­pect of this wine. It also main­tains great mousse (bub­ble) with a creami­ness in the mouth and flavours of ap­ple purée, pear and lemon on the long lux­u­ri­ous fin­ish.

Trius 2015 Red ($24.95 - #303800) Red is back with a vengeance, and why not? It was a bet­ter year for Bordeaux reds, which also bodes well for a killer 2016. A blend of 43 per cent Caber­net Franc, 42 per cent Caber­net Sauvi­gnon and 15 per cent Mer­lot – and show­ing a rich mouth feel, smoky mid-palate and spicy fin­ish. You’ll also find vanilla, black cherry, white pep­per and co­coa in­ter­laced with well-bal­anced acid­ity.

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