Fruit set is underway in Napa Valley

Fruit set is underway in Napa Valley

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Good and Bad of the 100-point rating system.


As most wine enthusiasts know, Robert Parker’s (now universal) 100-point wine rating system was inspired by the A through F, 100-point grading system of America’s schools. 

Somewhat paralleling that, Parkers wine ratings are as follows: 100-96 points is an Extraordinary grade; 95-90 points is Outstanding; 89-85 points is Excellent to Very Good; 84-80 points is Above average; 79-70 points is Average; 69-50 points is Below Average to Poor.

In school, correctly answering (or guessing!) twenty multiple choice questions out of twenty, of course, receives an A and a Perfect 100.  But when it comes to winemaking, what are the “correct answers,” those winemaking particulars (and their relative points) that a winemaker must provide to climb the ladder and earn that Perfect 100?

Interestingly, in the Parker system, just showing up with a bottle of wine is worth 50 points, which in reality  makes it a 50-100 assessment scale.  The remaining, potential 50 points are to be found in the following categories: Color and appearance are worth five points. Aroma and bouquet are valued at 15, while Flavor and finish receive 20, and Overall quality and Potential to age is worth 10. 

The single most important quality, however, which must be present to max out in each of those categories, is “intensity level and dimension.”  That is, to receive all the points, a wine has to be deep, dark, powerful, and expansive in all aspects of aroma, flavor and finish. What type of wine does that favor?  (Hint: For the last 29 years, other than 1996 and 2004, the Wine Spectator “Wine of the Year” has been red.)

Furthermore, the Potential to Age (with its five to ten possible points) is what separates the 90-and-above, attention-getters from those 89-and-below, ugly ducklings.

As such, light or medium bodied, food friendly reds made for current consumption (daily drinkers) will routinely score below 90, as will many whites and dry Rosés.  Even though these wines can be true to and representative of their type, and have excellent color, aroma, flavor and finish, they do not have the key determinant of outstanding structure to evolve into something more complex and interesting.  

Like it or not, agree with it or not, aging potential (long-term) is the widely accepted yardstick which separates the great wines from the good wines. Parker did not originate the notion, he merely reemphasized it as an important assessment element. 

Old World winegrowers, and their survivalist, grape-growing, predecessors knew the importance of making wines that would be sturdy enough to be consumed many years after harvest. Their dusty, cobwebbed cellars, holding years, and often decades, of sturdy, complex and interesting wines are clear evidence of that wisdom. 

However, having said that, it's clear that the 90-and-below wines do not deteriorate and fall apart the day after they are bottled!  On the contrary, many of them are fresh and drinkable for up to five years or longer.  I still have many New and Old World wines like that in my cooler that are returning the favor of my investment.  And recently a Trader Joe's shelf stocker was singing me the praises of his five year old stash of "Two Buck Chuck" Syrah that was "drinking beautifully."  I demurred on that one. 

Finally, and most importantly, here’s some contrarian good news: because below-90 wines cost comparatively less than above-90 wines, they typically offer excellent quality/price rapport, aka Value.  And to his credit, Parker acknowledges that reality by admitting he “would not hesitate to have any of these in my personal collection.”

In absence of your having access to critics’ ratings, or the advice of trusted wine-savvy friends or reliable social media apps, you still have options for acquiring high value wines.  

Quality retail wine stores will be able to guide you towards the values, particularly when you state your price point and preferred wine style.  Or if you are primarily a grocery store wine shopper, then those value wines typically fall in the middle third of the stocked shelves.  Wine appreciation has a great deal to offer, especially to those who spend their money wisely.  Good hunting!










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