It's flowering in Napa vineyards.

It's flowering in Napa vineyards.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Get No Respect, Rodney Dangerfield Wines.

Although the 100-point wine rating system was created by Robert M. Parker, there were other scoring systems in existence long before his.  Parker's system—hedonistically based on ripe fruit, richness of palate, smoothness of texture, and flavorsome oaky nuances—overtook them and eventually his approach became their new norm. 
In his June 25th article, Tim Atkin, one of the better wine bloggers, makes an interesting point about the arithmetic exactness of wine scoring.  “The idea that all wines, of all styles, of all vintages, in all situations, could be scored with near-absolute precision was mostly new and its dominance is down to Parker.”  

However, and quite importantly, Parker’s system included a rating component that previously was not integral to theirs: “intensity level and dimension.”  In other words, “deep, concentrated, powerful and expansive” in all aspects of aroma, flavor, body, texture as well as the wine’s overall quality.  (The ability to age, while still retaining much of its youthful properties, was also a key component.) What kind of wine does that point to?  To ask the question, is to answer it: Red.  A Big Red!

As such, the subjectively determined, but arithmetically precise 100-point rating system does the unintended; it essentially devalues most white and Rosé wines, and many lighter bodied reds.  They simply cannot get past the cutoff point at 90 very often.  And they may as well forget about being admitted into the rarified 95+ category, where only the “Classic, Outstanding, or Extraordinary” wines reside.  Welcome to the category of Get No Respect, Rodney Dangerfield wines.

The underrating of these wines has always annoyed me, because the arbitrary 90 rating threshold is not a realistic and fair assessment; they often and quite faithfully represent the characteristic aspects of the grapes that underlie them. 

I’m a fan of numerous oak-free whites (New World and Old), light bodied reds (Beaujolais, the Crianzas of Rioja, and the Rosés of Tavel).  When their appearance, aromas, flavors, and structural aspects are in balance, they definitely reflect the best example of the type and style they represent.  Are they Outstanding?  For sure.  (Sidebar: A recent issue of the Wine Spectator rated over 175 Rosés.  Three were rated 92 and five were at 91. Virtually all of the rest were under 90.

Moreover, it is my scientific-wild-ass guess that those who converted to the 100-point system never really intended to fully embrace a scheme which ignores, or otherwise undervalues, wines that do not possess the qualities of an oaky, full bodied, fruit bomb.  For example, experienced wine enthusiasts know that the early U C Davis 20-point system made no mention of, or even attempted to quantify intensity level or concentration.

Quite the contrary, it was oriented toward the appropriateness of the underlying “characteristic aspects” of the wine being reviewed.  In other words, did the wine faithfully reflect the qualities of the primary grape varietal?  Did it look like, smell like and taste like, say, a typical California Pinot Noir?  Or did it unfortunately look, smell, taste and behave like a Zinfandel?

In closing, there is an old French saying that says, “The first duty of wine is to be Red.”  Today’s wine raters, for the most part, seem to be continuing that with the notion that only large scaled red wines can be of outstanding or exceptional rated quality.  Maybe it’s time to revisit that axiom.



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