Monday, April 29, 2013

W is for Wine Scores

“What about this one?” My husband said pulling a bottle off the store shelf.
“I don’t know,” I said.
“It got a wine score of 91.”
“I don’t know.”
“What will make you know?”
“Tasting it.”
90 - 95  =  Outstanding 

Most people only know if they like a wine after they have drunk it. I confess to being one of those people. The ability to sample a wine before purchase is possible in just a few cases, namely: 1) Winery visits; 2) A wine club; or 3) Your husband’s wine glass. The rest of the time deciding which wine to buy is left to you and your very dry mouth. Darn it!

Enter the Wine Score. Sensing the need to help wine consumers make educated choices about wine purchases, in the mid to late 20th century wine critics started ranking wines through descriptive tasting notes and assigning a numbered score to them. Some critics used a 5-Star scale with 5 Stars being the best. Other critics used a 1-20 point scale with 20 being tops. However, the majority of the movers and shakers of wine criticism—including Robert Parker, The Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator magazines—used the 100-point scale, which is defined by Mr. Parker as:

96-100  Extraordinary
90-95  Outstanding
80-89  Barely Above Average to Very Good
70-79  Average
60-69  A Cleansing Product
50-59  RUN!

Like what you're reading? Read more wine stories from Alicia Bien in her collection Evolution of Wine Drinker.

Finally! An aide to help me buy wine before tasting it! With such a clearly delineated system, it would be easy to always choose the “extraordinary” wines ranked 96-100, if… if I didn’t have to pay for them. Because a funny thing happened to wine with the advent of wine scores: the higher the wine score the higher the wine’s price. Darn money!

But price isn’t the only method used in determining to buy—or not to buy—a bottle of wine. The occasion will also guide your purchase decision. Say I wanted to buy a business gift for my boss, I would spend more money on it than I would for a bottle that I’d use in the kitchen to marinate meat. If Robert Parker knew that anyone was using a 1947 bottle of Chateau Cheval Blanc Saint Emilion to make Grandma’s beef stew, I believe he would strangle said person with one vise-like grip. That $400 + bottle of wine (which he gave 100 points to) was meant to be drunk for a very special occasion.

Wine points, price and occasion—buying wine comes down to these three things, but the greatest of these is: What do you like? Because knowing what you like in a wine is paramount. For example, do you like flavors of berry, melon, mineral or oak? Do you like grapes of Reisling, Syrah, Tempranillo or Grenache? Do you like wines of the new world or the old world? Do you like wine at all?

Thus your best guide to purchasing wines is your own self-knowledge.

Back at the wine store my husband held up another bottle: “How about this one?”
“Is it a Cabernet Sauvignon?”
“Let’s buy it!
"Uh... I forgot my wallet at home."
"Darn it!"

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