Monday, April 20, 2015

A League of Their Rhône Rangers--Part Two


I don’t recall what year it was, but at one of the Hospice du Rhône Grand Tastings in Paso Robles it was 114℉! It was so hot, the local squirrels were using the Rosés to chill their nuts. It was so hot, you couldn’t tell if the Syrah smelled like bacon, or if that was the fat guy pouring it. Man, it was hot. And at the Paso Robles Fairgrounds, the “air conditioning” was provided by swamp coolers. Yeah, that works. It was like tasting wine in CeeLo Green’s underpants. A lot of really sweaty things rubbing against each other. It was miserable, and yet the Rhône crowd was in pretty good spirits. It’s just a fun crowd. And that was the first tasting I’d attended where, because of the heat, it was the Rosés that stole the show. First of all, they were cold. Second of all, they were good, though we didn’t care about that being good part. At the outdoor luncheon, the Rosés vanished like there had been a saignée Rapture.

I am of the opinion, and I’ve been in lots of arguments about this over the years, that the best Rosés are made from Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Sangiovese. I don’t like Pinot Noir Rosé. I find it almost unfailingly insipid and boring. It’s the press release of Rosé. There is the occasional compelling Rosé from another variety, and once in a while I taste a Pinot Noir Rosé I like, though I’ll deny it, but I’m drawn to Rosés from those three aforementioned varieties. At the recent Rhône Rangers tasting, the Rosé I liked the most was Tercero 2014 Rosé of Mourvèdre. Weirdly, I thought it smelled a bit like Sauvignon Blanc, but in an earthy vein. It has that feral Mourvèdre character, but it also shows terrific strawberry and watermelon flavors. This may not be for everyone, but if you like traditional Bandol Rosé, give this wine a chance to age a bit in the bottle, don’t serve it too cold, and it will speak to you.

Of the red Rhône varieties, it’s Grenache that owns my heart. I’ve written before about my love for Chateau Rayas, which is nearly 100% Grenache, and whenever I ask a winemaker who focuses on Grenache what wine they model their Grenache after, it seems like Rayas is inevitably their response. I’ve yet to find a domestic Grenache in Rayas’ league, at least in that remarkable Châteauneuf-du-Pape’s best vintages, but great Grenache is glorious stuff. There were a couple of Grenaches I quite liked at the 2015 Rhône Rangers tasting, but I didn’t taste one that truly captured my heart.

Law Estate is a newish Paso Robles property with Scott Hawley making the wines. Scott has his own label, Torrin, which has something of a cult following for Syrah. He clearly understands Grenache as well. The Law Estate 2010 “Beguiling” was beautiful, but perhaps a bit too polished for my liking. I guess I mean that I like Grenache with a bit of wildness about it, an edge, not so seamless and, well, slick. At that point, the wine is less about place and more about winemaking. I suspect the wine will get high scores, and I certainly understand why, but while I’d recommend it, I think it’s quite good, I wouldn’t buy it for myself. Yeah, I know, damning with faint praise. (The Torrin Syrahs, while not at this tasting, are quite good, and I have bought them—which is damning with HoseMaster praise.)

Whereas I would happily buy the Skinner 2012 Grenache. How often do we mention a wine that is fun to drink? Too often we fret about big wines, “profound” wines, wines that will amaze us and impress our friends—the Law Estate might do that for you. The Skinner 2012 Grenache has all of the grape’s bright, sweet red fruit, cherry and raspberry, but with a subtle bit of what they would call “garrigue” in France—that ineffable aroma of an herbal landscape. (I’m tempted to say the Skinner Grenache is a garrigueste wine, but that’s far too vague and stupid. Or exactly too vague and stupid, depending on what you think about my writing.) I looked, and the 2012 Skinner Grenache is sold out on their website. But sign up and buy the 2013 when it’s released; it will be terrific, I’m sure, and well worth the $26. I’ve liked every bottle I’ve tasted from Skinner, and loved many, if not most. If you love Rhône varieties at very fair prices, man, start buying Skinner.

Do I even have to mention the Tablas Creek 2012 Grenache being delicious? No, didn’t think so. Though I think, for my palate, Tablas Creek does Mourvèdre better, I’d happily stash some of their 2012 Grenache in my cellar. The sweetness and energy of the fruit is irresistible.

Grenache might own my vinous heart, but I do also love Mourvèdre. When I taste one I like, I can’t resist breaking into song. “Mataro! Mataro! I love you Mataro!/You’re only a day away.” (I hate that joke, almost as much as the red fright wig I don when I sing it.) Mourvèdre has a savory character that is unusual among grapes, that umami thing, a character I find delicious, even as unsavory a character as I am. And there were two particularly brilliant, and several damned fine, Mourvèdres I discovered at the tasting.

Maybe the single best wine I tasted all day (and I sampled but a mere pittance, about 70 wines, of what was available, so forgive me my hyperbole) was the Skinner Vineyards 2012 Mourvèdre Estate El Dorado. Winemaker Chris Pittenger is one talented guy. Much of his career he focused on Pinot Noir, with time spent at Williams Selyem, and four years working at Marcassin. Bob Cabral and Helen Turley AND John Wetlaufer?! I’m guessing Chris used to be six inches taller. Yet it’s those Pinot Noir guys who seem to grasp the delicacy of Mourvèdre’s aromatics. They aren’t easy to get right, it seems. But the Skinner Estate Mourvèdre is pitch perfect (and from what must be pretty young vines). Blueberries dominate the high notes, but then all the savory components chime in—that garrigue again, olive, balsamic, soy sauce, maybe fennel. It’s that captivating mix of sweet (very sweet blueberry) and savory and it comes across that way as it dances across the palate. It’s $58, but at this level of quality, that’s a fair price. I know it will age beautifully, it has the sort of balance one admires in a ballerina, a balance earned with hard work and talent, and I hope I get to rendezvous with it again one day about fifteen years from now. It was tutu delicious.

The other brilliant Mourvèdre I tasted was the (no surprise) Tablas Creek 2012 “Esprit de Tablas.” Now it’s only 40% Mourvèdre (with 30% Syrah, 21% Grenache and 9% Who Cares?), but I think the Mourvèdre is what makes the wine. It has Mourvèdre’s unmistakable meatiness at its core, but is also loaded with plum and blackberry fruit, with a sweet and savory finish. It’s just a pleasure to drink. That’s one of the things about great wines. Your first impression of them is simple and intense pleasure. Analysis flies out your ears, your mind goes blank, while all of your pleasure measures go off the charts. Great wines have a sensuality that cannot be faked, like the best lovers, the ones you think about even years later and want to be with again. You don’t care how they do it, you just want it done to you again. (Makes you want to give them a score, doesn’t it? Somewhere out there is a woman who’s reading this and thinking, “That guy was an 85 in bed—not bad for being so cheap.”)

I think that it’s the great wines, and I try not to use the word “great” very often when it comes to wine, that are the wines that make a mockery of the worthless and stupid 100 Point Scale. I don’t have a huge problem with all the countless wines rated 89, or 92. Many of them are sort of the same. I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again. I know what an 89 smells like. It smells like failure. When it comes to the great wines, the numbers are transparently stupid. It seems incredibly idiotic to me to lump all of the great wines in the world into 99 or 98, and assume that has meaning. It’s insulting to the individuality and greatness of the wines. Rayas equals Chave Hermitage equals Grange equals Petrus equals Romanée-Conti? That’s like saying Einstein equals Van Gogh equals Twain equals Beethoven equals Astaire. Genius and greatness defy categorization, and that should be respected. I’m wasting my breath, of course, the 100 Point Scale is too simpleminded to die, and the simpleminded will forever keep it alive.

Where was I? Oh, Mourvédre. I very much liked Tercero 2011 Mourvèdre Santa Barbara County. Where the Skinner Estate was all power and richness, the Tercero is damned lovely, an exotic beauty that shows the floral side of the variety. Yet it still has the savory element, that mushroomy meatiness, that so often characterizes the grape. It’s much lighter on its feet than the other two wines, the Tablas Creek and the Skinner, and I love that about it, its dark-skinned beauty. It just seemed like a fun wine to drink. And it's even more amazing given the difficulties of the 2011 vintage. Maybe it's the thick skin of Mourvédre that helped it through a rainy harvest. I know a lot of winemakers who could use that thick skin.

Brecon Estate was a new winery to me. The Brecon Estate 2013 Mourvèdre Paso Robles was very impressive. It’s quintessential Mourvèdre, a wonderful example of the variety. I don’t think any knowledgeable wine person could taste this wine and not know immediately it was Mourvèdre. The wine is very polished, though I’m not sure that’s praise, and what I loved about it was the beautiful intensity, the mushroom and forest floor edges to the blueberry fruit, and the savory finish, which was nearly as long as this boring post. Next time I’m in Paso Robles, and it’s not 114℉, I’m going to have to visit Brecon Estate, see what else they’re up to.

I hadn’t meant to babble on so long. I haven’t even touched on Syrah. So I guess there will be a Part Three. Crap.

TO BE CONTINUED...AD NAUSEUM

32 comments:

Bob Henry said...

"I am of the opinion, and I’ve been in lots of arguments about this over the years, that the best Rosés are made from Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Sangiovese. . . .

"I think that it’s the great wines, and I try not to use the word “great” very often when it comes to wine, that are the wines that make a mockery of the worthless and stupid 100 Point Scale. I don’t have a huge problem with all the countless wines rated 89, or 92. Many of them are sort of the same. I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again. I know what an 89 smells like. It smells like failure. . . ."

If a wine critic is going to use a 100 point scale -- and "100" connotes "perfection" -- then the best extant rosé should be able to attain a 100 point score.

And yet . . . have we ever seen such a score for a soul-satisfying rosé?

The "numbers" top out at 90 points.

(One sniff away from "failure.")

When certain American wine critics assert that rosés can't score above 90 points on their use of the 100 point scale, that's offensive to the winemakers who craft them.

Only rosé Champagnes attain scores into the 90s.

But even here we have never seen a 100 point rosé Champagne.

(Sorry, Krug. Ain't gonna happen.)

Marcia Macomber said...

It all sounds so delicious! At least we get to try the wines a little vicariously through you... until we get our own bottles.

tercero wines said...

Hosemaster,

Thanks for the great write up of a fantastic event. It was a pleasure pouring for you - and I always love the banter when we're face to face!

I also want to thank you for spotlighting this event and the types of wines poured at it. Even though rhone varieties continue to offer some of the best values for domestic wines out there, I often find these wines left out of most wine discussions. It's a shame and hopefully this and other pieces on the event will help change that up a bit.

Thanks for the nice write ups of my wines as well. As we discussed, I dig Mourvedre and feel it has lots of upside potential here in CA. With the '13 and '14 vintages, I produced more Mourvedre than any other variety. I still continue to love the 'prettiness' of grenache and will continue to make at least 2 different 100% versions, but I just adore the 'funk' that mourvedre can bring to the table - she's an enticing 'off-kilter' darling that has me intrigued and coming back for more!

Cheers!

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Bob,
You already know the answers to your 100 Point questions, the ones that Parker and Charlie, among others, have given. The number system has become the currency of wine, and so we are stuck with it. I simply note that in regard to the legendary and great wines, it's ridiculous. 100 points for Margaux does absolutely nothing for Margaux, but wonders for the stupid scale. Saying a wine received 100 points and viewing that as praise is the equivalent of remarking on Einstein's IQ and thinking that's proof he was a genius. The person making those remarks is essentially an idiot.

Marcia Love,
Writing about the wines that I liked gives me a chance to relive the wines. And I try to write about the tasting in a conversational way, with whatever asides occur to me, because I think that great wines are about conversation, not pontification, not adjectives, not numbers, not lists--conversation. But, hell, it's a lot of work to write this crap. Don't worry, back to comedy next time.

Larry,
When I read wine blogs (which I try not to do, but I do have a problem with now and then willingly seeking out things that I know will irritate me--it's how I make pearls), I get tired of all the preachy shit about Natural Wine, all the dull texts about someone's wonderful adventure being brainwashed by a winemaker, Winemaker Worship is more tiresome than Sommelier Worship, and reviews of wine that are dull and lifeless. So many bloggers claim to Love wine, but if that's how they display love, with repetitive and jejune writing, I feel sorry for their spouses.

My pieces don't change anything in the wine world. I'm preaching to a VERY tiny group. Plus, I'm not so sure I should be allowed to change anything at all. I just sit here and write what comes out of my damaged brain. And I love the Rhone varieties. And I wonder why anyone else who doesn't needs convincing.

Claire Gabaldon said...

Here I am in the heart of Cabernet country and you've got me day dreaming about pretty Grenaches and exploring Mourvedre. Thanks for this two stage write-up, I'm excited to track down some of these producers and hopefully get back to Paso Robles some day soon!

Divine Miss M said...

So glad you included Sangiovese in your dry rosé favorites.

Bob Henry said...

For San Francisco Bay Area wine industry professionals interested in tasting New Zealand Syrah, your ship has come in.

This morning I received a notice that the New Zealand Winegrowers are hosted a trade tasting:

Monday, April 27th from 1-4 PM
Fort Mason Conference Center
Landmark Building A
Marina Blvd and Buchanan Street
San Francisco, CA 94123

RSVP HERE: http://www.nzwine.com/events/new-zealand-wine-fair-san-francisco-3/rsvp/

Quoting from today's e-mail invite:

"Taste a comprehensive selection from the 2014 vintage as well as aged whites and reds. Meet the winemakers and representatives, and make this your opportunity to discover New Zealand in a glass.

"A seminar on Sauvignon Blanc will also be held at 11:30am - 12:30pm featuring a special selection of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Please email your expression of interest in attending this seminar to dstrada@earthlink.net (spaces are limited)."

David Strada, based in The City, is the marketing director for New Zealand Winegrowers in the U.S.

(I always attend their So. Cal. events -- so I envy my Bay Area counterparts for next Monday's gathering of the wine tribe.)

Charlie Olken said...

I wish I had something new and original to say about the 100-point system, but it has already been said 100 times over--that's one time for each point, and I don't deal in fractions so no more.

As for "rose", let me know when the best Bandol rose' can give me as much total excitement as the best Rayas.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Claire,
Thanks for reading my endless piece about the Rhone Rangers tasting. I'm still disappointed that I didn't get to taste at a bunch of wineries I wanted to visit--Bonny Doon, Miner, Burt Street, Campovida... I need to create a fake name. Damned HoseMaster thing gets tiresome.

You should attend next year's Rhone Rangers, Claire. I'll meet you there!

Divine Miss M,
I love Sangiovese Rosé, or Italian Rosato. Something about that grape makes for lovely Rosé. Thanks for being a common tater.

Bob,
Never thought I'd say this, but thanks for the link! I saw David Strada at WOPN, and he told me he was impressed that WOPN had the "guts" to invite the HoseMaster. He was nervous to invite me to a NZ tasting. And he didn't. But now I'm going to attend. Thanks for that.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Charlie,
I'm completely on your side when it comes to Bandol Rose vs. Rayas. But words express it better than points, don't you think? Scores are the epitome of comparing apples to oranges. One size fits all, or we'll make it fit all anyway.

The 100 Point Scale doesn't need defending any more than the almighty dollar needs defending. The more I think about it, the more I believe that wine scores are wine business currency, earned, invested and traded. They have an imaginary, but tangible, value. And the higher the numbers you have, the more power and value you have as well. Which makes Parker and Wine Spectator and CGCW the Wine Mints, where all the currency is manufactured. And who are responsible for score inflation, which may soon become score stagflation. When times get tough, do like Wine Enthusiast, print higher scores.

Oh, I have no idea what I'm talking about.

susan wu said...

Another common taster is signing up, because HoseMaster reviews wines with the sense & sensibility that cannot be possibly cloned. Ron, you've got to be the Homo sapiens that cannot be GMOed by vinous brains & souls. Cheers!

Charlie Olken said...

Ron--

The grade inflation issue may yet kill off the 100-point scale because even 90 now is too close to meaningless for too many reviewers. Score stagflation indeed.

But I think your comments about Rayas vs Bandol do indicate the inherent value in some form of rating shorthand. It used to be 20 points, which then acquired tenths of points making it into a 200-point system.

Stars, puffs, cookies, chop sticks, letter grades. It really does not matter which system gets used, but wine reviews done in larger than a few at a time and very selectively need the help of a supportive shorthand because words are not adequate at that level of small but perceived differences.

Yes, the 100-point system is the currency in which wine reviews are presently traded, and like some currencies, they need to be understood for what they are and what they are not. The grade inflators, of which Jerry Mead was unabashedly one of the first "I get more attention that way", are understood for what they are by those who pay attention.

Everyone knows that Bordeaux did not suddenly changed it spots despite the fact that Parker has all of a sudden discoved 100-point wines by the truckload.

It bugs me to be the lowest scorer around because our reviews get marginalized at times, but our readers understand, and as one said so acutely, "I dont care if you use the ten chopstick system. It is your judgments that are meaningful to me". Which brings me back to the 100-point problem that I face. Does my rag raise its scores in order to compete? Do we stubbornly refuse to give 90 points to wines we would not stick in our cellars? Do we abandon 90 points and revert solely to our old three-star system and get ignored completely by everyone except our coterie of faithful readers.

Or do we become the first to go to the 105 point system? Now that would certainly put us out in front, and I guarantee that it would not be long before the lemmings followed suit.

Bob Henry said...

Hoser,

It was the least I could do, given the discussion about NZ Syrahs.

(Or as my detractors might say: "It was the VERY least he could do . . .")

I cannot recall Syrahs being poured at past NZ Winegrower events. Self-evidently SBs and PNs, a few red Bordeaux blends, and the rare Gewurz and Riesling. (The latter two varieties being quite nice.)

Now if only David (a friend) would take his whistle-stop tour to So. Cal. sometime this year, I'd be a very happy fellow.

To his credit, he does have a table every year at Pinot Days here in La-La-Land. Typically showcasing three vintages across a dozen wines.

(signed)

The Missing Link

(Oh, can I quote you on that?:

"Never thought I'd say this, ...")

Bob Henry said...

"As for 'rosé,' let me know when the best Bandol rosé can give me as much total excitement as the best Rayas."

"... I think your comments about Rayas vs Bandol do indicate the inherent value in some form of rating shorthand."

Comparing a Bandol rosé to a Rayas is a false comparison.

It is apples to oranges. An unlevel playing field.

Compare rosés within their archetype. Not across other varietal archetypes.

Over on Steve Heimoff's wine blog, I have championed the approach used by Hi-Fi News & Record Review magazine for music reviews: a twin scale.

One scale for "audio fidelity." (Does a French horn sound like a French horn . . . or like an English horn? A difference with a distinction.)

And a second companion scale for musical interpretation/artistic expression.

A recording can have great audio fidelity capturing the sounds of acoustic instruments in a concert hall (A grade), but be performed with indifference by the artists (C grade).

Similarly, a so-called "orange wine" can show true-to-type "typicity" and "terroir" . . . and still taste lousy (in the wine reviewer's humble opinion).

So one score for technical merit (XX points) and one companion score for "pleasure quotient" (YY points).

That would go a long way towards differentiating between wines that "cluster" towards the top of a single 100 point scale.

No April foolin' . . .

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Susan,
Happy to welcome you as a common tater. I see you hanging around STEVE!'s blog, welcome to my little slum. And thanks for the kind words.

Charlie,
Somehow movies and books and films and restaurants and a million other things get reviewed without 100 Point Scales. Wine is different? Again, as I wrote, I don't mind that so many wines get 88 points--there are a lot of average wines on the planet. Is an 89 point wine better? That moment, that taste, that order of tasting, perhaps. Otherwise? Hard to have faith in a system that cannot be duplicated or reproduced even under the same circumstances a day later. That's the kind of system that leads to people believing vaccinations cause autism.

Does the public like the 100 Point Scale? Yup. But, hell, they loved public lynchings too, so that's not really a good reason.

Consumers, the ones patrolling Costco and Total Wine, are not paying attention. Costco sells the currency of points, in a real sense defrauding their public. They don't care who gave it more than 90 points, only that it got more than 90 points. BevMo did the same thing with Wilfred Wong. That shit reflects on everyone who scores wine.

Your rag didn't use to assign points, only stars. Wine Spectator, for many years, way back, didn't assign points either. Suddenly wine, a business hundreds of years old, needs points to explain it?

Points are only about money. Points are money. What is that old saying about the love of money...?

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Yeah, Bob, we need twice as many scores.

Bob Henry said...

Since we are discussing Rhone Valley varieties, let's meander over to Spain where Grenache and Syrah also thrive.

And throw in a third grape, Tempranillo, whose "time" ascending in California is akin to "vaporware" in Silicon Valley: always just a few years away.

From Wines & Vines
(May 2006 . . . yes a decade ago):

"It's Time For Tempranillo"

Link: http://www.winesandvines.com/sections/printout_article.cfm?article=feature&content=50428

Those who reside in or who are traveling though San Francisco this Sunday, April 26th should consider attending the 8th annual Tempranillo Advocates Producers and Amigos Society (TAPAS) consumer tasting.

[Aside: I would like to think that the wine trade is admitted gratis.]

Link: http://www.eventbrite.com/e/tapas-grand-wine-tasting-2015-tickets-15194181205

And for a "take" on what last year's event was like, see this Sacramento Bee article by Mike Dunne.

Link: http://www.sacbee.com/food-drink/wine/dunne-on-wine/article2602068.html

Charlie Olken said...

Ron--

There have always been rating systems in wine as long as I have been around and that is a decade or more before you.

I mentioned the twenty-point system, but even Finigan and Balzer used a four or five tier system. I cannot see how five tiers is radically and idiotically different from 100 points, especially since 100 points, as we all know is really 15-20 points.

I think Frank Prial said it best. "87 points means that I liked a wine a little more than I liked a wine at 86 points".

And while I have great sympathy for notes without any scores, try doing that over several hundred reviews. The words become unintelligible gibberish.

Each of the items you cite as not have 100 point reviews are one-offs. They do not exist by the hundreds. And by the way, the SF Chron reviews are actually a nine point system and Zagat is a 30 point system.

How about cars and vacuum cleaners and TVs and cameras and laptops? Depending on the reviewer, some get 100 point scores and others get something else.

So, the real issue for me is not the 100-point system but rating systems in general. Very few entities in the general rating business would attempt to review 100 compact cameras without a rating score attached.

You and I share a strong dislike for the misuse and abuse of the 100-point system, but frankly, we would be agreeing about the misuse and abuse of the 20-point system if it were in vogue.

Bob Henry said...

From the San Francisco Chronicle "Food & Wine" Section "Letters to the Editor" Subsection
(June 22, 2007, Page Unknown):

"Keeping Score on Ratings"

Link: http://www.sfgate.com/wine/article/LETTERS-TO-WINE-Keeping-score-on-ratings-2572416.php

"Editor:

"Re "Are ratings pointless?" (June 15): Well, gee, all this fuss (yet again) about the 100-point scale. So it doesn't tell everything you need to know about a wine. Do four stars? Twenty points? No, you have to read the critic's words.

"Does it reward subtle wines? That's up to the critic using the scale. Do subtle wines that lack drama ever get four-star ratings from the Chronicle's team? No, they get two or 2 1/2 stars, which pretty much corresponds to a 100-point score in the 80s.

"The main reason I like to use the 100-point scale is that it lets me communicate more to my readers. They can tell that I liked a 90-point wine just a little better than an 89-point wine, but a 94-point wine a lot more than one rated 86. Doesn't that say more than giving both the 90-and 94-point wines three stars and both the 89- and 86-point wines 2½?

(signed)

HARVEY STEIMAN
Editor at Large, Wine Spectator"

The article Harvey alludes to:

"Are Ratings Pointless?;
The highs -- and lows -- of the 100-point scale"

Link: http://www.sfgate.com/wine/article/Are-ratings-pointless-The-highs-and-lows-2586771.php

Bob Henry said...

AND NOW A BRIEF (sic) HISTORY LESSON . . .

Quoting from Wine Spectator (March 16-31, 1982, page 12):

"SCORING

"The Wine Spectator Tasting Panel uses a nine-point tasting scale, first introduced in 1974 by the Oenological and Viticultural Research Institute of South Africa, and modified by researchers at the University of California-Davis.

"Panelists are required to grade a wine against five sections (unacceptable to superior) and to provide written comments about each wine tasted. The section division is:

• Unacceptable = 1 point
• Average quality with some defects = 2 to 3 points
• Average quality = 4 to 6 points
• Above average quality with some superior qualities = 7 to 8 points
• Superior = 9 points

"Space is provided on the tasting sheet for panelists to describe appearance, aroma, taste, and to list general comments. Following the scoring, a panel discussion is held on each flight of wines.

"Total points given for each wine are tallied and an average score calculated. Only the top four wines (or more if ties occur at any or all of the four levels) are reviewed in detail. All other wines are listed only as having been tasted in the flight."

Further quoting from Wine Spectator (March 16-31, 1982, page 12):

"CRITERIA

"In selecting the wines to be evaluated by The Wine Spectator Tasting Panel, care is taken to be as fair and equitable as possible.

"We believe that Wine Spectator Tasting Panel is the most significant series of wine tasting reports available to the consumer. This is why:

• All flights contain no more than 12 wines. From each flight of wines tasted, only the top four wines are fully rated with scores and condensed tasting notes from the full panel. When ties occur, all wines in the first four places are reviewed fully.
• All judging panels will normally consist of five or six members, most of whom are selected for their reputations as winemakers, wine merchants, educators, or wine-interested consumers with acknowledged palates. Further, every effort is made to select panel members to taste and rate wine for which they have established a particular knowledge and expertise.
• All wines are tasted blind against others of like type. No 'ringer,' or European-American comparisons are permitted. When a selected wine is available in more than one vintage, a mixing of vintages is allowed.
• All wines are poured in each flight, then each panelist tastes and rates each wine individually. A panel discussion of each flight of wines is held following the tasting and rating.
• All wines are rated on a modified UC-Davis nine-point scale, recommended for The Wine Spectator Tasting Panel by Emeritus Professor Maynard Amerine.
• All wines are purchased at Southern California retail prices and are selected for their general availability in most major U.S. markets. However, because of distribution and pricing variables, availability will vary throughout the country."

[Bob's footnote: In 1985, Wine Spectator dropped its 9-point scale and adopted a 100-point scale. One consequence of this change can be found in the absence of printed 9-point scale wine reviews dating from the late 1970s to the mid-1980s in the Wine Spectator's early softcover “Buyer’s Guide” biannual review books.]

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Charlie,
Again, I'm not advocating to get rid of the 100 Point Scale any more than I'd advocate getting rid of money and going back to the barter system. My point in this stupid article was simply that at the higher end of the scale, the scale gets ridiculous.

Prial's comment is specious. In the unusual event that you have two wines next to each other and are rating them, then, yes, I like this one a little better is reasonable. But, say, awarding 100 points to 2000 Margaux, but 99 points to 2001 Margaux when you've tasted them a year apart, creating a "perfect" wine and a wine that is almost "perfect," and then saying you liked the 2000 just a little more is stupid on the face of it.

I didn't intend to start a tired old 100 Point argument. I tried to say something new about the scale, but failed apparently. I cannot remember the last time I opened a bottle of wine and tried to remember what score it received. Scores might sell wine, but they do not promise pleasure or meaning. Same as money. Scores are wine money. And it's the love of money that is the root of all, well, you know.

But at least I got you to write a post about it on your blog.

Charlie Olken said...

Ron, thanks for showing up on my blog at the ridiculous hour of 735. I did not know that today's blog was up that early--or that anyone was either.

Point scores, whether 20 or 100 or 200 or one million will always be suspect. And today's 100 was yesterday's 95, and on the subject of grade inflation and the coming stagflation, we are in complete agreement.

But that, and the misuse and abuse of ratings in some quarters, does not obviate their value as adjuncts to thoughtful descriptions when those shorthand ratings are put in context.

Wine appreciation is not wine criticism. You write reviews that are "appreciations" and they are very useful. But they are not full-on examinations of the range of possibilities facing consumers when they go to the store.

So, enough of this. I don't see how to do what I do, which is wine criticism of large numbers of wines, without some sort of rating system also in attendance.

Cris Carter said...

In the words of the great Ron Burgundy, "Boy, that escalated quickly... I mean, that really got out of hand fast."

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Charlie,
You and I agree on most of this. I'd say 98. As I said on your blog, I am not trying to get rid of the 100 Point Scale, the wine world would collapse and die without it. But it's also a crutch for a large number of wine reviewers (most of them clueless) so that they don't actually have to speak about wine and the context of wine. You're not one of those, but the Intergnats are loaded with bozos like that.

Cris,
Just be grateful Thomas is in one of his Intergnats avoidance phases, or this would have been much worse.

Charlie Olken said...

I rather like the notion that Stagflation will kill the 100-point system because point scores really cannot go much higher unless we start giving 100 points to the top twenty roses and 105 to the top Bdx, Burgs, Chards et al.

Bob Henry said...

Ron writes:

". . . awarding 100 points to 2000 Margaux, but 99 points to 2001 Margaux when you've tasted them a year apart, creating a 'perfect' wine and a wine that is almost 'perfect,' and then saying you liked the 2000 just a little more is stupid on the face of it."

Excerpts from Robert Parker on how he “rates” wines:

“The 1990 Le Pin [red Bordeaux, rated 98 points] is a point or two superior to the 1989 [Le Pin, rated 96 points], but at this level of quality, comparisons are indeed tedious. Both are exceptional vintages, and the scores could easily be reversed at other tastings.”

Source: Robert Parker, The Wine Advocate (issue 109, dated 6-27-97)

-- AND --

“ . . . Readers often wonder what a 100-point score means, and the best answer is that it is pure emotion that makes me give a wine 100 instead of 96, 97, 98 or 99. ”

Source: Robert Parker, The Wine Advocate (unknown issue from 2002)

Too often the awarding of high scores is subject to whim and caprice.

Where's the rigor to the methodology?

Where's the ability to replicate the results?

And finally there is this: Where is the "vote of one's wallet"?

Did the wine reviewer enjoy the drinking experience so much that s/he would eagerly buy the wine and add it to her/her wine cellar?

That's not an inconsequential consideration.

There is the intellectual appreciation of a wine. Then there is the hedonistic appreciation of the wine.

Reviewers: Show us more of the latter enthusiasm, s'il vous plaît.

Dave Williams said...

In case anyone has missed it, here is a system from a most knowledgeable source, frequently posting on the Chowhound.com wine board:

Jason Brandt Lewis aka zin1953
http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/902082


IFC = in-f***ing-credible! (If anything was a "must buy," this was it!)

GSM = Good $#|+, Maynard! (My homage to The Dobie Gillis Show, and Maynard G. Krebs; worthy of purchase, if we needed wine in this specific category)

PGS = Pretty Good $#|+ (good, but had to exhibit great QPR [quality-price ration] to be considered for purchase)

DNS = Does Not Suck (no faults, commercially acceptable, but nothing to get excited about)

DNPIM = Danger! Danger! Warning, Will Robinson DO NOT PUT IN MOUTH! (applicable to bad bottles)

Then I realized that this didn't cover a wine that obviously started off with great potential but were horrible due to a winemaking mistake, and so was added

STW = Shoot The Winemaker!

Cheers, Dave (sorry for being MIA for so long)

PS Like you Ron, I mourned the passing of the Paso HdR, and quit going to WOPN after its move to Bacarra in SB. My wife and I had a wonderful time at the Craneway and came away with the sediments that you express so well.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Charlie,
You know, I am an advocate of my Million Point Scale. Stagflation Gone Wild!

Dave,
I know Jason, used to by wine from him many moons ago. Funny guy. I recently added a category to wine judging:

Double Gold
Gold
Silver
Bronze
No Award
DEATH PENALTY

Thanks for chiming in, Dave. I like the Craneway Pavilion for wine tasting, and I like the Rhone Rangers event. Next year, though, I'm not wearing a name tag.

Bob Henry said...

"I like the Rhone Rangers event. Next year, though, I'm not wearing a name tag."

Purportedly, leading restaurants post headshots of the city's prominent food critic on the kitchen wall for all the staff the memorize -- and "out."

In Ron's case, his headshot comes inside the winery's exhibitor kit.

Ron can always affect a disguise the way Los Angeles Times restaurant critics Ruth Reichl and S. Irene Virbila did during their tenure.

Today, their successor feels no compunction to go undercover.

He "outed" himself on the front page of the Los Angeles Times (January 24, 2015).

Link: http://www.latimes.com/food/jonathan-gold/la-fo-food-critic-outing-20150124-story.html#page=1

gabriel jagle said...

Sorry to be late to the party, but this was a great blog piece. My favorite was the Rose tasting, but I also enjoyed the "Einstein and Van Gough both get 98 points." You're good, Jose Miestro.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Hey Gabe,
Oh, it's kind of nice to get a comment so long after I've posted. Blog posts are so fleeting.

It kills me that the defense of the 100 Point Scale is that people like it, and wine reviewing is so dull you need it. Both valid points, by the way. But do people need to know that Margaux is a 100 Point Wine? The ones who can afford it don't care, and those people who "like" the 100 Point Scale can only see that score and weep.

Thanks for being a common tater, Gabe. See you in a few weeks...

Bob Henry said...

BREAKING NEWS . . .

From STEVE!

"An appreciation of rosé and a call for changing the rules of wine criticism"

http://www.steveheimoff.com/index.php/2015/04/28/an-appreciation-of-rose-and-a-call-for-changing-the-rules-of-wine-criticism/