Friday, 13 August 2010

Wine scoring

First the up front bit. Scoring wines isn’t an option for me. I simply don’t taste enough different wines often enough to be consistent in marking. The closest I get is at tastings where I may give relative scores in little more than a ranking exercise. The challenge is if, say, 90/100 is penned one moment then would the same score for a different, but of similar style, wine on another day mean the wines are equal quality? For a relatively short period in the mid-1980s I attended several tastings a week, so I can appreciate that with a high degree of palate exposure (or is that palate assault) one has a fighting chance of the calibration necessary for noting consistent scores.

There are other factors. I taste wine to decide whether to buy for drinking at home or, generally for expensive wines, because I’m curious or simply find it interesting. Professional tasters usually have to think of customers or readers. I try to be optimistic and seek out interesting qualities I like rather than look for faults, but marking is perhaps easier based on a subtraction principle - assume a “perfect” wine and deduct for what’s missing or even faulty. Even Robert Parker in explaining his adopted 100 point system states that the approach is a "very critical look at wine". When it comes to Languedoc reds some tasters find too much volatile acidity for their taste, but that's often part of the package with a hot climate.

Another challenge with scores is that actually drinking the stuff, as opposed to tasting, is much more than the wine. Expectations, company, mood, location, event, climate and weather, food (or not), glassware and even wines that came before influence the enjoyment factor. A tasting sample can woo, but back home after the first couple of mouthfuls the wine can be anything from too overblown and heady to flat and one dimensional – fruit driven reds and viognier have track records here.

All that said, I usually enjoy reading wine scores for wines I know or writers I am familiar with, as long as a score does not replace a tasting note and an insight as to whether the taster actually likes the wine rather than just admires it.

Richard M James’s excellent site (until recently subscriber only) and accompanying blog is strong on Languedoc, as it should be given that Richard is based in the region. He also proffers scores, although does state “First and foremost, I don't really like giving a score to wine”. More than likely this reflects the reality of being a wine professional.

Past its best - remains of a wine storage pot at the excavation site of the oldest known winery in France (dating from the 10th year AD) at Aspiran in the Hérault valley

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