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Mr Parker's 100-point scores in The Wine Advocate were an instant hit. But the problem was that wine buyers and drinkers began to look at, to look for, to ask for, buy and drink only 100-pointer wines!

Trusting one's own tastes

Each wine lover/drinker needs to create their own wine quality-scale.
Sep 16, 2016 5:50 AM

THE arrival of The Wine Advocate in 1983 changed the world of the wine press, reviews and tasting notes. Before them, the review scene was dominated by the English wine writers, led by Michael Broadbent, David Peppercorn, and Serena Sutcliffe. They were among the most famous wine authorities at the time.

Mr Broadbent's wine book, The Great Vintage Wine Book, was THE reference for authoritative tasting notes. Along came The Wine Advocate and the scene shifted to the New World, ie USA. Robert Parker's 100-point scores were an instant hit. Hitherto the ratings used were the 5-star scale and the 20-point score used by Mr Broadbent. Not an easy scoring system that could be instantly assimilated.

BUT every Tom, Dick and Harry of a wine drinker could easily relate to the 100-point scale. Any wine with a perfect score must indeed be a PERFECT wine. Of course there is, (and never was), any such thing but at the time, wine lovers were relatively at sea, and the 100-point scale of wine was a life-vest.

To wine retailers, the 100-point scale was a great marketing tool. Any 100-pointer wine flew off their shelves. No sweat. A great landmark for the retail industry. There was one BIG problem with that. Wine buyers and drinkers began to look at, to look for, to ask for, buy and drink only 100-pointer wines! They remembered only the scores. They hardly bothered to read the tasting notes. Took too much time, they wanted just to buy the wine, and drink it. Must be good if it is a 100-pointer.

A big and general human failing. We look for benchmarks, for guidelines, for landmarks. We forget, ignore or do not trust our own tasting capabilities or benchmarks. There is a famous song "For we like sheep ...". (Handel's Messiah) which best says it all. The opening notes and words resonantly convey the resounding message!

As any wine critic, wine writer and winemaker will unhesitatingly tell you, "rely on your own tastes". We all have our own tastes, our own interpretations, our own understanding and our own benchmarks of the tastes and aromas of all the different wines. Wine reviews and notes are helpful, very much so in the case of wines new to our experience. They give you an idea what to expect, what the wine resembles, whether to explore further and even to buy. But they are not the "be-all, and end-all".

There is a similarity with judging and buying precious stones. Diamonds are said to be judged according to the American GIA scale, Which is fine, since they are so expensive. Diamonds do not age, but wine does. Which has to be taken into account when assessing what a wine is worth in terms of its intrinsic value and qualities.

All the above pertaining to wine quality and score/ranking are simply man-devised ranking systems or scales. And they reflect the opinion and ranking of ONE wine critic, wine writer. Which means they reflect one person's taste, it is not necessarily the same as yours or mine.

The point of it all is that we, each wine lover/drinker, need to create our own wine quality-scale. As US President Barack Obama said, "Yes, We Can", so can we if put our mind to it. But we don't, really, because most of us do not have the time, and most of us are afraid to trust our own tastes, our own judgement.

One important thing to note is that taking written notes forces us to crystallise our thoughts, to record our thoughts and ideas of colour, aroma and taste in terms which MEAN something to us, in other words, we are familiar with the taste of mangoes, of bananas, of nuts of all kinds, etc. The trick then is to relate each and every aroma and taste to the aromas and tastes we meet in everyday life.

I am reminded of one particular descriptive phrase which regularly appears in tasting notes of wine critics, and that is the "taste of tar"!! Who has actually tasted tar?(You would not have a tongue left intact if you do.) That is an example of how NOT to describe a flavour or aroma. Aromas and tastes in wine are best remembered (and recorded) when related to aromas and tastes familiar to us, that we encounter on a daily basis. Recording (writing) tasting notes of the wines you taste/drink is a very useful and instructive exercise. It not only greatly aids the memory, but imprints your taste impressions in your mind (for future use!). And with the aid of the ever-ubiquitous cellphone we can photograph the bottle and the label.

Finally, what does one do with one's wine notes? File them, store them in the computer? Even if you never look at them again, writing one's sensory impressions about the wines we taste/drink helps to crystallise our thoughts and imprint them into our memory. And the entry of computing into our daily lives has made this task of writing, recording and storing so much easier and simpler. AND easily retrievable. The last being the most important feature. Without the security of storage and the ease of retrieval, the notes would be consigned to the mists of yesteryears.