Scores. Out of twenty (the old guard, the English), out of 100 (our American friends, the young guns). A nightmare. I don’t score wines as a matter of course, but ask me to and I can. The Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon that I’m drinking right now? 85 points: no clear faults, drinkable but forgettable. Last night’s 2006 Bourgogne Blanc, Arnaud Ente: 89 points: character, class, very well made, but let down by the blowsiness that 2006 white Burgundies seem to be showing right now. The last 100 pointer (for me) that I tasted? 2001 Meursault, Perrieres, Lafon. If only because it was perfect.
100 pointers aside (i.e. perfection), scores are limited, limiting. Essentially you’re putting taste into numbers and, importantly, YOUR taste. You can give the fish and chips at the Caprice 95 points but I don’t eat fish.
Which is why the whole points thing, the Parker thing, winds me up so much. I think that 96 Latour is a better wine than 96 Lafite (it’s about class). I think that 2005 Margaux came down from Heaven on a string: a 101 pointer. Robert Parker doesn’t. So who is right?
Robert Parker is an astonishingly good taster. The nature of what he is most noted for – tasting Bordeaux from barrel – is such that his calls, his predictions (for that is what one is doing when tasting from barrel: predicting) can’t really be judged for ten years or so. But read his notes on barrel samples of 1996s, 2000s, 1990s, whatever, and they are remarkable in their accuracy. I concede that Mr Parker tastes rather well, and is better at it than me.
BUT: I know that he likes fish. And I know that he likes Pavie. So where does that put me?
My irritation at this is compounded by wines that I taste that have been made for Mr Parker’s palate, wines that are designed to suit him. I tasted a selection of Californian wines this week, and they were rather impressive: full, rich, balanced. Despite the high alcohol levels they had no hotness to them, no lack of freshness. But, much as my notes were positive, there was something missing: character. These wines didn’t tell you where they were from, there was no love in them. No love, just work. Lots of work, very well executed work, but just work. They were feats of engineering rather than anything else. I am sure that they were made for him, for the score (and the gentleman showing the wines did rather bang on about them).
So: last night: 2002 Nebbiolo d’Alba, Valmaggiore, Sandrone. Crap vintage, excellent winemaker (who makes me a hypocrite: the purist in me says this is made, not born), and 91 points from me under duress. One of Mr Parker’s soldiers says “The long and sustained floral aromas, the attractive notes of spice and coconut, and the solidity and grip of the finish almost defy explanation” and says 89 points. Erm. That would be the winemaking.