By Marian Jansen op de Haar and Bruce Duffy
If you’re like most people, you probably rely heavily on wine scores to make your selections. That is, of course, unless your name is Robert Parker. While the famed wine critic didn’t exactly invent the rating system, he’s done much to promote it in his journal, The Wine Advocate. Parker’s isn’t the only palate, however, that determines which wines are “extraordinary” and which are “unacceptable.” Other critics and magazines, such as Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast, also use rating systems that greatly influence consumer selections.
The most common wine rating system is based on a 100-point scale. This is the system used by both Parker and Wine Spectator and is probably the best understood by the average consumer. Akin to our high school grading system, most people instinctively know that anything above 90 points is the equivalent of earning an “A.” But who is the teacher assigning these grades? And how are these points determined? There the clarity of the scale starts to get a little fuzzy. This is because each magazine has its own method of determining a wine’s score. And of course, it is subjective-based on the particular palates of the tasters.
Both Wine Spectator and The Wine Advocate (Parker) use blind conditions when rating wines. Tasters do not know the names of the wines they are rating so as to insure that price and reputation are not factors in their decision. Also, both publications start each wine with a base of 50 points — this is the lowest score a wine can receive. This is where the similarities of their approaches end, however.
The Wine Advocate assigns points based on color (up to 5 points), aroma (up to 15 points), flavor and finish (up to 20 points), and overall quality (up to 10 points). Wines are also tasted in peer groups, allowing tasters to compare the same types of wines against each other. Wine Spectator, on the other hand, assigns a point value based on how good the taster deems it will be when it reaches its peak. In addition, Wine Spectator’s ratings are determined solely by the editor whose expertise is that wine’s region. While other editors can offer opinions, the ultimate decision comes from the regional expert. Confused? Fear not. Below are five “A” reds that have scored over 90 points by Wine Spectator.
Miner, The Oracle Napa Valley, 2004. 90 points.
The Oracle is a Bordeaux-style blend inspired by the ancient Greek Oracle, the center of prophecy and wisdom. Sourced from Napa Valley’s renowned Stagecoach Vineyard, the blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec changes each year based on harvest conditions. The 2004 blend reveals aromas of blackberries, coffee and dried herbs that lead into layers of plush dark fruit flavors on the palate with well-integrated oak and framed by finely grained tannins. It received 90 points from both Wine Spectator and Robert Parker.
Georges Duboeuf, Juliénas Chateau des Capitans, 2005. 90 points.
The self-proclaimed “King of Beaujolais,” Georges Duboeuf crafts some of the best Beaujolais in France. Made from the Gamay grape, which produces low tannin versatile wine, Beaujolais is made in 12 appellations in the southern part of Burgundy. While most people know the wine in its youngest form — Beaujolais Nouveau — it is also produced as Beaujolais, Beaujolais-Villages, and finally by each name of the 12 village appellations. Juliénas (Shju-lee-a-nahs) is one of those villages. This wine has the telltale strawberry-cherry flavors of the Gamay grape. In addition, it shows structure, rose and herbaceous notes and a dark fruit edge on the finish. Wine Spectator rated this wine 90 points; Robert Parker gave it 92.
Outpost, Zinfandel Napa Valley Howell Mountain, 2006. 93 points.
Although its origins track back to Italy, Zinfandel is considered America’s grape and it thrives in California. Outpost’s terrain of volcanic, rocky red soil, high altitudes and cool breezes add to the complexity of this blend of old and new vine grapes. Look for plenty of mineral, spice and pepper notes that make this a classic mountain Zinfandel. Robert Parker gave this wine 90 points; Wine Spectator rates it at 93.
Despite what ratings Wine Spectator or Robert Parker assign, ultimately it is your palate that needs to be pleased, so use ratings as a guide, not gospel. Happy Tasting!
Marian Jansen op de Haar is the Director of Wine for Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar. Bruce Duffy is the wine manager at Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar in Chandler at 905 N. 54th St., 480-940-1900.