The winemaker wanted to know why I’d rated his wine in the 70s, or “mediocre” on our 100-point scale.
The rating had just appeared in the magazine, but without a tasting note. That’s because we no longer publish complete reviews for all wines. Not counting a few exceptions, full tasting notes appear only for wines that score 85 points (“very good”) or better. (All wine reviews are available on our website, however, but generally only after the magazine’s publication date has passed.)
So I passed on the tasting note to him, and that made me think it might be useful to explain something about what leads me to give low scores for wine.
Most of them have what I consider technical flaws, such as brettanomyces (brett), volatile acidity (VA) or residual sugar in a wine that should be dry.
Occasionally I mark down a wine that’s too tannic, too high in acidity, or simply too thin to merit an endorsing review. A Cabernet might be too green, unripe and acidic. On the other hand, a flabby German Riesling would be scored low for inadequate acidity.
Since each of us has a different threshold for these flaws, or faults, our reactions to a given wine may vary. There are plenty of wines these days that one critic might consider superripe and delicious, yet another would consider overripe and undrinkable.
For example, brett manifests itself in many ways. It can give a wine an earthy, spicy quality that many people like and many more accept, especially at low levels. All red wines have at least some level of brett and VA, since they can be byproducts of fermentation (and signs of an unclean cellar).
Yet for others, even a low level of brett can give a wine a nasty or dirty quality. When it’s more severe, it can smell medicinal or like melted plastic. For my tastes, even low levels of brett are undesirable.
Another issue of late for me is high levels of VA. When a red wine starts to smell like balsamic vinegar, it’s gone too far. Yet I know many people like the racy, lifted quality VA can give a wine.
It’s all about thresholds and tolerances.
Back to the winemaker’s query:
I tasted the wine in question on three separate occasions, all blind.
The first tasting note read "Lean, with a chalky, dusty berry flavor that turns simple."
The next note read "Intense and earthy, with dry, leather flavors that turn bitter."
The third note: "Thin, tastes stripped, with a chalky TCA-like edge."
My final note described the wine as intense and earthy, with dry flavors that turn bitter. The note stated: "Tasted three times with consistent notes."
I’m sure others will find wines like this acceptable. But in this instance, not once in three tastings did it impress me and it’s not a wine I can recommend.
My goal is to be true to my palate, and as consistent as I can be in judging a wide variety of wines. Once you learn my palate, I hope you will find my ratings a reliable guide, even if your own thresholds differ from mine.
John B Woodward Iii — Lost Canyon CO — November 2, 2007 11:50pm ET
Mark Horowitz — Brooklyn, USA — November 3, 2007 12:55am ET
Jack Stoakes — Colorado — November 3, 2007 12:56am ET
Sandy Fitzgerald — Centennial, CO — November 3, 2007 11:41am ET
Brian Loring — Lompoc, CA — November 3, 2007 1:16pm ET
Jordan Horoschak — Houston, TX — November 3, 2007 2:58pm ET
Alwyn Sessions — November 3, 2007 3:39pm ET
Alwyn Sessions — November 3, 2007 4:24pm ET
Joseph Lopez Jr — hanford, CA — November 3, 2007 10:33pm ET
Frank Ostini — Buellton, CA — November 4, 2007 10:31am ET
Don R Wagner — Illinois — November 4, 2007 10:48am ET
Alex Bernardo — Millbrae, CA — November 4, 2007 11:34am ET
Jeff Johnson — Costa Mesa Ca, — November 4, 2007 12:04pm ET
Jack Stoakes — Colorado — November 4, 2007 8:58pm ET
Roy Piper — Napa, CA. — November 5, 2007 12:59am ET
Brian — costa mesa, ca — November 5, 2007 2:47am ET
James Laube — Napa, CA — November 5, 2007 12:01pm ET
James Laube — Napa, CA — November 5, 2007 12:05pm ET
Gerry Stuart — Calgary — November 5, 2007 2:04pm ET
Greg Piatigorski — CA — November 5, 2007 3:44pm ET
Jeffrey Ghi — New York — November 5, 2007 4:52pm ET
Loren Lingerfelter — Danville, CA — November 7, 2007 1:47pm ET
Larry Schaffer — Central Coast — November 7, 2007 5:15pm ET
Don Rauba — Schaumburg, IL — November 8, 2007 1:49pm ET
Tom Eichler — Portland — November 18, 2007 2:56pm ET
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