A perfect game in baseball has a specific definition: It is where all 27 batters are retired by a pitcher (or pitchers) who pitches a victory that lasts a minimum of nine innings and in which no opposing player reaches base. Twenty-seven up, 27 down. No hits, no walks, no hit batsmen, no runners on base.
A perfect wine has its own definition, too, but it is far more subjective. Wine is all a matter of personal choice. So is perfection.
My concept of wine perfection has received a considerable amount of attention since this past Wednesday, when the scores for two of Schrader's 2007 Beckstoffer To Kalon Cabernets were revealed in the Insider. I gave them both 100-point ratings in blind tastings of flights that included their peers. It's the first time any newly released wine has received a perfect rating from me in my nearly 30-year career here.
I often use a baseball analogy when describing what it's like to be a critic. Imagine being a home plate umpire and deciding what's a ball and what's a strike. Every ump sets his strike zone. Some call low strikes, some call them high. What's important is that an ump (or we as critics and consumers) establishes his own strike zone. And once he's established it, he should be consistent.
Umpires are human, however, so there are bound to be inconsistencies and blown calls (this year one ump missed a call that cost a Detroit Tiger pitcher a perfect game). Hopefully, those inconsistencies are rare.
What makes umpiring unique is that that an ump has only a split second to decide whether a pitch is in the strike zone or not (or a runner is safe or out).
Critics have plenty of time to consider a wine (or a movie or book). For me, though, after reviewing more than 100,000 wines over the past three decades, I usually know within seconds of tasting it whether a wine is outstanding or not, and then it's a matter of deciding how good it is or what's missing.
As a wine critic, or consumer, the more you taste, the more you learn about different wines, appellations and styles. With time and experience, you gain confidence, and it's easier to pick out the wines that appeal to you and those that don't. You know when a wine is a perfect strike. You also know when a wine is missing something: too high (in acidity, tannins or oak), too low (in acidity, flavor, depth or length), inside or outside. You know right away when a wine's a wild pitch (as in flawed). Or when it hits the batter (undrinkable).
It's easier for me to decide when a wine is outstanding because its attributes are so positive and apparent. A great wine has all the of these ingredients in varying shades, depending on the grape or wine: depth, ripeness, richness, purity of flavor, focus, complexity in taste and aromatics, balance, length, nuance, texture and finesse. Assessing a wine that is missing some of those ingredients is sometimes more difficult.
The two 2007 Schrader Cabernets I recently awarded perfect 100-point ratings hit my sweet spot for Napa Valley Cabernet. These wines are, for me, perfect spheres; they have everything they need in terms of the aforementioned attributes and lack nothing. They are in perfect balance.
I have never rated two new releases that highly. One reason is that the whole point of being a critic is to be critical. You look for what is there, but also what is absent.
A perfect wine has everything you want and expect from a wine of its type and appellation. It's been a long time since I tasted as many great wines from one vintage as I have with the 2007 Napa Cabernets. That two wines made by Schrader, from the Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard in Oakville, merit 100-point ratings from me is, until now, unprecedented. That these two beauties (and three more Schraders from the same vineyard) would emerge from such a grand vintage is perhaps less surprising. The highest rated wines I've tasted from 2007 have come from Oakville. I only wish everyone could experience the Schrader wines. They are that good.
Jamie Sherman — Sacramento — September 8, 2010 4:46pm ET
Michael Myette — Sacramento, CA USA — September 8, 2010 5:03pm ET
Troy Peterson — Burbank, CA — September 8, 2010 5:07pm ET
James Laube — Napa, CA — September 8, 2010 5:28pm ET
James Laube — Napa, CA — September 8, 2010 7:05pm ET
Louis Robichaux — Highland Village, Texas — September 8, 2010 8:09pm ET
Berg Atkinson — Alexandria, VA — September 8, 2010 10:54pm ET
Steven M Ruths M D — Santa Barbara, CA — September 8, 2010 11:23pm ET
David Dickson — Sacramento, CA — September 9, 2010 12:29am ET
Matt Scott — Honolulu HI — September 9, 2010 12:50am ET
James Laube — Napa, CA — September 9, 2010 1:08pm ET
James Laube — Napa, CA — September 9, 2010 1:11pm ET
Tim Schultheiss — Monrovia CA — September 9, 2010 2:39pm ET
Patrick Oder — Wakefield, MA — September 9, 2010 3:31pm ET
James Laube — Napa, CA — September 9, 2010 3:56pm ET
Troy Peterson — Burbank, CA — September 9, 2010 4:16pm ET
Tyler Mcafee — Houston, TX — September 9, 2010 10:34pm ET
Mace D Howell Iii — fremont,ca,usa — September 10, 2010 12:10pm ET
James Laube — Napa, CA — September 10, 2010 12:23pm ET
Mace D Howell Iii — fremont,ca,usa — September 11, 2010 7:41am ET
Don R Wagner — Illinois — September 11, 2010 5:10pm ET
Julian Lau — CA — October 27, 2012 1:03pm ET
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