It's always nice to hear from readers who discover a terrific wine because I recommended it. Recently, a blog reader exclaimed over Two Hands Shiraz Barossa Valley Bella's Garden 2004, a $50 wine that I had rated 95 points.
"One question," Alex Cobb continues. "This is a 95. What do the even higher scoring Aussie's taste like? I can only imagine, if this is so good... "
Over on James Laube's blog, he and his correspondents are hashing over the issue of whether scores and tasting notes are helpful, whether those of who put our palates on the line are "critics" or "dictators." Much of the discussion has at least touched on whether scores or words matter the most.
For what it's worth, I think of the score as a shorthand summary of just how good I think the wine is. The words explain why and try to paint a picture of the wine. For Bella's Garden 2004, I wrote: "Dark, deep and impressively focused, a massive wall of delicious fruit -- cherry, pomegranate, raspberry and red plum among the first to appear -- tempered with refined tannins that let the flavors just sail on and on through the extended finish."
Obviously, when you see a high score, such as that 95-pointer, it catches your attention. On our scale, 95 points is a "classic," which is a big step up from "outstanding."
So, what is it that makes a wine "classic"?
For me, it's that ineffable quality the French call finesse. And yes, even a big wine can have it. A wine with finesse balances a ton of flavor on a razor's edge of structure, or keeps sneaking up on you with ever more complex flavors as the finish rolls on and on (and on). A classic wine is expressive beyond all reasonable expectations. It doesn't taste like anything else.
It's not necessarily big or mouth-filling, although many classic wines are. It can be racy and lean, if the flavors emerge in an expanding fan on the finish. It can be deep and brooding, if the balance is extraordinary.
Ultimately, balance is what makes a wine absorbing to drink, isn't it? The more it offers while keeping that balance, the better it is. When it achieves something magical, that's when it gets into that 95-plus range for me.
Alex's question -- what do the higher-scoring Aussies taste like? -- has a simple answer. They taste like themselves, not like anything else, and they do it with finesse.
William Landreth — Irving, TX — July 19, 2006 4:05pm ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — July 19, 2006 4:19pm ET
Mark Owens — Cincinnati, Oh. — July 19, 2006 4:21pm ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — July 19, 2006 4:36pm ET
Marchello Chacchia — Connecticut — July 19, 2006 9:12pm ET
Fred Brown — July 19, 2006 9:14pm ET
Tim Webb — high point nc — July 20, 2006 12:02pm ET
Michael Jazayeri — July 20, 2006 4:00pm ET
James Molesworth — July 20, 2006 5:06pm ET
David A Zajac — July 21, 2006 1:37pm ET
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