Over on Chuck Wagner’s blog, a reader from Michigan asked why (among other things) my ratings for Napa Valley Cabernet have been so “abysmal” of late.
If he’d used the words "critical" or "tough" or even "biased against" 2003, I wouldn’t have minded. An 85-point overall vintage rating for Napa Cabernets in 2003 puts the vintage in the “very good” range, albeit at the lower end of that spectrum. Calling that abysmal, well, that’s stretching things.
As I pointed out in the Nov. 15 issue, 2003 was a tricky year for Cabernet. There were some terrific wines, just fewer than in recent years such as 2001 and 2002 and, as I’m finding out now, 2004.
I’m addressing this issue because it’s important to read what the numerical ratings mean. (See the full explanation of our 100-point scale.) I know some people think that the only good wines are the ones rated 90 points or above. But I don’t view it that way and neither do my fellow editors, who grapple with creating vintage charts that attempt to provide a numerical snapshot of a given year from a given appellation.
As it is, you rarely see vintage ratings below 75 points on our chart; most fall between 85 to 100.
The same is true with individual wine ratings. Anything below 75 points is not recommended, and a wine has to be seriously flawed to be tagged with that designation, while 75 to 79 points is mediocre (a drinkable wine that may have minor flaws). Yet I'm sure that even those critics who have chosen to narrow the range of their published scores to 85 to 100 points—either for vintages or wines—would tell you that an 85-point wine is very good—not great, but well worth your attention provided the price is reasonable.
We think it’s useful to use a wider range of numbers for vintages and individual reviews. And if you see a 77-point vintage rating, you'll know the year overall was dreadful and so were many of the wines.