You can’t please all the people all the time. For example, when it comes to judging wines, some people think I give out too many high scores, while others consider me stingy because I have so rarely given out 100-point ratings.
I have rated many wines 98 or 99 in blind tastings. In some ways, that reflects my view of perfection. The reason I don’t give out 100-point ratings isn’t because I think there aren’t great wines. It has more to do with my inner compass and how I’ve come to use the 100-point system. Once you establish what you think is an outstanding wine (90 points) and work within the parameters, inching your way up the point scale gets tougher.
I have rated a few wines a perfect 100. One was the incredible 1941 Inglenook Napa Valley Cabernet; I’ve tried it a dozen times and found it to be uniformly magnificent. Another was the Arrowood 1993 White Riesling Late Harvest Russian River Valley Oak Meadow Vineyard Select, a gorgeously sweet, rich dessert wine. In a vertical tasting of Bryant Family Napa Valley Cabernet, I also upgraded the 1996 vintage to perfection, from the 99 points I gave on release—finding this rich, layered, opulent beauty displayed power, finesse, polish and elegance.
But those perfect scores didn’t come from one of my blind tastings for the magazine. They came from tasting the wines with their peers and in that context I felt they did reflect perfection. I felt confident that the wines had truly earned those scores, and it wasn’t just a case of being swept off my feet by one amazing bottle.
We editors periodically talk about why we draw the lines where we do with ratings. Perhaps it’s a mix of a philosophical and psychological barrier. I’m not saying that critics shouldn’t award perfect scores, and it has occurred to me that if I did start handing out 100-point ratings, they would grab plenty of attention. But up to now, that hasn’t felt right to me. I know that reticence to issue 100-point ratings doesn’t penalize the wines I review. I like to think that readers understand how critics differ, and take that into account when they look at our reviews.