Some wine writers, mostly the ones that rail against the 100-point scale, would have their readers believe that tasters like me and my Wine Spectator colleagues wouldn't recognize a great, delicate wine or one that wasn't a fruit bomb if it jumped out of the glass at us. I'm tired of hearing that.
I know that I look for elegance and refinement when I taste the wines in the regions of my tasting beat, and that I reward it when I find it. My colleagues do, too. I am lucky that Oregon and Washington, two of my areas of tasting responsibility, do especially well in that regard. Half of the wines I taste are from Australia, and despite its reputation of making nothing but big fruit bombs, I find a fair percentage that do indeed display finesse. It's not as rare as you might think.
It's true that I for one am less tolerant of funky character in wine, but I don't demand that a wine be squeaky clean. It must have enough fruit and charm to make the funk a grace note rather than the main tune. If brettanomyces flavors predominate, I ding the wine, but I also recognize that some great wines have brett. It's a matter of balance, as always. A little volatile acidity (vinegar character) isn't necessarily bad, but a lot of it kills a wine for me.
So, just for ducks, I searched our database for six months' worth of ratings of 90 points or higher ("Outstanding" on the Wine Spectator 100-point scale). I looked for certain words, such as "elegant," "refined," "lively," and "delicate," and flavor descriptors such as "meaty," "minerally" and "earthy" and found lots of examples.
In my own tasting notes, I focused on Australia, because it would seem to be the biggest challenge. Just for a few examples, I found a 92-point Pinot Noir with "a strong mineral note" that "gains density with each sip, but not weight on the palate." And a "graceful, elegant" Chardonnay (91 points) pours out its flavors on a "polished, refined frame."
A 93-point Barossa Shiraz was "distinctive for the dark roux overtones that weave through the meaty cherry and licorice flavors," and called it "poised." Another Barossa Shiraz earned its 92-point rating for being "supple, graceful and refined."
Jim Laube awarded 93 points to a Chardonnay that "turns delicate and creamy on the palate" and to a Cabernet Sauvignon blend that he called "complex and savory," and noted spicy herb, mineral, sage and tar flavors in it. Jim Suckling's top-rated Barbarescos included one that was "tight and refined, very structured" and another that was "refined and classy." Both got 93 points.
How do you find these wines? Here's the dirty little secret that the 100-point-scale naysayers don't believe you're smart enough to know: Read the tasting note. If you prefer a lighter style of wine, look for words such as "light" and "delicate." If you like savory flavors in your wines, search for "savory" or "tar" or "mineral" and see what comes up. You might be surprised.
Although the online database search page won't let you do that per se, you can search for wines in a certain price range and rating range, and display them with their tasting notes. Then use your web browser's "find" function to search the page of results for these words. That's what I did.