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Wine Club Newsletter - July 2016

Debunking the Wine Score Inflation Myth

Here’s an interesting article written by Claire Adamson that deals with the points awarded wines by wine critics . . . GP

Are wine scores really inching ever upwards? Claire Adamson takes a look at hard facts, rather than gut feeling.

Legendary British wine writer Hugh Johnson isn't a fan of wine scores.

Speaking at the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers in Napa in February, he recalled his bafflement at seeing the numbers down the side of Robert Parker's tasting notes for the first time. He asked what they were, and was horrified at the answer. "What else can you score?" he asked, plaintively. "Your friends? Your family?"

But the Wine Advocate-reading public loved the idea of wine scores and, as the years went by, a 100-point score from the Baltimore critic became a ticket to fame and fortune for most producers. And then everyone else started marking the wines they were tasting out of 100; and then it became the case that we couldn’t even think about a wine without having someone’s – anyone's – two little numbers beside it. Or three if we were lucky.

The backlash came swiftly. The most obvious point for criticism was the fact that a numerical scale shouldn't be applied to something that can't be measured. This was followed closely by the fact that the 100-point scale is really just a 30-point scale – it starts at 50 and it is rare to see a score under 70.

The most recent gripe, however, is how scores are creeping up and up, as wine critics clamor to be heard on an increasingly crowded internet.

Score inflation has become what we talk about when we talk about wine scores. Tim Atkin has written extensively on the proliferation of 100-point scores, and James Laube of Wine Spectator has ascribed the slow creep skyward to critics who dared to know where the wine was made and by who before giving it a score. Our own W. Blake Gray said that "94 was the new 90" when Antonio Galloni took over the Napa beat for the Wine Advocate in 2011.

The thing is, wine scores haven't actually been on the rise. I can back that up the best way I know how – with the Wine-Searcher database. We looked at our own average wine scores, calculated from a range of the world's most famous critics, and retrofitted them back to the 1990 vintage. The results are almost entirely horizontal.

The data shows that the average collated score for all the wines in the database was 88 in 1990, rising by a whole big one point to 89 in 2014. In fact, between 2001 and 2011, the average score remained unchanged at 88 points.

"But wait!" I hear you say. "That includes $10 cheapies from Portugal and quaffers from South Australia. That's not what we're talking about!" And it's true – most critics are wringing their hands over inflation in the likes of Napa and Bordeaux – and all of them, naturally, proclaiming themselves innocent of contributing to the rise.

But we anticipated that, and looked at the high-demand producing areas: in 2014, the average collated score for Bordeaux was 88, down from 89 in 1990. Even lauded vintages like 2009 stayed level, amassing just 87 points. Barolo's highest average score over the last 25 years was 92, for the well-regarded 2012 vintage; overall, the average score across the past 25 years has been 85.

Burgundy's average score has been 89 every year for the past decade, despite prices going stratospheric. Only Napa's average score has inflated significantly, from an average of 88 in 1990 to 91 in 2014. Overall, the average across the past 25 vintages has been 89.

So where is all this concern over skyrocketing wine scores coming from? Could it be that it's an elite circle of hysteria, a kind of self-perpetuating myth? And is it all just adding to the intoxicating power of the wine score over consumers? Probably.

The stupid thing about the scores, and this misguided anxiety over wine critics trying to literally one-up each other, is that it is ultimately hurting the 99 percent of wine consumers who never get to drink the top-tier wines. The average drinker can't afford to drink a 95+ wine very often, especially as high scores usually push prices up. So what’s the point? How is a number assigned by one person useful information for the 99 percent of consumers, especially if that number is going to affect how the wine is priced?

Harlan Estate is a good example of this. The first vintage of the famous cult Cabernet was released in 1990 at $65 a bottle. Since then, the wine has had five 100-point scores from Parker, and now has an average price on Wine-Searcher of $850 a bottle. In fact, many of the world's most expensive wines got that way because of Robert Parker's high scores.

Wine scores should reflect the quality of a wine, of course, but they should also surely reflect the price of the wine, not inflate it. Lettie Teague writes that, when Robert Parker started out, he "wanted to empower consumers against the insular, elitist world of wine". What he's done has ended up being the opposite, providing yet another barrier to wines for consumers.

And they bloody love him for it.

2014 Moncalvina Moscato d’Asti, “Canelli”, Coppo

Growing Region: Piedmont, Italy
Varietal Composition: 100% Moscato Bianco di Canelli
Fermentation: Stainless Steel Tanks, capturing Carbon Dioxide to give wine the fizz.
Alcohol Content: 5%
Suggested Retail: $18.00
WineSellar Club Price:  $14.39

Broad Strokes:         
Of the 52 townships that may carry the denomination Moscato DOCG, only 22 are included in the prestigious subzone of “Canelli,” where Moscato has been cultivated since the 13th century. Only grapes that are cultivated above the obligatory 165 meters above sea level can be made into Moscato d’Asti DOCG Canelli. “This is a tasty and generous Moscato d’Asti, a nice sensation of fullness and creaminess in the mouth that is backed by the foamy effervescence.” 91 Points!, The Wine Advocate

Appearance:      
The bottle has an unassuming presence, as you would expect a wine with some fizz or bubbles would have the cork fastened down to prevent it from popping off at the wrong time. Guess they don’t need it. The wine is straw and golden in color, with fine little beads running up from the bottom of the glass.

Nose:            
It is very fragrant, nearly perfect, with solid notes of apricot, peach, ripe Mandarin orange, white flower (honeysuckle) and ginger. Very fun, lively and fruity wine.

Texture:
A nice burst of the bubbles upon immediate entry. It is more of a foamy sensation as the bubbles dissipate rather quickly once in your mouth, leaving behind a refreshing feel and clean, even taste.

Flavors:                
The peach and apricot flavors are the most forward. Near the end of the bottle, I was comparing it to canned peaches. However, it is more delicate than that, with its flowery, ginger, Honeydew melon, green apple and crème brûlée characteristics.

Serving Suggestions:
With 5% alcohol, less than half a standard wine, this Moscato d”Asti is superior as a before dinner treat, or when picnicking, at a BBQ, on the golf course, or relaxing around a pool. It pairs well with fresh fruits, and ripe, soft cheeses. The Coppo winery suggests serving it with light pastries.

2012 Luke, Wahluke Slope, Cabernet Sauvignon

Growing Region: Colombia Valley, Washington
Varietal Composition: 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 2% Malbec, 1% Petite Verdot
Fermentation: Using both French & American Oak
Alcohol Content: 14.5%
Suggested Retail: $28.00
WineSellar Club Price:  $22.49

Broad Strokes:         
2012 is the inaugural vintage for LUKE Cabernet Sauvignon. Seattle native Thomas Vogele launched Zero One Vintners in 2006 with his wife Kristin, pivoting from a career selling wines for the likes of Gallo and Robert Mondavi in California. Donning his winemaker cap, he began establishing relationships with growers in the Columbia and Walla Walla Valleys. His new label, LUKE, focuses on the Wahluke Slope. A mere 790 cases were produced.

91 PointsCellar Tracker, 90 Points The Wine Spectator

Appearance:      
I love the label. It is striking, memorable, and you want to know more about the story. It is also easy to read, stating simply what the product is. I might criticize the font style, and that the print job looks more home made than professional. The wine is black at the core, with dark, ruby red edges.

Nose:            
Beautiful and elegant aromas of blackberry, boysenberry, vanilla, dairy and cream, some smoke, cedar, roasted nuts and violets. This is reminding me of very fine Bordeaux.

Texture:
With a richness you might compare to a vintage Port, it is the little bite of crisp acidity that holds the wine in perfect check. It is creamy, velvety, elegant, harmonious, and has a lengthy, weighty feel from start to finish. Remarkable!

Flavors:                
As with the texture, the Port like power of dense black fruits make you pay attention. Blackberry, Marion berry, mocha, cedar, smoke, black pepper, blueberry, black olive, currants, chocolate, vanilla and elder flower.

Serving Suggestions:
Far be it from “Little Luke,” this solid, dense, power packed wine with a silky lining will cellar for twenty years or more. I enjoyed drinking it with my grilled, fatty meat dish last night, but will opt to hide some for enjoying a decade or two from now.

2006 Cote Bonneville “Carriage House-DuBrul Vineyard”

Growing Region: Yakima Valley, Washington
Varietal Composition: 54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc
Fermentation: Using both French & American Oak
Alcohol Content: 14.5%
Suggested Retail: $45.00
WineSellar Club Price:  $39.59

Broad Strokes:         
Kerry Shiels' parents, Hugh and Kathy Shiels, planted the DuBrul Vineyard, their Yakima Valley property in Washington, in 1992. That same year, Kerry, then 13, made her first wine. "It was a science project," explains Shiels, now 34. "That's what you do when you grow up in wine country." Onetime farmers of alfalfa, asparagus and Concord grapes, the Shielses knew they'd come across a good spot for Vitis vinifera with the DuBrul site. The vineyard's 45 acres of basalt promontory peak at around 1,300 feet of elevation and hold diverse microclimates. It’s singular geologic conditions distinguished it early on as a premium site for winegrowing, and it was among the first sources of vineyard-designated wine in the state.

92 PointsCellar Tracker, 93 Points The Wine Spectator

Appearance:      
Nice label and theme to it. People new to the brand may have trouble distinguishing the name of the winery, Cote Bonneville, from the name of the wine, Carriage House. The wine perfect looking, with an opaque center, brilliant rim, and long, beautiful legs cascading very, very slowly down the bowl of the glass.

Nose:            
Very engaging aromatics laced with dark fruit, sweet and cedar wood, roasted nuts, mahogany, ripe plum, tobacco and stewed cherries.

Texture:
Smooth, polished and elegant, with some good grip derived from the lively acid (yes lively, even after ten years). Not the typical Napa Valley Cabernet in style, but as with our other Washington State entry this month, it is more akin to fine Bordeaux in texture.

Flavors:                
The stewed cherries from the nose are prominent in the flavor profile. Kerry Shiels says the vineyards they planted give off that element. Also noted: sweet leather strap, bittersweet  chocolate, tobacco and spices.

Serving Suggestions:
This is an unreal wine for being ten years old. Long life ahead of it, but enjoyable to drink now. Keep it another ten years if you like to cellar it.

2014 Caymus, Cabernet Sauvignon, 1 Liter Bottle

Growing Region: Napa Valley, California
Varietal Composition: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon
Fermentation: Using both French & American Oak
Alcohol Content: 14%
Suggested Retail: $90.00
WineSellar Club Price: $71.99

Broad Strokes:         
From the Winery: Caymus Vineyards produces two Cabernets Sauvignons – a “Napa Valley” and the venerable “Special Selection.” Both Cabernet bottlings have aromas and flavors which can only be achieved through “hang time” – a technique which chances the loss of crop if early winter sets in. Leaving the fruit to “hang” on the vine unusually long develops suppleness, increases color, and matures the tannins of the grapes. The wines are abundant in textural tannins yet soft as velvet.

Appearance:
First you notice the bottle is massive, as it holds another 250 milliliters of liquid than does a standard wine bottle. I like this a lot! Great for aging in the wine cellar and for parties. I also really love the label. Dark black and red center, garnet edging at the rim.

Nose:            
An amazing, sensuous nose of black cherry, vanilla spice, black pepper, more vanilla, and roasted hazelnuts

Texture:
The creamy and smooth entry to the palate is fully enveloping. While the fruit and acid is powerful, it gives off a lush, rich, almost chocolate milk textural sensation that is totally awesome.

Flavors:                
This sassy and seductive wine tastes of nuts, chocolate, vanilla, whipped cream, black cherry, root beer, caramel, currant, balsamic, black pepper, spices and on and on it goes. Hard to believe a wine can taste like this, it’s just mind-boggling. At one point I was guessing this must be what Chateau Lafite Rothschild must taste like when Coca-Cola is added to it, as per some irreverent Chinese will do.

Serving Suggestions:
Try it right away. This is a rare offering, and all the Caymus Cabernets score a minimum of 90 points every year. I have had these wines from the 1970’s and 1980’s, and they hold up really well. I strongly urge you to call in your order ASAP for three, six, or twelve bottles. They will be delightful and prestigious additions to your collection.

Watermelon Salad

This a great summertime dish that is refreshing, and relatively easy to make. It is superb with our white selection for the WineSellar Club this month, 2014 Moncalvina Moscato d’Asti, “Canelli”, Coppo

Ingredients:

  • 8-pound seedless watermelon
  • 1/2 cup juice from the melon
  • 3 Tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 Tablespoons lime juice
  • 2 cups of crumbled Feat cheese
  • 2 Medium sized cucumbers, thinly sliced or cubed into ¼ inch squares
  • Pinch of freshly ground pepper
  • 1.5 Cups Organic Made In Nature Super Berry Fusion (from Costco)
  • 2/3 Cup Pint Nuts, lightly toasted
  • 1/2 Cup chopped Mint leaves
  • 1/2 Cup fresh chopped Basil

Method:

  1. Cube or scoop the watermelon into bite sized pieces, and set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, add the watermelon juice, lemon juice, lime juice.
  3. Whisk until blended together.
  4. Add in the watermelon, Feta cheese Dried fruit mix, cucumber and pepper.
  5. Toss gently and plate, using the mint and basil to garnish.

Options:

  • You can add a little Balsamic vinegar
  • You can add Cholula hot sauce

Gary Parker, July, 2016

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