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An appreciation of rosé and a call for changing the rules of wine criticism



It was hot in Oakland yesterday—the city of Pittsburg, in the Delta, hit 93 degrees—and I was doing a lot of running around, so when I got home, around 5 p.m., I was thirsty. I happened to have a bottle of a rosé in the fridge (not Jackson Family), and it looked mighty welcoming, so I popped the cork, poured myself a glass, and sipped.



The label doesn’t say what the blend is, but it’s Provençal. I think there’s some Grenache in there, maybe Cinsaut and almost definitely Syrah, but it doesn’t really matter. We make too much of the varieties in these blended wines. The winemaker isn’t trying to do some cookbook sort of thing, according to some theory, but to craft the best wine she can. But we’re addicted to knowing the blend, so there’s pressure on proprietors to put it on the bottle. In a way, I admire this particular winery for resisting that impulse. They’re telling us, “Don’t focus on the grape varieties, focus on the wine.”

Rosé is red-hot (no pun intended). It’s always been around, of course, but it’s never been this popular. I wonder why. Summer’s coming, of course, and rosé hits that sweet spot of being midway between a white wine and a red wine. When I was on the road last week in New England, I was surprised by how many people I met who told me that they don’t care for (red or white: pick one), but love the other one. I, myself, can’t imagine ever being in that dilemma. But if you are, I’d think a rosé would be the best of both worlds.

How do the critics treat rosé? Not very respectfully. There’s a tendency among them to view it as a simple, inexpensive wine, made from press juice, without complexity. That can be the case, but not always. The wine I’m drinking now—the rosé from my fridge—is quite a complicated thing. It’s bone dry, with wonderful acidity, and the fruit (strawberries barely turned pink, orange zest, pink grapefruit) has a herbaceousness that reminds me of fresh thyme and white or pink peppercorns. Were I reviewing it, I’d probably give it 89 or 90 points, but I’m pretty sure that most other critics would score it lower than that, maybe around 87 or 88.

Why is it that certain wines never seem to rise above a certain score? Sauvignon Blanc is another. I’ve wrestled with that question for a long time, and still can’t really answer it. Since I’m “guilty” of the same thing myself, I can’t accuse other critics of any sort of impropriety. I think what it comes down to is that Sauvignon Blanc and rosé (to mention just two California wines) traditionally never got very high scores, and so critics don’t want to go out on a limb and give them 95s or 97s. After all, they have their reputations to protect. And yet, why shouldn’t a great rosé get 97 points?

Parker says his highest ratings are for ageable wines, so I guess he’s off the hook. The vast majority of rosés aren’t ageable. But one could argue that, within the context of rosé-ness, there are rosés that approach perfection, so why wouldn’t you give a perfect rosé a perfect score? Because to give a wonderful Provençal wine 100 points—the same as Petrus or Verité—would seem a little odd.

But why? Ageability aside, we’re talking about perfection within the context of what the wine is—the sandbox it plays in—and it seems to me to be unfair to say, “This is a perfect rosé” and give it 94 points, and “This is a perfect Cabernet” and give it 100 points.

Well, here I am, realizing stuff after I’ve retired as a wine critic! But if I had to do it all over again, I’d be more generous with my 100s. Break the rules, if you will, redefine them. Wine criticism has turned rather baroque, if you ask me: mannered, adhering to a strict canon, rather rigid. It needs to be shook up—intelligently. Not smashed, not taken over idiotically, but systematically redefined in a way that’s fairer than it has been, when only certain regions or varieties could star. That has got to change.

  1. Bob Henry says:

    O M G !

    Are lions lying down with lambs?

    Are we on the threshold of the “wine rapture”?

    An epiphany:

    “. . . one could argue that, within the context of rosé-ness, there are rosés that approach perfection, so why wouldn’t you give a perfect rosé a perfect score? Because to give a wonderful Provençal wine 100 points — the same as Petrus or Verité — would seem a little odd.

    “But why? Ageability aside, we’re talking about perfection within the context of what the wine is — the sandbox it plays in — and it seems to me to be unfair to say, ‘This is a perfect rosé’ and give it 94 points, and ‘This is a perfect Cabernet’ and give it 100 points.”

    I have been promoting this POV for years: that a perfect wine — for its varietal type — should merit a “100 point score” . . . or else the whole point scoring system is a complete fraud upon the public.

    That unlike Lake Wobegon, some wines are not “more perfect” than others.

    HISTORY LESSON: “Is there a ‘glass ceiling’ when it comes to scoring certain wines? (Hint: yes)”

    POSTING DATE: September 5, 2014.



    “. . . A few nights ago I drank a rosé that was so good, at that particular moment (a warm, muggy night, and I was tired after a long day), that I wouldn’t have traded it for anything else. But had I been reviewing and scoring it, which I wasn’t, I don’t think I would have scored it above 90 points. So I’m not defending the point system, so much as trying to explain why it is the way it is. . . .”

    I even took Steve to task for giving that soul-satisfying rosé “only” a 90 point score:

    “Would a great rosé sparkling wine or Champagne ever cross the 91 point threshold for you?”

    (Wait. What’s that you say? It’s still April. He could be foolin’?)

  2. Bob, does your argument only apply to varietal types, or would you extend it to growing regions, too? Should a wine from a less prestigious region get 100 points if it’s the epitome of that region?

  3. Steve:

    I know that I have commented on the blog about the illogic surrounding a point ceiling for Sauvignon Blanc, and perhaps in the same comment, I asked about the potential for a critic to write through the lens of “what makes a wine interesting or idiosyncratic to him/her” as the scale for points rather than an adherence to what the canon calls “great” Cab, Chard, etc. This is a way to shake things up, to create a different, un-trod-upon context for wine appreciation and enjoyment. It does require a critic who is comfortable on the margins, willing to buck the critical establishment, and able to teach an audience why these kinds of wines are worth buying.

  4. Bev Taylor says:

    Years ago, I was at the Florida Winefest and Auction and remember John Komes talking about how he had enjoyed gulping his Flora Springs Sangiovese Rosata (now called Rose) whenever he went out to grill something. He bemoaned he could no longer do that because the wine had received a 100 point score and he needed to save it to sell. Looking it up, it appears the 100 point score was from the late Jerry D. Mead, so there have been some rogue writers who always appreciated and scored the wines however they wished.

  5. I love Rose. Our customers at the winery love Rose. Distributors say they want Rose in December…and then we make it for them. Them I am trying to deplete my inventory the following November because it doesn’t sell out in the market. Its a tough one for the mass market. But I love it and will always make one every year…even if its just for our family to drink.

  6. The best rose’ I ever tasted was served ice cold on a very hot summer night at the plaza in Pamplona. No red wine could have been as enjoyable at the time. But, just because rose’ can be the ideal wine at times does not a priori make it equivalent to all other wines on a potential satisfaction scale.

    Look at any other category. Should the best minivan get 100 points for being the top minivan even if a car critic thinks it is far less satisfying overall than the top Lexus or Benz?

    Well, we could do evaluations that way, and we would wind up in the same place anyhow. The highest rated minivan would still be the highest rated minivan and the highest rated rose’ would still be the highest rated rose’. But, we really would not have learned any more about the wines or the cars, and I would suggest that we would have actually learned less.

    Oh, and for the record, and Bob Henry’s edification, my top-rated rose’ last year receive a 96. My top rated wine of the year received 97.

  7. I love rosé but also love the fact critics don’t rate them high. We really don’t need price inflation on a great summer everyday drinking wine. Hmm, maybe we should ban wine critics altogether.

    Domestic or not I feel the best rosé is a blend, usually with grenache and some cinsaut, mourvedre and/or syrah. Im my experience you should drink the most current vintage. There are some that can age but I really enjoy the freshness of a young rosé.

  8. Simple answer here is economics. When the best Rose wines and Sauvignon Blancs in the wine world approach the kind of prices that the world’s best Chardonnay- and Cabernet- and Pinot-Noir-based wines sell for, they will receive their 95’s and 97’s. Where is the wine critic who is regularly willing to give 95+ point ratings to wines that sell for under $40?

  9. Bob Henry says:

    Jim B:

    I narrow my argument to grape varieties and wine varietals.

    I don’t “single blind” taste and rate land. Given all of the input variables of soil and microbes and other considerations, that is an impossibility.

    I “single blind” taste and rate the fruits of the land.

    A wine being the “epitome” of a region that doesn’t give a sh-t about quality is what got Robert Parker on his crusade against both indifferent winemaking practices (e.g., over cropping, under ripeness, heavy handed pressing of the grapes, aggressive tannins, “dirty” cooperage, et cetera) by the French and their British wine press lapdogs.

    (Those with long memories recall how dreadful were the red Burgundies in the 1970s. And they “epitomized” that region. Or more accurately, they sullied the reputation of that region.)

    Steve M:

    I concur that it is illogical to have a point ceiling on any grape variety, any wine varietal. If it is the best extant, the best that ever existed, then by definition it is “perfect.” Worthy of 100 points — for its type.


    Grape varieties and wine varietals should be narrowly judged within their type. An internally consistent frame of reference.

    I don’t expect an apple to smell and taste like an orange. I don’t expect a minivan to perform like a luxury sedan. Those are unrealistic expectations.

    By never giving a 100 point score to “second class citizen grapes,” it demeans the efforts of those winemakers. And falsely conveys the notion that perfection has never been achieved; can never be achieved. I demur.

    Parker does a disservice to his readers by not overtly and repeatedly declaring that he has TWO wine scoring scales: 90 points maximum for wines that don’t improve with bottle age; 100 points maximum for wines that have the potential (but not necessarily realized) to improve with bottle age.

    According to Parker (circa 1989 interview with Wine Times — later to become Wine Enthusiast), a Beaujolais could never score over 90 points.

    Let me quote directly from my copy of the transcript of that interview:

    “PARKER: . . . Points are assigned to the overall quality but also to the potential period of time that wine can provide pleasure. . . . Most top red wines can last 15 years and most top Bordeaux can last 20, 25 years. It’s a sign of the system that a great 1985 Morgon [cru Beaujolais] is not going to get 100 points because it’s not fair to the reader to equate a Beaujolais with a 1982 Mouton-Rothschild. You only have three or four years to drink the Beaujolais.

    “WINE TIMES: In your system, what would be the HIGHEST RATED Beaujolais?

    “PARKER: 90. That would be a PERFECT Beaujolais, and I’ve never given one. I have given a lot of 87s and 88s.”

    In my best Yiddish accent: “Who knew?”

    Certainly not Parker’s subscribers. He has never mentioned this bifurcated scoring scale in any of his Advocates. In any of his books. And he has been promulgating it for 25 years.

    So the buying public, seeking out perfection in a Beaujolais (or rosé or Chenin Blanc or Sauvignon Blanc or other grape varieties that don’t improve with bottle age), are left with the false notion that a commonplace score of “90 points” on a rosé is actually . . . “100 points” (if 100 points connotes “perfection”).

    The “satisfaction scale” is a different argument. And that’s where the Latin phrase “De gustibus non est disputandum” needs to be understood and embraced: In matters of taste, there can be no disputes.

    What satisfies you is a very personal, internalized reference standard, formed through the prism of your lifelong experiences. It is not an independent, external reference standard.

    One person prefers cherry ice cream [Cabernet Sauvignon]. A second person prefers strawberry ice cream [Pinot Noir]. A third person prefers red raspberry ice cream [Zinfandel]. And a fourth person prefers apple ice cream [Chardonnay]. There is no disputing those personal preferences.

    They are what they are, and you can’t dissuade someone from holding to that views.

    That is why I have championed the idea of a dual scoring scale:

    ~~ one score for technical merit/”typicity”/”true to type-ness”/”terroir” (as best as we can define it).

    ~~ a second scale for personal preference (another way of saying “personal satisfaction”).

    A reviewer can acknowledge that a wine is well-made . . . and still not prefer it.

    And a reviewer can declare a wine is technically flawed . . . but still declare a preference for it.

    (The poster child for the latter: 1947 Cheval Blanc. By all accounts, the wine is flawed by volatile acidity. And yet, those who have tasted this unicorn wine declare it to be among the greatest wines in the world. “Arguably” the VERY greatest wine in the world.

    See Mike Steinberger’s laudable article for Slate titled “The Greatest Wine on the Planet: How the 1947 Cheval Blanc, a defective wine from an aberrant year, got so good.”



    The best rosé (Krug Champagne) and best Sauvignon Blancs (Haut-Brion Blanc and Yquem) do approach and exceed the kind of prices that the world’s best Chardonnay- and Cabernet- and Pinot-Noir-based wines sell for.

    And they do attain scores in the 95’s and 97’s. In the case of Haut-Brion Blanc and Yquem, even 100 point scores.

    (And in the case of older Yquems as reviewed by Jancis Robinson, M.W. who uses a 20 point scale, she has given them scores of up to 26 points. No, that is not a typo. More perfect than “perfect.” Scores OFF THE CHARTS.

    See my comment to Steve’s September 5, 2014 blog titled Is there a ‘glass ceiling’ when it comes to scoring certain wines? (Hint: yes).”)

    It is time to jettison “second class citizenship” status for so-called non-noble wine grapes and wine varietals.

    Perfect is 100 points.

  10. Bob Henry says:

    Rewritten for clarity:

    So the buying public, seeking out perfection in a Beaujolais (or rosé or Chenin Blanc or Sauvignon Blanc or other grape varieties that don’t improve with bottle age), are left with the false notion that a commonplace score of “90 points” on a BEAUJOLAIS is actually . . . “100 points” (if 100 points connotes “perfection”).

  11. Bob Henry says:

    Also rewritten for clarity:

    That is why I have championed the idea of a DUAL SCORING:

    ~~ one SCALE for technical merit/”typicity”/”true to type-ness”/”terroir” (as best as we can define it).

    ~~ a second SCALE for personal preference (another way of saying “personal satisfaction”).

  12. Bob Henry says:

    Sorry, still didn’t quite turn the phrase I wanted to:

    So the buying public, seeking out perfection in a Beaujolais (or rosé or Chenin Blanc or Sauvignon Blanc or other grape varieties that don’t improve with bottle age), are left with the false notion that A SCORE OF “90 POINTS” FOR BEAUJOLAIS (or rosé or Chenin Blanc or Sauvignon Blanc or other grape varieties) IS “HO-HUM” COMMONPLACE . . . WHEREAS IN REALITY, IT IS EXCEPTIONAL — EQUIVALENT TO “100 POINTS” (if 100 points connotes “perfection”).

  13. Bob–
    Your comments are loaded with value judgments that do not hold. “Ho-hum” varieties or types? What the hell is that?

    You may have an argument with Parker over his methodology, but the scale, when all is said and done, is a measure of total likely satisfaction. Where most of us can agree, however, is that ageworthiness is not a measure of anything but ageworthiness.

    And while it is true that the so-called noble varieties do achieve their greatness as they mature and get more complex, and thus get measured in some way on their potential greatness, not their current greatness, it is also true that the best young Napa Cabs are very fine wines and likely better than the best young Lodi Zins and thus earn higher ratings in general.

    I see no reason why a perfectly good Lodi Zin rated at 90 points cannot be considered as the best choice for a given situation when price, use, company in attendance are considered, and even a better choice for some foods. That does not mean it is the better wine anymore than the ice-cold Grenache rose’ in Pamplona on a steamy hot night should be considered as a worthy of a higher rating than a fine Pinot Noir. That is not just apples and oranges but difference between filet mignon and pig trotters.

  14. As for two rating systems for a wine, some of us will remember Jerry Mead who, when criticized roundly for his grade inflation, resorted to one scale for overall quality and another for value. It did not catch on then and I would surmise that it would not catch on now.

    And by the way, I also suspect that most wine consumers can look at a 90-point/$20 wine and figure out the relative value to them when compared to a 97-point/$120 wine.

    Give the folks who read reviews some credit. They know what those ratings mean and how to use them.

  15. Bill Haydon says:


    How much does your rose cost? Too often, I see California Rose that are quite good–even excellent–but cost in the mid to high 20s. Any good economist is going to tell you precisely what’s going to happen when there is an annual flood of outstanding roses hitting our shores this time every year from France, Spain, Portugal and Italy that retail anywhere from 8 to 18 dollars a bottle.

  16. Bob Henry says:


    On the pages of this and other wine blogs has been a discussion of grade inflation.

    W. Blake Gray reported on it here:

    Comments to HoseMaster on “stagflation” refer to it here:

    In the words of Robert Parker taken from that 1989 Wine Times interview:

    “WINE TIMES: . . . Right now the argument is that your average score in The Wine Advocate is in the 80s, and it doesn’t matter if its 81 or 84. If it’s in the newsletter, buy it.

    “PARKER: No. I buy wines, and I buy wines that are 85 or 86, not below that. But to me 90 is a special score and should be considered ‘outstanding’ for its type.”

    Back in the day, scores that crossed the “90 point” threshold were rare.

    Wine critics were more conservative in their awarding points to wines.

    Today, a “90 point” score is common. A “ho-hum” score. [I did not link the descriptor “ho-hum” to varieties or types.] A score not so “special” anymore.

    Is it because winemakers have raised their game? Yes.

    Is it because wine critics have become more generous over time? Yes.

    All criticism is based on value judgments.

    A “points for value” scale does exist in the marketplace.

    Here’s a November 15, 2006 headline from Wine Spectator:

    “Napa’s Top 50 Cabernets: Quality-To-Price Ratio”


    Q-P-R considerations abound in the wine press. They are the underpinnings of every “Best Buys” guide.

    Example: “Top 100 Best Buys of 2012” – Wine Enthusiast Magazine


    “The wines listed here carry suggested retail prices of $15 or less and are all labeled as Best Buys, meaning each possesses an excellent quality-to-price ratio.”

    Charlie, you write “. . . the [100 point] scale, when all is said and done, is a measure of total likely satisfaction.”

    Not when a wine is given “bonus points” for longevity — and that longevity comes from fiercely aggressive tannins.

    Anyone who has tasted the 1986 Mouton can admire its technical accomplishment. It is a formidable wine.

    And one can equally not prefer it based on its unyielding tannins. Tannins so fierce that Parker advised — as memory serves — not even consider drinking it until sometime around 2020 or 2025. Tannins that he implicitly relied upon in asserting that the wine last 100 years. A longevity that garnered it the maximum “bonus points” for for “age-ability” . . and a “100 point” score.

    Personally, I found no pleasure, no satisfaction in drinking the wine when I served it “single blind” at my 1986 red Bordeaux vs. California Cabernet winetasting.

    (Same fiercely tannic complaint about the 1986 Gruaud-Larose.)

    Those who blindly chase after “100 point score” trophy wines without acquainting themselves with the written reviews (and therefore the “context” of the judgment) will be sorely disappointed when they pull the cork on a 1986 Mouton or 1986 Gruaud-Larose and taste it.

    Yes, my opinion. My value judgment.



    I wish I had at my fingertips Parker’s original review of the 1986 Mouton.

    Here’s a follow-up review of the 1986 Gruaud-Larose:

    “96 points Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate

    “Still tasting [at 16 years since the harvest] as if it were only 7-8 years of age, the dense, garnet/purple-colored 1986 Gruaud-Larose is EVOLVING AT A GLACIER PACE. The wine still has MAMMOTH STRUCTURE, tremendous reserves of fruit and concentration, and a finish that lasts close to a minute. The wine is MASSIVE, very impressively constituted, with still some MOUTH-SEARING TANNIN to shed. Decanting of one to two hours in advance seems to soften it a bit, but this is A WINE THAT SEEMS TO BE ALMOST IMMORTAL IN TERMS OF ITS LONGEVITY. It is a great Medoc classic, and certainly one of the most magnificent Gruaud-Larose ever made. Anticipated maturity: 2006-2035. Last tasted, 10/02. (RP)”

  17. Bob Henry says:

    Second footnote.

    Here’s a follow-up review of the 1986 Mouton at TEN years of age:

    Score: 100 Robert Parker, Wine Advocate (106), August 1996

    “After stumbling over some wines I thought were high class Bordeaux, I nailed this wine in one of the blind tastings for this article. In most tastings where a great Bordeaux is inserted with California Cabernets, the Bordeaux comes across as drier, more austere, and not nearly as rich and concentrated (California wines are inevitably fruitier and more massive). To put it mildly, the 1986 Mouton-Rothschild held its own (and then some), in a flight that included the Caymus Special Selection, Stags Leap Wine Cellars Cask 23, Dunn Howell Mountain, and Joseph Phelps Eisele Vineyard.

    “Clearly the youngest looking, most opaque and concentrated wine of the group, it tastes as if it has not budged in development since I first tasted it out of barrel in March, 1987. An enormously concentrated, MASSIVE Mouton-Rothschild, comparable in quality, but not style, to the 1982, 1959, and 1945, this impeccably made wine is still in its infancy.

    “Interestingly, when I was in Bordeaux several years ago, I had this wine served to me blind from a magnum that had been opened and decanted 48 hours previously. Even then, it still TASTED LIKE A BARREL SAMPLE!

    “I suspect the 1986 Mouton-Rothschild requires a minimum of 15-20 more years of cellaring; it has the potential to last for 50-100 years!

    “. . . I wonder how many readers will be in shape to drink it when it does finally reach full maturity? Drink 2011 – 2096”

    Here’s a follow-up review of the 1986 Mouton at TWENTY years of age:

    Score: 100 Robert Parker, Hedonists Gazette, February 2006

    “Still tasting like a BARRELL SAMPLE, the 1986 Mouton Rothschild is a monumental Bordeaux that WILL UNDOUBTEDLY OUTLIVE ANYBODY ALIVE TODAY. Amazingly youthful, with a dense purple color, it is an extraordinary wine that SHOUD AGE FOR A CENTURY OR MORE. Tasted blind, I WOULD HAVE GUESSED IT TO BE A 2 – 3 YEAR OLD FIRST GROWTH BORDEAUX.”

    A second opinion from Jancis Robinson, M.W. tasted at TWENTY years of age:

    Score: 18.5 Jancis Robinson MW,, October 2005

    “Quite exceptional depth and youthfulness of colour — it looks younger than either the 1989 or 1990, and possibly even than the 1995! Still quite amazingly closed on the nose. There is obviously quite a bit of alcohol in this wine, perhaps a note of licorice again. Thick, deep, brooding, this wine hardly seems to have changed over the last 15 years. Very, very dry with LOT OF TANNIN ON THE FINISH WHICH I AM FORCED TO WONDER WHETHER THEY WILL EVER BE RESOLVED? This is like very dry blackcurrant essence with a note of menthol. Overall at the moment this is still a bit of a BRUTE and I DO WONDER WHETHER IT WILL EVER SOFTEN?Drink 2009-2025. Date tasted 19th Nov 04.”

  18. Bob Henry says:

    For another view on wine scoring grade inflation, and how the Concours Mondial international wine competition assesses a wine, see this wine blog:

    “The Gray Report: The Narrow Range of Scoring Wine”


  19. Reading the comment by Bob Henry on the 1986 Mouton and RP’s take on it. I would grade the wine well below 100 points if it can’t or shouldn’t be drunk in the buyers lifetime. When you look at RP’s and JR’s critique the wine really isn’t very good. They base too much of their score on the assumption that some day the wine may be drinkable. Well, someday a bottle of Two Buck Chuck may evolve enough to be very good but who wants to wait. Age-ability should not be part of scoring wine. It should just be a footnote on the critique.

  20. doug wilder says:

    Steve, I don’t think a critic would refer to a 94 point wine as ‘perfect’, regardless of variety. If they feel it is the ceiling, it should say more about comparing to type, than an absolute ageable-driven maxim. I do find some Rose that I feel belong in a category where they are solidly a cut above others. Would I give 100 to a Rose? If I felt it merited, yes. My highest score this year for a Rose was a 94 for a Marin County Pinot Noir. Regarding Sauvignon Blanc (or those with it in a blend) frequently not considered in the top echelon I tasted several in the last six months I have no qualms putting in that category. I’m more concerned about helping subscribers navigate the ocean of 87 point Chardonnay 🙂

  21. Bob Henry says:


    Glad to learn you’re on the bandwagon for awarding “100 point” scores to rosés if so deserving.


    Glad to learn that a rosé can earn a score of 96 points. (Mind sharing with us which one it was?)

    An anecdote: the greatest I ever tasted was 1974 Simi Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé . . . made for the winery owner’s and staff’s personal consumption (to drink on hot Summer days), from the same exalted Cabernet grapes that made the 1974 vintage of the greatest in California’s history.

    ~~ Bob

    Mike Steinberger in Slate cited the 1947 Cheval Blanc as being technical flawed — but a sublime, even transcendent wine.

    Today at the newsstand I spotted this article in the April issue of Decanter magazine:

    “Characterful to a Fault;
    Asset or Flaw?”

    (Intro: We might have to agree to disagree when it comes to our own tolerance for faults in wine. Either way, love them or hate them, it’s useful to know more about the ‘flaws’ you may encounter, says Natasha Hughes MW)


    By Natasha Hughes MW

    What’s covered?

    • Wine flaws: Oxidation
    • Wine flaws: Reduction
    • Wine flaws: Brettanomyces
    • Wine flaws: Volatile acidity
    • Wine flaws: Undeniable faults

    Excerpt from brettanomyces:

    “‘Great Burgundy,’ Anthony Hanson MW wrote in the 1982 edition of Burgundy, ‘smells of shit. Not always, of course, but frequently there is a smell of decaying matter, vegetable or animal, about them.’ While Pinot Noir rarely smells of fecal matter these days, thankfully, it is entirely possible that at least a part of the aromatic profile that Hanson was referring to was derived from the presence of brettanomyces.”

    W. Blake Gray commented upon this phenomenon in his Los Angeles Times article titled “Mourvèdre Grape a Paso Robles Specialty.”



    “. . . It’s [Mourvèdre] prone to oxidation and contamination with brettanomyces, a type of yeast that makes wines funky. ‘Brett’ lives on grape skins and in used wooden barrels and can develop in any untreated wine, giving it aromas described as ‘barnyard’ or ‘Band-Aid.’ Most winemakers call brett a flaw, but its connection with Mourvèdre is so long-established in France that such a classification remains controversial.

    “‘Mourvèdre has a really bad reputation in the States because so many Mediterranean wines have brett that people think they’re synonymous,’
    [Justin] Smith [owner of Saxum winery] says. ‘I don’t know why it’s so prone to brett, but whenever I leave a barrel of pure Mourvèdre, those are the only barrels that ever get brett. For so long, people thought that is the nature of Mourvèdre, it just has that animal stinkiness. I’ve never tasted a clean Mourvèdre that has that.'”)

    At my “single blind” tasting of 1985 red Bordeaux vs. California Cabernets winetasting, I can recall tasting for the first time the 1985 Lynch-Bages red Bordeaux.

    It smelled of stinky cheese. (Ugh!)

    Robert Parker observed in his original review that it was afflicted with brett. He didn’t mind — but then again, he loves Rhone Valley reds, which use the Mouvedre grape which is susceptible to brett.

    How many of us enjoy the smell of feces in our wine?

    How many of us enjoy the smell of gaminess or stinky cheese?

    How many of us enjoy the smell of vinegar or nail polish (signs of volatile acidity)?

    Perhaps at low levels we characterize it as “added complexity.”

    In French regional wines, as “typicity” or “terroir.”

    With a twin scoring scale (technical merit separate from pleasure quotient/satisfaction), a reviewer can “call out” a wine for flaws and still enjoy it (e.g., 1947 Cheval Blanc; 1985 Lynch-Bages).

    Or “call out” flaws and be repelled by it as much as durian fruit.

    “De gustibus non est disputandum.”

    That’s where the written review comes into play.

    Once again quoting that 1989 Wine Times interview:

    “PARKER: . . . The newsletter was always meant to be a guide, one person’s opinion. The scoring system was always meant to be an accessory to the written reviews, tasting notes. That’s why I use sentences and try and make it interesting. Reading is a lost skill in America. There’s a certain segment of my readers who only look at numbers, but I think it is a much smaller segment than most wine writers would like to believe. The tasting notes are one thing, but in order to communicate effectively and quickly where a wine placed vis-à-vis its peer group, a numerical scale was necessary. If I didn’t do that, it would have been a sort of cop-out.”

    High scoring trophy wine chasers who don’t read the reviews and understand the “context” of the opinion (read: value judgment) desire what they get when they buy a 1986 Mouton or 1986 Gruaud-Larose, taste it, are or displeased.

    “Caveat emptor.”

  22. Bob Henry says:


    High scoring trophy wine chasers who don’t read the reviews and understand the “context” of the opinion (read: value judgment) DESERVE what they get when they buy a 1986 Mouton or 1986 Gruaud-Larose, taste it, AND ARE DISPLEASED.

  23. Bob Henry says:


    “Perfection isn’t perfect: Parker says only 50% of his 100-point scores are repeatable”


    Excerpt from “Drinks Business” interview:

    “How often do I go back and re-taste a wine that I gave 100 points and repeat the score? Probably about 50% of the time.” — Robert Parker

    Excerpts from W. Blake Gray’s blog:

    “Holy crap! How did this quote not roil the Internet?”

    In the same interview, Parker calls other critics ‘irresponsible’ if they don’t dole out 100-point scores. Seriously, he said that.”

  24. I championed the notion of a dual scoring scale for wine.

    One technical score for “terroir”/”typicity”/”varietal correctness.”

    A second score for hedonism. (And by extension, personal preference.)

    That gives the reader greater insight into the drinking experience . . . as well as the reviewer.

    A subject covered here:

    “The Barry Smith interview: what is the nature of wine perception, and is wine flavour objective?”
    wineanorak – Oct 29, 2015



    “I don’t see why critics couldn’t be very good at saying this is a very fine example of a Gruner Veltliner, or this is one of the best examples of a medium dry Riesling, but it is not for me. Why can’t they distinguish judgments of quality from judgments of individual liking?”

  25. An historical postscript to this discussion (courtesy of a research tool I found for unearthing old newspaper articles).

    Excerpt from the Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine
    (January 31, 1988, Page Unknown):

    “Wine is Not a Joy Forever: Expensive Old Clarets Could End Up As Mere Souvenirs”

    By Robert Lawrence Balzer
    “One Wine” Column

    “Beyond 50 years, for even the finest vintages, a wine’s delight is more mental than physical. Envy not the owners of those old clarets. Look to more youthful wines, red or white, for the most pleasure from the vine.”

  26. Bob Henry says:

    Update the historical record, courtesy of a Wine Access sales pitch:

    “The . . . 2016 [vintage Tinpot Hut Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, NZ] . . . received the . . . highest score ever for a [dry] Sauvignon Blanc — a near-perfect 98 points from Decanter [magazine]. Prior to this, no Sauvignon Blanc from anywhere in the world has ever been rated ‘exceptional’ by the prestigious UK magazine.”


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