Even if the 100 point wine scoring system is not going away anytime soon, wine consumers are getting wise to some shameful flaws. Yet another ghastly pair of endemic faults which are seemingly never discussed?
Glass ceilings for certain wines, and perhaps more insidiously: the invisible, deleterious effects of moderation drinker rationale.
DO NOT QUESTION THE GLASS CEILING, MOVE ALONG
“Once the Wine Spectator wrote a story on Beaujolais. The top wine had a score of 86 or 88. I sent them a note saying I’d read the article and thought the wine might be to my taste, ‘But could you please tell me the names of people who really know how to make Beaujolais as I’d like to taste some 90+ point wines.’ They wrote back saying ‘You don’t understand. 88 is a good score for Beaujolais.’ I thought maybe there’s something wrong with their measuring scale then … where do these publications indicate the glass ceiling for various wines?” Gerald Weisl of Weimax, tellin’ it like it is1.
As Patrick Piuze noted in an earlier article, certain wines will never traverse a certain score, regardless of how perfect they are. But it’s bigger than dry white wines. Why can’t a flawless vin de soif, or ‘quaffer’ — even if that very term conceals an unfair stigma — park itself in an upscale, 90 point neighborhood, without a stop and frisk? For some reason, we relegate even exceptionally tasty, inexpensive wines to an 86-88 point ghetto.
Can’t a simply perfect inexpensive rosé, or perhaps an addictive Txakolina be scored properly for what it is? Sure: they’re fleeting and won’t live weeks in the fridge once opened, and they’re under $20 … but why reproach them that? How could the winemaker have done any better?
How are consumers to know at a glance if they’re tasting what wine critics suggest is the best a region has to offer without some hidden, secret legend to translate scores?
FATHER DOESN’T ALWAYS KNOW BEST
As if that weren’t enough: it seems moderation drinker rationale may help to explain the market’s penchant for riper, bigger wines, and it may also be driving a critical reticence to more highly score vins de soif.
I’ll never forget an evening many years ago, when I taught English to French elementary school children in Bordeaux and was invited to dine with some parents I’d befriended. I proudly planted the greatest Bordeaux red I could afford on their dinner table. Once dinner was served, a glass was poured for myself and the father of the family, then back inside the cork went, and the bottle was whisked away to the confines of the fridge.
“That’s it?” I thought. “We’re not going to finish the bottle together, laugh, and get slightly drunk tonight…?” (This predated a single iota of wine knowledge on my part, so it would be disingenuous to say I wanted to see how the wine opened up).
What did I learn that night? There are two different types of wine drinkers.
The moderation drinker: the “responsible” drinker, perhaps driven by health considerations, spendthriftness, or religious piety.
The moderation drinker will cork their wine after a glass, put it in the fridge, and perhaps have a glass the next night.
Contrast with the gargantuan drinker, who drinks many glasses of one wine or multiple wines, in one dinner occasion. Often, these are wine collectors whose cellars are overflowing, or wine industry people gathering and all eager to share wines. (I’m not talking about winos. Non-homeless winos will throw back a box of Franzia or a magnum of Cavit Pinot Grigio and call it a night).
The gargantuan drinker will handily finish a bottle of lower alcohol Mosel Riesling, or typically finish a half bottle of a sturdier red wine (meaning the bottle should be finished, so long as one is following life’s instructions and isn’t dining alone). Part of the joy of drinking wine is tasting a lot of it, and bouncing it off of many different foods then watching it change in response.
The moderation drinker will more likely have a preference for high-octane wine; the bottle must show loud and fruity out the gate in that single glass, and hold up 2-7 nights given their glacial consumption pace. They’ll also regularly be tasting leftovers around 40° F when the bottle re-emerges from the fridge — a far cry from 55° F cellar temperature. If consumed somewhat quickly, 40° F can help mask a fair share of oak regimen. Honestly, though, I can’t help but wonder if deep down, the moderation drinker secretly wants to get a bit hammered by that single glass, all the while patting himself on the back for his moderation.
By contrast, gargantuan drinkers will not tolerate high-octane wines, as we’ll become hammered after a “mere” glass or two. We’re predisposed to lower alcohol wines, enabling us to continue consuming and exploring.
What happens when you push a moderation drinker too far.
The gargantuan drinker will also likely feel disappointed as there is little evolution in the immutable high-octane red after hours open, and will revel in more fleeting, potentially fragile wines which unfurl over a few hours.
We are in fact two separate populations, with two completely different scorecards. Yet no one seems to wish to acknowledge this phenomenon.
I’m just going to say it: can any moderation drinker ever really be a wine connoisseur? Who could, in the face of such great passion, exercise such restraint? Luther? Short of dire health considerations, I could never imagine ending up in those tight, leather shoes.
In this spirit of delicious, balanced wine to be consumed in case denominations, here are some wines which vehemently resist recorkage and just seem to drink themselves. (The moderation drinker would probably frown upon them, and bitch about having wasted his money).
WINTER IS COMING: DRINK ‘EM DOWN
The cold, bony fingers of wintry death will soon be reaching under our coats and sweaters again, making us wistful for the return of warmer weather. With that in mind: behold! Some candidates for woefully undervalued perfect wines, all inexpensive, low-alcohol and refreshing … and each incapable of receiving scores which reflect their merit:
2013 Ameztoi Getariako Txakolina (chah-ko-LEENa): Once you catch the Txakolina bug, it’s over. Imagine a spritzy, minerally limeade; acid, low alcohol, fresh as hell. That’s what the Hondarrabi Zuri grape does in Spanish Basque country. The Basque pour it through a vaguely drug paraphernalia-looking porrón, or if unavailable these T-shaped plastic inserts they jab in the bottle, raising the vessels as high as possible over their mouth or glass while pouring to oxygenate the wine. It ends up even fizzier in their giant tumbler glasses and seems to call for hot days and fried seafood. The wine seems to drink itself, and you’re left saying, “It’s gone? Already?” The perfect summer refresher, one of the wines (besides perhaps Riesling or Moscato) you reach for once the temperature crawls up past 100 degrees. Or anytime, really. Even the shower. Leaves you feeling clean!
2013 Moulin de Gassac Guilhem Pays d’Hérault Rosé VDP: I have a hard time with rosés — they often strike me as hot or bubblegum-candied once they crawl past 13% ABV, but it’s most often Pinot Noir-based, lower alcohol rosés which charm me. The 2013 vintage produced gorgeous whites and rosés in the Languedoc. This humble VDP rosé is 50% Grenache, 30% Carignan, and 20% Syrah and delivers perfection for around $10. It’s 12%, it’s dry, it’s mineral, it leaves a taste on your palate that’s somewhere between a chocolate-dipped fresh strawberry and a stemmy tomato, and it’s pretty much impossible to stop drinking. Which is why it will be gone in another week from the NYC market. Savor these last few available warm days and bottles. I’ve already sold through around 20 cases at the shop where I work, and the supplier has run out.
2010 Brüder Dr. Becker Weisser Burgunder Trocken Rheinessen: Sure, this bottle is wrapped in a Transylvanian garb, but what’s inside couldn’t be more different from the exterior. What a perfectly gorgeous Pinot Blanc! It straddles a lovely balance between chalky minerality and some fairly ripe, fleshy grapey fruit, with an exquisite measured acid on the finish. The wine somehow feels round and pointed at the same time, and ends up unbelievably drinkable. I imagine this as the ultimate hors d’oeuvre wine, working well either on its own or with an ever-changing onslaught of ‘things on crackers’. As it opens and accumulates on the palate, the chalky minerality begins to remind me a bit of a lean Assyrtiko. This may be more of a divisive wine than the previous two: some may find it too linear (read: boring) or sparse, but I find it the very definition of a vin de soif and want to drink the crap out of it. The current release vintage has probably already reached 2013, which I’ve not yet had the pleasure of trying, but the lovely Lotte Pfeffer-Müller is a skilled winemaker with a steady hand, and while there’s a lotta reasons she’s the President of Ecovin (Federal Association of Organic Wine Producers in Germany) the only one you really care about is: she does things right.
What are your favorite wines that you’ve drunk cases of but which don’t stand a chance in hell of scoring over 90 points? Pour me a glass in the comments.
- Gerald, whose shop is just South of San Francisco, is one of the true old guard retailers in America, with the most adorably retro website that will make you remember AOL CDs and Compuserve. Gotta love him. [↩]