jamie goode's wine blog: when the points don't work...more Chardonnay

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

when the points don't work...more Chardonnay

Scoring wines with points shouldn't be taken too seriously. It's quite a useful shorthand for saying how much you like a wine - and in this sense, people who choose not to use points neatly avoid putting their necks on the line, because you can read a written description any number of ways.

But despite their utility, points fail in some circumstances. They convey no information about style and character - or about the sort of context where a particular wine might perform very well or badly.

Two Chardonnays that have recently passed my lips are good examples of wines where points aren't up to much. One is a big, fat Californian; the other, a remarkably intense Slovenian. Both could be enjoyed or hated, depending on the occasion and personal preference - information not contained in a score.

Simcic Chardonnay Rťserve 2003 Goriöka, Brda, Slovenia
3133 bottles produced in March 2006; this spends 7Ė8 days in contact with the skins. A deep yellow/gold colour it has a really interesting nose. Itís quite tight with some herbal fruit married with bakery smells and vanilla oak, but thereís also a savoury, slightly oily complexity here. The palate is dense, a little tannic even, with a heavy toasty oak imprint and sweet, bready, herby fruit. Itís a full-on Chardonnay of great intensity and concentration Ė no doubt a bit too full on for some. I like it, though. Very good/excellent 90/100 (H&H Bancroft) 01/07

Hess Select Chardonnay 2004 California
A fat, buttery Californian Chardonnay thatís rich and broad with thick tropical and figgy fruit. Thereís also some sweet vanillin butteriness. Itís a seductive, immediate sort of wine whose obvious charms tire a little quickly, but if you like fat Chardonnays youíll love this. Very good+ 85/100 (£8.49 Wine Society. Oxford Wine, D Byrne, Handford)

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At 1:07 AM, Blogger Danny Fell said...

I completely agree. Many wines take on very different characteristics depending on when you try them and what foods you pair with them. Another case in point on ratings: After trying (and liking) a wine my local wine store recommended, I decided to Google the wine to see what others were saying about it. I instantly found three divergent tasting notes Ė two from individuals who liked it but described it in very different ways and one who didnít like it at all. Best to trust your own palate sometimes.

At 1:48 PM, Blogger Cru Master said...

or use the now abundant resources we have available to us to do exactly what u did and cross reference 'expert' opinions. Is the age of the consumer - good to find wines that have been well recieved by blind reviews, sighted reviews, been awarded consistently across awards and given attention by relevent bloggers

At 8:32 PM, Blogger Jamie said...

Hmm, good to trust your own palate...but then you can't try everything - I reckon it's best if you can find critical voices that resonate with your own preferences and then use these to help you seek out new drinking experiences. There's a place for professional critics, but not those who like to pronounce and who think their view is that last word on a particular wine.

At 11:34 PM, Anonymous Doug said...

There's a great Disraeli quote: "I rather like bad wine... one gets so bored with good wine."

A lot of wines might be described in the manner that the narrator in Tennyson's Maud depicts the obscure object of his desire: "Faultily faultless, icily regular, splendidly null"; in other words they (the wines) are triumphs of technique over typicity and individuality. Very few reviews highlight the most important element of wine-drinking, namely "gratia placenda" or deliciousness. Or, reader, I felt I had to finish the bottle. Great wines are not necessarily the ones that flaunt their supposed attributes; they don't have to be fruit bombs and sometimes the very pleasure lies in their very indefinability, that particular fugitive quality that seduces you to probe their mysteries to the utmost.

One can admire a wine (from a distance) without liking it, but, just as in ice dancing points are awarded for artistic merit as well as technical proficiency so you could award wines scores based on relative subjective and objective criteria. When you are judging at the Decanter Awards, for example, I found myself manoeuvered into awarding medals to wines that I wouldn't drink myself which made me think that the points system was a slightly elevated way of damning with faint praise. My bronzes and silvers (high 80s/low 90s) were loose change, alms tossed in the general direction of mediocre wines (in my opinion)

Besides, even great wine experts don't always agree. The divergent views of Jancis and Robert Parker on the subject of Chateau Pavie have been well ventilated. I know that Australian winemakers regard some of the funkier reductive notes on unsulphured wines as "faults". Try telling that to someone from Burgundy or Jura. Personally, I view over-filtered and over-manipulated wines in the same way that I would regard the kind of plastic cheeses you find shrinkwrapped in chill cabinets in the supermarket - the antithesis of a natural product. In other words I bring my particular set of prejudices to any tasting note that I write or mark that I apply.

Finally, as Danny and Jamie imply, context is everything. Many wines are improved immeasurably by food (I'm thinking rustic Italian reds here); the mood you're in inevitably affects the way you taste; and, if we are to believe the Maria Thun calendar, and seemingly certain supermarkets do, circadian natural rhythms will also determine the way a wine will be taste on a given day.

All in all - who needs points? I'll read your recommendations any day, Jamie; the vividness of the language of the tasting notes brings the wines to life and that's what matters.

At 9:21 AM, Blogger Cru Master said...

i was in agreement with danny and was providing an alternative to his suggestion to people who are not inclined to trust their own palate.

i am completely against awards et al as i see them as institutions and brands in themselves - that influence purchase behaviour greatly. Which is also why i say 'expert' opinions - because its a relative term.

And i am a huge advocate of trusting your own palate and trying new and wonderful wines etc - and whats more, having the guts to voice your opinion of them.

I am even more interested in the EXPERIENCE of drinking wine - the company you are in, the particular time of your life, the climate etc. The intrinsic values of a wine are subjective and vary from each unique human to another - and like you say, trust your own palate.

However the wine world is dominated by awards/expert opinions that do influence purchase behavior and sales greatly - therefore what i was trying to get at, is to persuade wine drinkers (who dont have the confidence to trust themselves - and there are many out there) not to put all their faith in one award sticker or opinion, but to use all the information available to them to cross reference awards, opinions, reviews, blogs etc to get a more informed choice.

i agree 100% to trust your own palate - but one cant ignore the fact that their is a plethora of wines out there and you cant taste all of them and for most people its like finding a needle in a haystack - therefore guidance is needed and sought after.

Doug I love the way that you describe how alluring the indefinable mystery of the wine can be - a perfect way to descibe the love of wine. I once attributed it to a surfers journey to find that perfect wave!

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