jamie goode's wine blog: Comparing notes

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Comparing notes

How consistent is your palate from day to day? And how much bottle variation exists? If you use scores, what sort of error margin is built in to them? In the light of such questions, it's nice to be able to compare notes made on separate occasions. It's best when you don't remember having tasted a wine previously, because then there's no temptation to score the same the second time round.

I was planning to write up the last of the natural wines I purchased in Paris last month on this blog, but then leafing through past notes I realised that I'd reviewed this producers wines last May - the write-up went live this week (here). I'm adding here my notes from drinking the wine the other night, which are as written. You can compare them and see how close the perceptions were, even though they were separated by several months, and made in different environments. Always a healthy comparison to make.

Domaine Rosse Anjou 2004 France
Very deep colour. Dark, savoury, gravelly, minerally nose with some cured meat and black fruits notes. The palate is very savoury and tannic - verging on the austere - with vibrant black fruits, gravelly, earthy undertones and a hint of black olives. This is extreme and wonderful: a real delight for fans of wines with personality. Very good/excellent 91/100

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At 1:56 AM, Blogger Paul Tudor said...

I used to employ the 100 point scale in my wine writing, was indeed the first NZ wine writer to do so fourteen years ago, largely as a reaction to all the wine show judging that we do here (where wines are marked out of 20).

I do not believe in this anymore, because what one critic thinks is 100 points differs widely from another e.g. Spectator vs Parker. I also do not believe that a palate can be perfectly calibrated to within 1 and 2 point differences if you are indeed using the full range of 100 points. Most 100 point writers claim that theirs is a 50 point scale (in which case, why not use a 50 point scale?) But there are serious disagreements about what constitutes 90 points and what reduces a wine to less than 80. Psychologically, we have all been there, we want to reward pleasurable experiences with high marks, yet relativity MUST come in somewhere. This is one of the reasons why I do not judge wine shows in this country anymore, because the procedures for a couple of shows here were changed which actually seemed to encourage MORE Gold medals being given at the expense of Silvers. These procedures were designed to bring in a final check, quality integrity system, yet psychologically resulted in more high marks than fewer. And as one of the senior judges, indeed one of the most experienced of senior judges, I was often not allowed to participate in these rejudge sessions, but my marks (and those of my fellow panel members) were regularly being overturned.

Unless there is some serious and diligent rigour to the thing, I feel that assigning numbers to wine is often nonsensical. I tend to follow those critics who do appear to mark hard (Jancis, for instance, or Coates), rather than those who are liberal with their scoresheets.

At 2:13 AM, Blogger Salil said...

I'm not that fond of tasting alone, but prefer pairing wines with appropriate foods, which does change my opinions of them from time to time based on the way the meal's being served, and the way the wine works with the food.

There have been a lot of wines that I've just enjoyed on their own while quaffing casually, but with certain dishes, they at times show far more complexity and vibrancy (occasionally the opposite too), making the meal/drink a quite stunning experience. One experience with the 06 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc sticks out - on its own, it was an excellent wine, but not that far removed from a lot of other NZ Sauvs in a slightly lower price bracket. On an evening when we decided to pair it with my mum's superb chicken biryani, the combination was quite ethereal, and if I was more into giving points, I'd have been placing it somewhere in the high 90s, just for the depth of flavour it showed while balancing the spice and making the food seem even better.

At 4:32 PM, Blogger Jamie said...

I use scores as a sort of shorthand saying how much I liked a wine. You read some critics and come away feeling they like everything - with scores, I can't hide my dislike behind diplomatic platitudes. Also I find that readers like them.

Context is almost everything, as you point out. I'm trying to give context-free scores as a sort of baseline, with the understanding that pleasure will be determined by the combination of wine and context.

At 8:38 PM, Anonymous Alex Lake said...

I agree with you Jamie about scores. I usually try and rate wines with at least 2 scoring systems when publishing notes, trying to moreorless synchronise with those of others such as yourself and Parker - just so that others can form an opinion on how much I liked the wine. For my own purposes, I'm not so fussed about scores.

The fact that the system is not really 100 points is a minor concern. I understand it's based on the educational system in the USA. Either way it doesn't matter to me - most people are clever enough to subtract 50 if they feel like it.

I do, though have an idea of approximate money for the points. It's gone up a little bit over the years (as have the wines), but these days, I think I'd say that a 90 point wine is something that I'd be happy paying about 12 for (clearly a 8 wine scoring 90 is a bargain) and a 95 point wine is something I'd push the boat out for - perhaps 30 or so. This may seem a bit philistine, but I used to ONLY mark wines in terms of money. As I've been able to taste more pricey wines, this is less useful. The range 95-99 is pretty much dependent on "wow" factor.

On the subject of Loire wines with character, I have been quite taken with Ampellidae - have you tried those, Jamie?

At 12:45 AM, Anonymous Doug said...

There's a lot to be said for all the arguments here. I feel very uncomfortable with the 100pt scale and prefer to score (if it is necessary to score) on a 20 point scale. Whilst I would reserve 15 of those points to score the usual objective/technical criteria (colour, aroma, taste, length, balance etc), I would use the remaining five points to bring in strongly subjective considerations (does this wine give me pleasure; could I happily several glasses of it; does it taste natural; would it go well with food and so forth). Paul is correct to say that there has been a recent tendency, political or otherwise, to revise scores upwards in major judging competitions.

To me scores are a snapshot of the mood we are in rather than the intrinsic value of the wine. The wines change and our moods change (from day to day). They can be useful as a reference or as a comparison, but ultimately it is the tasting note that both describes the wine in its context and expresses the pleasure derived from that experience that validates the experience.

Alex makes an interesting point about money and scoring. The knowledge that a wine costs a certain amount will create an expectation of quality. Wines can underperform as well as outperform in their price category. Relativity is a tricky thing. I had an 89 Latour once in a restaurant - I wasn't paying - and very lacking in substance it was. (Subsequent experiences with this wine reveals that it was a deeply average effort). My colleague and I drank a glass each, looked at each other and reached for the wine list. We ordered a Refosco which cost about 300 less and gave us several times more pleasure. I wonder if we are conditioned by the label or the price not to be too harsh or dismissive in our judgements. Also, a thought, that in the top wine competitions that many of the top estates don't perhaps submit their wine because they are afraid that, tasted blind, they just might be rejected in the first round!

Jamie - really nice biodynamic estate, Domaine Mosse - the reds almost taste as if they emanated from the South West. They make a rose called "Rose d'un Jour" which I think is rather sweet - in both senses!


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