I remember when I started getting interested in wine. This was in the early 1990s, before the internet. A friend had a copy of one of the early editions of Parker’s Wine Buyer’s Guide, which I pored over. The sweet spot for me was the ’86A’ bracket of wines: in those days 86 was a good enough score, probably an 89 in today’s money, and the As were the cheapest wines. I was on a tight budget.
As you get older, it’s common to get a little wealthier (or, more accurately, slightly less broke), and your wine budget grows. This is when we can hit one of the problems with the 100 point scale. You raise the score benchmark. Suddenly you won’t buy a wine rated less than 90, and then this creeps up. 93, or even 95 becomes the new threshold. It’s a bit like upgrading your car. When you are a student you are the luckiest person in the world because you have an old car that starts most days. But if you are wealthy and care about these things, by the time you are in your 40s you’d be horrified if anyone saw you driving a six-year-old mid-range family saloon.
For all their usefulness, points rot the mind when it comes to wine. They are a terribly distorting lens to view the wine world through.
This idea of having some personal points threshold is a great illusion. It would be depressing to drink Haut Brion every day, even if you just stuck to great vintages. It is a strange sort of madness to be looking for a great wine experience every time you open a bottle. If you confined yourself to Michelin-starred restaurants, you’d tire of dining pretty quickly too.
And I really believe that the concept of a perfect 100 point wine is quite ridiculous. On so many levels. Chief among these is that the score is not given to the liquid in the bottle, it is given to the interaction between the taster and the wine, a perceptual event in the brain that is impacted on by lots of factors aside from the wine itself. Anyone who really believes in the 100 point concept should read Charles Spence’s new book The Perfect Meal.
In my opinion, holding 100 point wine dinners is a strange sort of vinous insanity that betrays the heart of wine itself. Instead of encouraging people to aim ever higher in their pursuit of points, we should be telling the stories of wines that offer great pleasure and a broad palette of flavours and textures. It is in this diversity of authentic wines that true wine pleasure lies.
Points have their place, but they have the problem that more often than not they taint the conceptual thinking of wine lovers and lead them on a journey down a joyless cul de sac of wine as a competitive sport or status symbol.