Finding words to describe wine overflows with challenges and trouble. To steal from Martin Mull, writing about wine is like dancing about architecture.
It is impossible to describe wine flavors and aromas in words. Yet that is the Sisyphean task wine writers face every time we see, swirl, smell, sip, savor. Still, readers want some idea of what they are getting before they shell out for a liquid to enhance their meal and/or sand off the edges of their day.
Thus similes. For many people, sadly, our argot comes across as gobbledygook, arcane, incomprehensible, even off-putting. So, wine writers came up with scores. Anyone who ever took a test knew what that meant. A 95—solid “A”. A 72—whoa, don’t buy that.
Except, what the heck? You taste one day—89. Next day, same wine, 87. Next day, same wine, 90. And who, especially the average consumer, can taste the difference between a 93, a 94, a 95? Or, for that matter, between an 86 and a 92?
The solution in the wine writing community has been to score almost everything between 85 and 94, with outstanding wines scoring 95-100. So we do not have a 100-point scale, we really have a 15-point scale. Back when you were in school, wouldn’t you have loved to have your tests scored that way? Screw up and you still get a solid B.
Wine scores also create an unholy alliance between critics and marketeers. Go down the wine wall in a wine store or supermarket, and you will see shelf talkers touting scores. It doesn’t matter that the store cherry-picked the best score or the score may have been for a previous vintage. The store’s goal is to sell. The wine critic’s goal is to get more free wine or to sell more wine magazines/internet subscribers. You are the patsy in this roundelay.
The old maxim applies: “Ask a wine merchant about the best vintage of a wine, he will recommend the one he has in stock.”
• Domäne Washau Grüner Veltliner Federspiel Terrassen 2020: Excellent example of Austria’s signature white grape. $16-19 Link to my review
• Pedernales Cellars Texas Viognier 2017: Good fruit, good mouthfeel, fun easy drinker. $19-25 Link to my review
• Ancient Peaks Winery Santa Margarita Ranch Renegade 2017: Dark fruit parade across the palate. $19-26 Link to my review
Last round: People who claim they “sleep like a baby” obviously never had one. Time for a sip of wine.
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