Robert Parker did not invent wine scores, but surely he rode numbers to heights no one dared dream before him.
Give RP his due. He owns a golden nose, a prodigy’s palate, and a brain hard-wired to remember wine and parse its kaleidoscopic wonders.
Parker is the Babe Ruth, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Jim Brown of wine critics. And, like for each of those sports demigods, there are rival rating systems championed by various wine aficionados, if for no other reason than not to park in Parker’s camp.
Chief alternative: Marvin R. Shanken and his Wine Spectator magazine with its own “100-point scale.” Do not confuse WS’s 100 points with RP’s 100 points.
To refresh, Parker scores mean this:
• Unacceptable: 50-59.
• Below average: 60-69.
• Average: 70-79.
• Very good: 80-89.
• Outstanding: 90-95.
• Extraordinary: 96-100.
In contrast, Wine Spectator scores mean this:
• Not recommended: 50-74.
• Mediocre—a drinkable wine that may have minor flaws: 75-79.
• Good—a solid, well-made wine: 80-84.
• Very good—a wine with special qualities: 85-89.
• Outstanding—a wine of superior character and style: 90-94.
• Classic—a great wine: 95-100.
So, an 80 Parker means “very good” while an 80 WS means “good.”
Both groups go to elaborate lengths to appear scientific and impartial. Wines are tasted blind: paper bags hide secrets of name, price, maker. Scores are objective evaluations made by serious wine experts.
Those same experts, however, do not have to be pressed hard to admit wine appreciation is wildly individual, a hussy to vagaries of time and place and bottle and glass and cork and surely the influence of 50-plus wines tasted during a long day at “wine tasting work.”
The mere fact experts are working when tasting wine makes their experience different from you and me. We pour because we want stuff to play well with dinner, or to help us forget the customer-client-boss-traffic-jam-unpaid bill-unpleasant neighbor, rebellious child, judgmental in-law (pick one or more) that made your day a wee bit less than “extraordinary: 96-100.” Or, when lucky, to celebrate the times we fulfilled the suggestion of so many phone answering machines to “have a great day.”
Next week: more about wine scores.
• D’Arenberg The Stump Jump Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre McLaren Vale 2009. Lively, wonderful, big value; sales soared when Wine Spectator rated it 90 points and a Top 100 Wine. $12
• Jean Reverdy Sancerre La Reine Blanche 2009. Flowers, melon nose; racy citrus; precise tangy zesty acid; medium-full body sauvignon blanc; Parker 91 pt. $28