Wine Greatness: Old School vs New School

Can a wine be considered "GREAT" and should it attain a score of 98 or above if it isn’t likely to improve with age?

Put another way, given that it is not meant to age, what score would a perfect dry rose garner?

Robert Parker, among other reviewers and wine lovers, reserves a portion of his assessment points for a wine’s ability to age. If the wine is, in their assessment, likely to improve and develop complexity with age, it will have more points added to it’s score.

This is "Old School" thinking. It turns out more and more aficionados take the position that the evaluation of a wine should be based primarily on the enjoyment it delivers now. If the wine delivers the peak of enjoyment, it is great, regardless of what it becomes. Twenty years ago, maybe even ten years ago, it would have been near impossible to find a knowledgeable wine person take this position. what has changed?

In a recent issue of his "Vintage Experiences" newsletter Dan Berger makes a revealing point on this issue. When all those people ran to red wine after the 60 Minutes story on wine and health in the early 1990s, these new wine drinkers went for the wine they were most familiar with: Cabernet. The problem was that Cabernet had tannin. It was this tannic, astringent quality of red wines, that turned off many people. So, they turned to what was easier to drink: Merlot. The Australians caught on to this trend very early, Berger points out, and began selling boat loads of soft, easy to drink red wine. For many, this, soft Aussie Red and soft Merlot, was their first introduction to wine they liked, wine that was not overly tannic. These people stayed with wine. Some stayed in the $5-10 category. Others moved up, but looked for something better, yet still soft. Winemakers were happy to deliver.

As always, Berger delivers a keen, unexpected and eye opening explanation of the wine world. Still, there is more going on.

Today’s hottest wines, whether from California, Australia, France or South America are those with a softer, riper, fruitier, less tannic personality. Critics have endorsed them. Winemakers have found new technology to produce them with less risk of spoilage. Viticulturists have found farming methods and clonal selections that allow them to grow such wines.

The bottom line is this: The definition of quality has changed is rapid fashion. Today, a 15% alcohol, 4.0 pH, Inky black, soft, fruit bomb is regularly hailed as the pinnacle of quality. Will they age? Not likely. But it doesn’t matter. That isn’t part of the criteria that drives consumers to these wines or drives winemakers to produce them.

Me? I believe I am old school. I’ve tasted from the well of well-age wine. I used not to be such a minority. Aged wines, though always the province of very few wine drinkers, had far more adherents than they do today. You can find people who have tasted hundreds and hundred of wines, explored every wine-corner of the globe, are able to describe the style of wine produced by numerous winemakers and wineries. Yet, they have little or no experience with well-aged wine and have no need for it.

Will the definition of greatness one day come back to primarily include the ability to age. I think it will. But slowly. And when it does, there will be a number of wineries still producing wine who were around when soft, sweet, big and extracted was not the be all end all of the wine experience. And thank goodness. Because we will have the opportunity to find wines that were made with aging in mind to confirm what the "Old School" of today always believed.


2 Responses

  1. Mike - May 27, 2005

    This is an interesting subject and I’ve copied what I wrote on the eBob forum below, and made a few changes as well.
    The inclusion of 10 points for ageability in the Parker version of the 100 points scoring system suggests that it was not developed for the assessment of wines that do not age. So even though it is used to rate wines within their peer group it should really only be used with wines that will age.
    The problem with the 10 points for the “overall quality level or potential for further evolution and improvement—aging” is that it has to be reduced as the wine ages. Of course other components of the score will also change [aroma and bouquet (15 points), and flavor and finish (20 points)] and so the final score for the aged wine may not vary from what it rated as a young wine. Thus complexity gained due to aging has to be expressed in the tasting note itself. A tasting note is a description, not a score; where have I heard that before?
    Is the description of the perfect (unaged) Rose less important than the perfect (aged) Shiraz/Syrah or Cabernet? Shouldn’t both be considered great within the bounds of their own qualities? Why does a Rose have to suffer at the hands of a Cabernet simply because it does not age?

  2. cbowxnzd - March 11, 2007



Leave a Reply