2009 CA Pinots and Parker’s Unprecedented Scores
In an earlier post concerning the Pinot On the River event in Healdsburg last month, I made note of the fact that the 2009 California Pinot Noirs are generally considered great wines. I quoted Jim Laube of the Wine Spectator who wrote, "There is no such thing as a perfect vintage, but 2009 comes close to nirvana for California Pinot Noir," and noted that an amazing 55% of the 2009 California Pinots rated by the Wine Spectator received 90 points or more.
I started to wonder about the another important wine review publication: Robert Parker's The Wine Advocate. What I discovered can be described as unprecedented.
Robert Parker gave 90 points or more to 78% of the 237 2009 California Pinot Noirs that were rated in the Wine Advocate. SEVENTY-EIGHT PERCENT!! To put that in perspective, only 22% of all the 2009 California Pinot Noirs rated in the Wine Advocate received less than 90 Points.
To offer a bit more perspective, consider the Wine Advocate's reviews of 2009 Pinot Noirs by appellation and what percent of wines reviewed received 90 Points or more.
Santa Cruz Mountains: 100% (only 13 wines reviews—Still!!)
Santa Rita Hills: 91%
Santa Maria: 81%
Santa Lucia Highlands: 80%
Russian River Valley: 78%
Sonoma Coast: 76%
Anderson Valley: 44% (only 9 wines reviewed)
Over the years the Wine Advocate as continually reviewed more Pinots each vintage and this makes sense as more and more Pinot Noirs are being produced in California every year. But what's interesting is taking a look back to see what percentage of wines reviewed in each previous vintage received 90 points or more. That's the graph you see at the top of this post. But to spell it out:
I see the same trend you do. Either California Pinot Noirs are becoming better wines or Mr. Parker is developing a taste for California Pinot Noir. I suspect it's the former, with perhaps a small dash of the latter thrown in.
One other interesting note. In looking at Wine Advocate's reviews of California Pinot Noir going back to 1999 only two wine reviews published received a numbered point rating less than 80 points and that was a 79 and 78 point score. For the 2000 – 2008 vintages, the lowest score published for a California Pinot Noir was somewhere between 81 and 85 points.
My guess is that Mr. Parker likely tastes and ranks more Pinots than are accounted for in the pages of the Wine Advocate. It's very difficult to believe that over the years so very few California Pinot Noirs would be rated in the 70s.
For those of you who prefer to dismiss numbers and ratings as meaningless (particularly the 100 point scale ratings), I suspect you are not now reading this sentence as you were dismissive of the premise of this post about two paragraphs in. And I respect that, but likely take issue with some of your explanation for this position. That said, what we have here is a picture of a vintage of Pinot Noir snapped by a single palate who has likely tasted as many California Pinot Noirs as anyone in the wine writing game. That alone ought to make us stand up and take notice. But we also have a record of those tastings. And it can be said that for Robert Parker, just as it is for Jim Laube, the 2009 California Pinot Noir vintage is quite special.