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.

ParkerPinotI 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%
Other: 68%
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:

1999: 39%
2000: 35%
2001: 45%
2002: 49%
2003: 43%
2004: 58%
2005: 55%
2006: 57%
2007: 65%
2008: 59%
2009: 78%

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.

14 Responses

  1. Jon Troutman - November 7, 2011

    Are you lumping in all of the 2009 Central Coast Pinot Noirs that Galloni tasted and reviewed? Or are these stats specifically for Parker?

  2. Tom Wark - November 7, 2011

    Taken from the Wine Advocate, Central Coast and North Coast, regardless of reviewer.

  3. Jon Troutman - November 8, 2011

    Thanks, Tom! I just wasn’t sure if the data was specific to Parker, or include the transition. Cheers.

  4. Christian Miller - November 8, 2011

    More data-geeking: have Advocate scores crept up for other California varieties or other regions since the 1999 vintage? If so, I’m wondering how much CA Pinot diverges from that trend. That said, the 2009 is clearly well above the moving average for CA Pinot.

  5. Tom Wark - November 8, 2011

    Really good question. I’d love to know myself.

  6. Roberta - November 8, 2011

    Parker has outlasted his stay as the geru of wine and the alltime judge of all of them. You get him on your side and you have it made in the shade. Look at Napa and Sonoma who molded their programs around his likes and preferences. When it was announced he was stepping down, panic ensued. Hope they are all alright.
    Make wine the way you want to. Not to please somebody for a buck.

  7. Dan Williams - November 8, 2011

    I see where the mindset was in this, but it is flawed for a few reasons:
    1) Robert Parker didn’t rate the wines in the August 2011 issue of The Wine Advocate. They were reviewed by Antonio Galloni. So you have the opinions of somebody other than Robert Parker. Sure, you can assume Bob wouldn’t put somebody in charge who had a drastically different view on California Pinot Noirs (ie: somebody who didn’t like them), but it’s a different palate.
    2) The Wine Advocate “generally” does not list the reviews of wines rating lower than 85 points. Sure, there are some instances where TWA shows those scores, but usually not. In order to accurately find out out what percentage of wines are scored 90 points or above, you would have to find out which wines weren’t listed. But…I see where you’re going. And yes…I feel that Pinot Noirs are getting better, and 2009 was a great vintage. I just can’t wait to see what the Central Coast producers come out with 2010s. They look promising!

  8. 1WineDude - November 9, 2011

    What Dan said. Also, RMP/TWA isn’t wrong, 2009 saw some incredible PNs from West Sonoma Coast for example. Just sayin’…

  9. Steve Heimoff - November 9, 2011

    I don’t think the numbers are all that surprising. California Pinot Noir is getting better (for a variety of reasons I can explain), and also, the cooler vintages lately have been cooperating. I haven’t crunched my own numbers for 2009, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the number of 90-plus Pinots is high, although I’m sure it won’t be as high as Parker’s!

  10. Tom Wark - November 9, 2011

    Wine Spectator came in around 56% I think. Would love to know what yours are.

  11. Ed Thralls - November 10, 2011

    Very interesting find indeed, Tom… I agree with Steve that CA Pinot has been improving steadily over the years, but still surprised at the number of 90+…

  12. Petermpls - November 12, 2011

    I have found that Parker has, over the years, decreased the percentage of reviews of the “standard” wines from California wineries. By this, I mean that I don’t often see reviews non-single vineyard or special edition wines. 10 years ago this was more common. I agree that California Pinots are getting better, but if most of your wines are above the $50 / bottle mark then you should see this outcome.

  13. Zithromax - March 4, 2012

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    Dear Elizabeth can hear it and feel it!
    You are a rare lovely creature! And Steve and the rest of your family are rare creatures as well!
    Patina Farm will be the most heavenly place……and we are all so so lucky to be able to see it from” vacant lot” To “farm heaven on earth”!
    I will try to make “Big Daddy’s opening” on Saturday! I really will!
    ps you know that chair that has all that funny stuffing? I found out what it is! The very best upholstery used “curly boar hair; and curly horse hair” Those were the best made chairs…….and they still are!
    De Angelis in New York City! I think they are still the top of the top!

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