How To Determine Perfection in Wine

beautyI recently came across and advertisement for a collection of wines that Robert Parker had rated 100 points. The ad proclaimed for sale a collection of “Parker’s Perfects”.

I don’t know if Robert Parker has ever claimed a wine was “perfect”, but in my world, while I could imagine rating a wine 100 points, I could never imagine a wine being perfect.

This begs the question, what does it mean to give a wine (or any consumable or art or craft) the highest possible rating?

I think a thing meriting the highest rating possible must mean that it expresses the idea of beauty. I am a Platonist in this respect. I believe the idea of beauty, where wine is concerned, asks us to imagine the essence of the fruit and its home expressed through the lens of its maker. A 100 point wine will be beautiful because in some way its maker was able to produce a unique wine that beautifully expresses the essence of its grapes and its home.

This is a complicated matter because we are talking about defining beauty, assessing beauty’s attributes then identifying them in an object. And of course it is a subjective matter too. It’s further true that various standards of beauty fight it out with one another in the parlor of public opinion. This is a good thing though because it forces us to keep on our aesthetic toes and to think deliberately and philosophically from time to time.

The point, however, is that the advertisement really shouldn’t have been trying to sell “Parker’s Perfects”, but rather “Parker’s Beauties”.

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8 Responses

  1. Bob Henry - April 21, 2014

    Tom,

    Responding to this statement . . .

    “I don’t know if Robert Parker has ever claimed a wine was ‘perfect’ . . .”

    . . . some quotes directly from Parker.

    Excerpts from Wine Times (September/October 1989) interview
    with Robert Parker, publisher of The Wine Advocate

    WINE TIMES: In your system, what would be the highest rated Beaujolais?

    PARKER: 90. That would be a PERFECT Beaujolais, and I’ve never given one. I have given a lot of 87s and 88s.

    [Bob Henry’s aside : In 1990, Parker awarded a score of 92 points to the 1989 vintage Georges Duboeuf “Jean Descombes” Morgon Beaujolais, contradicting his then year-old statement above.

    Fast forward to 2011: the stellar 2009 vintage cru Beaujolais are garnering scores in the 91 to 94 point range from Wine Advocate.]

    “Readers should recognize that when tasting old bottles the expression, ‘There are no great wines, only great bottles,’ is applicable. . . . Long-time readers have noted that I prefer my wines younger rather than older. Therefore, regardless of its historical significance, no wine which tastes old and decrepit will receive a good review. Those old wines that receive enthusiastic evaluations do so because they remain well-preserved and loaded with remarkable quantities of rich, pure fruit. They possess a freshness, in addition to the profound complexity that developed with significant bottle age. . . . bottles that received PERFECT or exceptional reviews are living, rich, concentrated, compelling wines that justify the enormous expense and considerable patience collectors invest in maturing the finest young wines from top vintages.”

    Source: Robert Parker, The Wine Advocate (issue 90, dated 12-20-93)

    “ . . . Readers often wonder what a 100-POINT SCORE means, and the best answer is that it is pure emotion that makes me give a wine 100 instead of 96, 97, 98 or 99. ”

    Source: Robert Parker, The Wine Advocate (unknown issue from 2002)

    ~~ Bob

  2. tom merle - April 21, 2014

    This approach strikes me as objectifying wine and using an inapproriate category. Unless you are using the term metaphorically, aesthetics are irrelevant. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Buildings or a vista can be beautiful which relies on one sense, sight. And, yes, this can trigger all sorts of pleasant associated sensations and memories. But the primary enjoyment of wine is strictly a gustatory, the tastier the better. This enjoyment tracks with how delicious the drinker finds the wine. Other dimensions are strickly secondary.

  3. Tom Wark - April 21, 2014

    Tom…Any judgement of aesthetics is subjective. That’s a given. And yes, the primary way we experience wine is gustatorily. However, like we can judge a painting beautiful or a peice of music beautiful or a set table beautiful, surely we can judge a wine to be beautiful. And while enjoyment is a factor in wine appreciation, I could just as easily enjoy a 3 star wine as I could a 5 of 5 star wine, but I’d likely not call the 3 star wine something that meets my criteria for beauty.

    You see, I don’t know what “perfect” is in an aesthetic sense. I can’t wrap my head around the idea, and I have tried to. But if I taste a wine that appears to have all its parts in harmony, and delivers clear, concise, and pointed flavors and aromas that blend together into a complex, layered mix, and if there is also the hand of the maker’s intent available to experience, then I’ve seen something that does more than just gives me enjoyment. It makes me think. It makes me wonder. And I’ve experienced something beautiful.

  4. Jerry Knight - April 21, 2014

    I have wondered if someone should say a red wine is ordinary what are they saying. I prefer white wines and red wines high in tannin are hard for me to drink. So if a red wines is low in tannin is it ordinary? Just something I have been curious about lately.

  5. Ben Saltzman - April 21, 2014

    Hey Tom,

    I love the picture you decided to include with this post! Good timing too — I’ve just been updating Chateau Petrogasm and giving it some new life!

    Cheers,
    Ben

  6. M - April 21, 2014

    When we use ratings we use them to convince other people that our opinion means something to them as well as us. Imagine someone who is poor at math being subjected to a room full of local calculus hobby club members. This is what a lot of wine reviewing is like for the average person.

    So if there was a perfect hypothetical wine, it would have the perfect set of flavors that would pair with everything and clash with nothing. It would be both very delicious and also very versatile with no extremes. It would have perfectly equal parts of acidity and bitterness, fruitiness and earthiness, sweetness etc., and do them all effectively in a faultless way, with no “Esoteric” flavors (e.g. the strong taste of mushrooms or leather-boots) that only a seasoned wine reviewer could come to like.

    For example I see some wine reviewers like something simply because it’s different and not necessarily because it’s good. They then give a wine a near perfect score because it “entertained” them by being weird. So Consumer Joe goes out, buys the wine with its big silver “100 point score” on the label, and discovers it tastes a bit like the dirt from his back yard. Big Fail. I hope the wine reviewer was happy.

    So I agree, the perfect wine does not exist, but not because it couldn’t – I think it could, but because reviewers tend not to think with empathy, or hypothetically. They think personally.

  7. Wine Roland - April 23, 2014

    Do we really need measure beauty? I agree with your last statement, difference between Perfect and Beauty.

  8. Bob Henry - April 29, 2014

    Moments ago saw this article displayed below the Wine-Searcher query box:

    “Parker’s PERFECT Napa Dozen”

    [CAPITALIZATION added for emphasis. Likewise below. ~~ Bob]

    Link: http://www.wine-searcher.com/m/2013/11/parkers-perfect-napa-dozen

    Excerpt:

    “Returning to the role of Napa Valley reviewer for The Wine Advocate following Antonio Galloni’s shock resignation earlier this year, the world’s most influential wine critic, Robert Parker, has dished up 12 perfect scores.

    “Listed in the latest edition of the Advocate, the new ratings underline the superlative quality of Napa’s wines from the 2010 vintage, which Parker describes as ‘gorgeous’ and ‘long-lived.’ Ten of the 12 apparently flawless wines are 2010s, with the two remaining top slots occupied by wines from 2009 and 2011.

    “The 100-point winners include some familiar names, including the ‘mindblowing’ 2010 Shafer Vineyards Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon, the ‘voluptuously textured’ 2010 Dominus Proprietary Red Wine, and the 2010 Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon, which Parker calls ‘utter PERFECTION.’ That’s a quality to be hoped for when the wine is listed at an average price of $2,142 per bottle on Wine-Searcher.

    “Only the 2007 and 1997 vintages of Screaming Eagle have ever garnered the PERFECT score; they currently trade at $3,347 and $5,075 per bottle respectively.

    . . .

    “The only non-cabernet sauvignon or Bordeaux blend to be anointed in Parker’s latest 100-point rankings is Colgin Estate’s Syrah. In total, the Pritchard Hill-based producer received an insurmountable three PERFECT scores from Parker, with top ratings also going to its cabernet-based 2010 Colgin Cariad Proprietary Red Wine and 2010 Colgin IX Proprietary Red Estate.”

    . . .


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