Friday, April 20, 2012

What Does A Perfect Wine Taste Like?

Does the perfect wine exist or is that merely an unreachable ideal? If someone declares a wine is perfect, is that a subjective or objective determination? Should people be able to agree on what constitutes a perfect wine? Intriguing questions and I even explored this issue previously in a short story, The Perfect Wine.

Under the 100 point system, wines are ranked from 50-100, and one would assume that a score of 100, the utmost top number, reflects a perfect wine. Interestingly, the major wine print media does not provide any specific definition of what constitutes a 100 point wine. The Wine Spectator lumps together 95-100 points as "Classic: a great wine." Robert Parker of The Wine Advocate lumps together 96-100 points as "An extraordinary wine of profound and complex character displaying all the attributes expected of a classic wine of its variety. Wines of this caliber are worth a special effort to find, purchase, and consume."

So what is a 100 point wine? In a prior interview, Robert Parker offered some explanation for what he feels constitutes such a wine. "I’ve always tried to explain it saying that, you know, I’m a very passionate person and an emotional person. I really think probably the only difference between a 96-, 97-, 98-, 99-, and 100-point wine is really the emotion of the moment." So it seems largely a matter of context, that different people under different circumstances may rate a wine differently, even disagreeing upon whether a wine deserves a perfect 100 or not.

Wines that receive 100 points are relatively rare and usually expensive. Many wine lovers have probably never tasted, much less owned, such a wine. I am also sure a number of wine lovers don't care but I won't deny that I find the idea intellectually intriguing, to get an insight into what some consider a perfect wine. I recently had the chance to indulge my curiosity as several years ago I acquired a wine rated 100 by Robert Parker, though I was unaware of that fact at the time.  

Back in September 2008, I made a visit to the Lower Falls Wine Co., one of my favorite wine shops, and found that they carried some 2005 Sine Qua Non, a rare cult wine from California. At that time, I had also received several email newsletters from other local wine stores selling Sine Qua Non, and most of the prices ranged from $300-$350 per bottle. Yet Lower Falls was selling them for only $150 per bottle, a significant bargain over all of the other stores. Rather than inflate their prices due to the reputation of the wine, they chose to make it much more affordable and that gains my respect.

I had never tasted those wines before, but had read about them, seen the praise bestowed upon them by numerous people in the wine industry. If nothing else, buying those wines could be a good investment, especially at the Lower Falls price. Fortunately, I had some extra cash at the time so I bought four bottles, two Syrah and two Grenache, and placed them into my Vinotemp for storage.

Sine Qua Non, located in Ventura County in the Central Coast AVA, was founded in 1994 by Manfred and Elaine Krankl. They quickly built up a reputation for producing excellent Rhône style blends and their annual production is very small, around 3500 cases. Most of their grapes come from Santa Barbara County and each of their wines is unique, and never the same year to year. Manfred is an artisan wine maker, hand crafting intriguing products.

Later, I did some research on the wines I purchased and found that the 2005 Sine Qua Non "Atlantis Fe 203-1a,b,c" Syrah had received a score of 100 points from Robert Parker. He stated: "The perfect 2005 Syrah Atlantis Fe 203-1a,b,c is a blend of 93% Syrah, 5% Grenache, and 2% Viognier, with 25% whole clusters...An extraordinarily flowery nose interwoven with scents of blueberries, blackberries, incense, and graphite soars from the glass. Although not the biggest or most concentrated Syrah Krankl has made, it is one of the most nuanced, elegant, and complex. It remains full-bodied, but builds incrementally on the palate, and comes across as elegant and delicate, especially when compared to many California Syrahs. Nevertheless, the intensity is mind-boggling, and the finish lasts for nearly a minute. Drink this amazing effort over the next 10-15+ years."

What did other major wine critics think of this wine? In comparison,Wine Spectator awarded this wine only 92 points while Stephen Tanzer gave it 94-95 points, both which are significantly different than Parker's 100 points. I guess perfection in wine is very subjective. Wine Spectator didn't even score this wine in their top category. So the big question remained, how would I feel about the wine?

The four wines remained in my Vinotemp for several years, and its value increased to as much as $500-$600, roughly three to four times what I paid for it. Not a bad return on my investment in less than four years. I did contemplate selling a bottle or two over the years but never actually went through with it. Ultimately, the value of wine for me is in the drinking, in sharing special bottles with special people. Sometimes, rather than waiting for a special occasion, such as a birthday, anniversary or other celebration, you have to create your own moment and make it special by opening such wine.

Recently, I decided to take the plunge and open a bottle of the 100 point Atlantis, to see how it measured up and whether I would consider it a perfect wine or not. There was no specific occasion to celebrate, simply the fact that I was dining out with some very good friends who appreciated fine wine, including Adam of Wine Zag and Andrew. Thus, it felt right to open such a bottle, to experience it with others who would savor the chance to taste such a wine.

I thought the wine might be big and powerful, a muscular beast that might throttle my palate yet still impress with its balance and complexity. That did not end up being the case. Instead, I encountered a silk-clad temptress, whose seductive wiles entranced me while her lush lips crushed against mine, inciting my own passions. Memories of that kiss lingered long and I craved for her touch once again. She was an elegant woman yet with the concentrated power and grace of a black panther. I wanted to explore all of her depths, to lose myself within her soft, smooth arms.

Perfect? I don't know and I don't care. All I do know is that I found it to be an amazing wine which appealed immensely to my wine preferences. In the moment, there was nothing else I wanted from the wine, and those memories will linger long in my mind. It was an experience, more than just a taste of wine. It was not the time, place and context to engage in an overly intellectual analysis of this wine. That might have ruined the overall experience. Sometimes you simply must savor and enjoy a wine.

The others with me all greatly enjoyed the wine too. It is an impressive Syrah and I am extremely glad that I bought it. And even happier that I still have one more bottle in my cellar.

Now I have to consider when to open that bottle.  

Have you tasted a 100 point wine? If so, what were your thoughts?


ryan said...

Tasted many 100pt wines. Some were rated by Parker some by myself. Best value was a 1.50€ moscato that was the perfect wine for an afternoon in the sun with friends.

Wine is subjective. 500+ years ago, wines that were not sweet were considered undrinkable! Today the opposite.

Enjoy wine for what it is, a beautiful liquid with flavor. Flavors I love!

Adam said...


First, thanks for special. Second, if it wasn't perfect, it was darn close. I will always remember the wine for it's volume that never felt overly burdensome, instead a delicate encasement of amazing levels of nuance and flavor that were velvet to the tongue. I thought of it like molecular cooking, almost unnatural, but totally delicious.


Beau said...

Thanks for sharing this experience! Anytime you drink a wine like that, with good company, it's special.
I've had a few 100 pointers, the 2006 Cardinale, 2000 Roberto Voerzio Sarmassa, and an 85 La Landonne. I savor each memory with those wines but for me personally, I wouldn't rank them at 100, or "perfect". Maybe because the passion that Mr. Parker alludes to wasn't there, maybe because I haven't tasted enough wine yet. Still, the fact that they were shared with great friends and food certainly made the wines into treasured memories.