Monday, April 28, 2008

Even Experts Disagree

Scores, Scores, Scores.

Wine points are all around us. Many retailers tout scores in efforts to get people to buy wines. And such marketing is effective as there are a significant amount of people who do buy their wines based on wine scores. But can such scores be trusted? Do the wine "experts" basically agree on scores for the same wines?

This topic is starting to get trite. It has been discussed time and time again here and on plenty of other wine blogs. Yet I had to raise it again because of a recent incident that brought it before my eyes once again. While researching the wines of Paolo De Marchi, I saw some conflicting scores for his Cepparello wine.

First, the April 2008 issue of Decanter had an article declaring the Cepparello to be one of Italy's 50 Greatest Ever Wines. It did not score any of the vintages but stated it was consistently excellent. The aticle was based on questions asked of 19 Italian wine experts from four different countries.

Second, the Wine Advocate gave 94 points to the 2003 Cepparello and 95 points to the 2004 Cepparello. This would seem to be in sync with the Decanter article.

Third, Steven Tanzer gave 93 points to the 2003 Cepparello and 89+ points to the 2004 Cepparello. So he felt the 2003 vintage was better and his score for the 2004 differed by 6 points.

Lastly, the Wine Spectator gave 88 points to the 2003 Cepparello and 86 points to the 2004 Cepparello. So their score difered from the Wine Advocate by 6 points for the 2003 AND 9 points for the 2004. 9 points??? That is a very significant difference. Why is it so different?

Let us look at the tasting notes for the 2004 to see if we can get a clue.

Wine Advocate: "The estate's 2004 Cepparello (100% Sangiovese aged in French oak, 1/3 new) was made from minuscule yields of just 600 grams per plant and is even better than the 2003. It exhibits a livelier color, fresher aromatics and a nuanced personality, all the products of a more balanced growing season. It boasts layers of vibrant fruit intermingled with subtle mineral and licorice notes, showing outstanding length on the palate and fine, noble tannins. A wine of extraordinary elegance, it has been stunning on the two occasions I have tasted it so far. That said, readers who want to experience this wine's full array of tertiary notes will have to give this wine time to mature in the bottle. It is highly recommended. Anticipated maturity 2009-2022."

Wine Spectator: "Aromas of black cherry and flowers follow through to a medium body, with fine tannins and a delicate finish. Sangiovese. Best after 2008."

I cannot see based on those tasting notes why the Wine Spectator did not give a higher score to this wine. They did not indicate any problems with the wine.

So which score should would you follow? And why? What I think it indicates is that wine scores are really so personal a matter, that wine preferences vary greatly from person to person, that scores don't have a lot of value. If even the wine experts can vary so significantly in their scores for a wine, then where is the value in those scores?

Let your own taste be the ultimate judge of whether a wine is good or not.


David McDuff said...

The most important key to deciphering the subjective context of points is figuring out which of the critics, major or not, has a palate that best lines up with your own preferences.

The aberration in the lineup you've cited is clearly the Wine Spectator. Their critic of record for Tuscany is James Suckling, a writer/taster who consistently displays a strong preference for rich, extracted and opulent wines. Just look at his vintage scores. 1997, a hot year in Tuscany, ranks at the top of his list. In Piedmont, he gave the atypical and highly overrated 2000 vintage 100 points, the very idea of which is absurd.

His tastes in Sangiovese based wines (such as Cepparello) lean heavily in favor of the hotter climate wines from Montalcino. In Chianti country, he strongly favors Super Tuscans.

My two cents? Cepparello is a fantastic wine, elegant and concentrated but never heavy or intentionally opulent. The 2004 is built for the long haul; the 2003 might give more obvious pleasure for early drinking.

Richard Auffrey said...

Hi David and thanks for your input. I was not aware of Suckling's preferences on Tuscany wines but it certainly makes sense.

And though Parker has somewhat of the same reputation, the Wine Advocate reviewer of the Cepparello was Antonio Galloni.

I was very impressed with the 2004 Cepparello, and bought a 2003 though I have not tasted it yet.