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Berger: What do we mean by 'best wine'?

I recently tried the finest young red wine I have ever tasted. I will chat about that in due course. But first ...

When a wine is listed as the best of its type, most wine lovers pay attention.

So what can you take away from seeing a listing of 12 different wines from different producers, different soils, and different wine-making regimes when each is rated to be identical to the other and perfect?

Perhaps that wasn't intended when well-known wine critic Robert Parker blessed 12 different Napa Valley wines with his highest accolade. He gave each of the 12 wines scores of 100 points.

Maybe the wines differ from one another. If so, is there a single specific thread that links them? (The key word here is "specific.") Not that I can tell. Hyperbole was extreme about each of the 12, and I'm sure Parker found something that linked the wines.

What was lost in all the news stories and hoopla surrounding this proclamation was the simple fact that scores are not facts. They are opinions and are based on no particular parameters other than Parker's say-so.

I'm not suggesting that the 100-point wines aren't any good. What I am saying is that if all such wines were tasted double-blind and held to a set of rigid quality parameters, I suspect a handful of wines that scored 99, or 98, or even 90 might have fared as well the 100s.

And what would those rigid quality parameters consist of? Well, for one thing, they would include the varietal being placed under the microscope. Isn't varietal character an elemental part of wine evaluation?

What score is appropriate for an impressive cabernet sauvignon if it smells and tastes more like a zinfandel?

So let's return to the finest young wine I ever tasted. I had it twice — once double-blind as a member of the judging panel for the Six Nations Wine Challenge in Sydney, and a month later at the producer's modest tasting room in the Martinborough district at the southern end of New Zealand's north island.


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