Blah, blah, blah — here we go again: Although I’ve long gone on record against the idea of rating a wine by points, the sad fact is, when an influential wine critic bestows a “perfect” score on a particular bottle, it’s difficult not to take notice and wonder what all the fuss could be about. It also raises the question: What does a 100-point score really mean? On one hand, we may tend to assume that a 100-point wine is somehow a “flawless” wine, meaning that it’s technically sound, full-flavored and balanced, with no shortcomings. But on the other hand, each wine also possesses its own unique character, which means that, aside from being well-crafted, the most memorable wines should also boast a certain je ne sais quoi (with no room for improvement) that sets them apart from the rest. So, with these two factors in mind, does a 100-point rating guarantee that the wine in question satisfies both of these requirements? Perhaps, but perhaps not.
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Last week, I split a bottle of the 2005 Alban Vineyards Edna Valley “Lorraine” Syrah with my friend Geoff Harner of Mosher & Company, a wine importer based here in the Napa Valley. Upon its release, Robert Parker had rated the 2005 “Lorraine” as a 100-pointer: “An absolutely monumental wine is the 2005 Syrah Lorraine Vineyard. The finest Syrah John Alban has yet produced, its inky-ruby-purple hue is accompanied by gorgeously sweet aromas of flowers, blueberries, black raspberries, blackberries, and subtle hints of smoky oak, bacon fat, and licorice. In the mouth, the wine is seamlessly constructed with fabulous fruit, brilliant concentration, and virtually perfect balance. Moreover, the finish lingers on the palate for over 60 seconds. It should drink beautifully for 15 or more years.” Maybe so, but what about the fact that the “Lorraine” is 16.5% alcohol? Does this egregious ripeness even count for anything? Hello?
Believe me, I’m not one of those folks who feels that all red wines should feature less than 14% alcohol by volume (after all, I do live in the Napa Valley, land of the ultra-ripe grape). But really, 16.5% alcohol for a Syrah? Even by today’s standards, that’s enough booze to cause even the most robust and loutish Zinfandels to cower in the corner. In all fairness, however, I must concede that the 2005 “Lorraine” exhibits some wonderfully complex layers: Dark, ripe fruit contrasts with the meaty-meaty and the smokey-smokey. Based upon these classic attributes, the 2005 “Lorraine” is Syrah through and through, with a finish that seems to linger for days. But for my tastes, that initial boozy warmth from the first sip represents a slight flaw in the wine, or at the very least, one hot step away from pure, 100-point perfection.
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As more of these 100-point wines become available in the future, I will continue to second-guess the world’s most influential wine critics. If not me, then who? Like it or not, the 100-point system is here to stay, but these opinions are far from absolute. Do stay tuned.