The Wine Cellar: A tasting of red wines scoring 95 or better
by Rene Corton
Last time, I discussed scoring wines and confessed to being a wine-scoring note-taking nerd. Certainly scoring wines is not necessary for simply enjoying them.
I do think it is helpful in learning about wines and remembering what you like. Scoring makes one focus on the wine while tasting and serves as a shorthand method of recording your thoughts and communicating them to others.
Of the several scoring scales, I prefer the 100-point scale simply because it is most commonly used in the United States. Wines below 70 are those you wish to avoid, 70-79 wines are average, 80-89 connotes wines which are good to very good, while wines scoring in the 90s are world class.
Scores of 95 or better are reserved for those few wines which are truly extraordinary. It is not uncommon for wines is this category to retail for more than $100/bottle when released and considerably more when mature.
A valid objection to all scoring systems, but especially the 70-100 scale, is that they imply a precision which simply does not exist in tasting wine. Bottle variation, tasting conditions, and the condition of the taster can cause considerable differences in scores. The bottle of medium priced vin ordinaire will score higher when tasted in a romantic French auberge than it will when tasted alongside its peers in a more critical setting at home.
Generally, I think scoring is useful if one remembers that an 88 is really 88+/-2 even for experienced and competent tasters and that not every occasion calls for a 90s wine. My wife's spaghetti, for instance, goes best with an 82.5, and I'd drink a 70 in a pinch.
Recently, my wine tasting group tasted 12 red wines rated as 95 or better by Robert Parker's The Wine Advocate. The consensus favorite was the 1989 Cote Rotie La Mouline from Guigal.
Also my favorite, I rated the wine 98 and noted a fully red color, very dense appearance, complex nose of herbs and flowers with just a hint of sweaty leather, a full rich middle, and a long finish lasting several minutes.
Cote Rotie tends to drink best from seven to 15 years of age and this one was magnificent. Guigal's other single vineyard 1989 Cote Roties (La Turque and La Landonne) have also scored well over the past six months. Due to high demand and scarcity, these wines generally retail for $120-$200/bottle--expensive, yes, but truly world class!
Guigal also produces a Cote Rotie brune et blonde which retails for $40-$50/bottle and is only a notch below in quality. The 1987 Montelena Cabernet and the 1990 St. Estephe Chateau Montrose both scored 95 and demonstrated excellent depth and richness. Both will be best between 10 and 20 years, but they are certainly drinking well now.
The 1989 and 1990 Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape elicited some controversy. Both were rated 98 by Mr. Parker, and The Wine Spectator selected the 1989 as the wine of the vintage.
I rated the wines 93 and 95 respectively and felt the 1990 had much richer fruit. Most tasters scored these wines in the high 80s and were disappointed and surprised when the wines were unblinded.
Beaucastels typically close up between two and 10 years and then develop into lovely wines between 10 and 20 years of age. Maybe they are in a closed or dumb phase--or maybe they were overrated initially.
The 1986 Margaux, ranked 96 by Parker, scored 92. Fully red in color with a berry-cedar nose suggesting maturity, this dense wine with a dusty mouth feel has prominent tannins which still need time to soften. The big tannins are typical of 1986 Bordeaux wines and they clearly need more time. Probably be lovely at age 20-30.
By contrast, the 1985 Groth Cabernet Reserve, rated 100 by Mr. Parker, only scored 90 in my notes. The wine was very dense, but the color was fully brick red and the nose very mature. I liked the rich velvet taste and guessed the wine to be a 1974 cabernet. Since I know it was well stored in a cold cellar, I'd be inclined to drink soon.
The 1992 Caymus Cabernet Special Selection scored 93 versus 95 by Mr. Parker. This big rich wine seemed thick in the glass and in spite of the young-appearing purple color was soft and supple. My only complaint was a slightly odd vegetal nose--at $100/ bottle, I can be quite critical.
The most disappointing wine was the 1982 Gruaud Larose which Parker rated 98. The fully red color and density appeared normal for a 14-year-old wine, but the nose was stinky, reminding me of septic tank, and tasted old and over the hill. Probably a bad bottle, due to poor storage or high heat during shipment, as this usually lovely wine should be drinking well.
All in all, a great night of tasting. Yes, I could drink 95s or better every day--think I'll try one with spaghetti next week.