It is perhaps inherent in human nature for some, but not all, individuals to try to convince the rest of us that they alone know what is best. This trait is seemingly amplified within certain wine reviewers (with overly inflated opinions of their individual sense of taste, bordering on fanaticism) who feel the need to tell others what is good to drink. Personally, I only trust my own buds to tell me if I am enjoying what is in my glass and I can draw my own conclusion as to whether a specific wine is merely a pleasant tipple, a stupendously mind-blowing experience, or rather something to be avoided like the plague. After all, aren’t my taste buds a survival mechanism that will send, tout de suite, a quick message to my digestive system to warn me that I am about to swallow something that might not be advantageous to my well-being? Nobody else can make this decision for me. Hemlock, anyone?
The fixation with the 100 point system began for some in California (more specifically Napa) on a singularly auspicious day, more than two decades ago, when a certain Robert Parker Jr. bestowed upon one wine, the Groth 1985 Reserve Cabernet sauvignon, the, perhaps now dubious, honour of being the very first American recipient of his preposterously grandiose perfect score. To be delivered into the annals of wine history by such magnificent taste buds was surely a tremendous privilege for Groth Vineyards & Winery. One can only imagine that being thus catapulted into the realm of enological-infamy was a bit of a shock for the unassuming Groth family who (like other wine producers in the still, relatively sleepy Napa Valley of the 1980s) were simply trying to produce the best wine possible from their little slice of Eden. But, Parker interfered and things in the wine-reviewing game have never been the same since, or in the wine industry for that matter. It now seems that some wineries are obsessed with trying to manipulate their product into something that may please one particular critic’s palate. Cha-ching!
One could ask what exactly is being scored anyway? A particularly extraordinary vineyard/terroir? Mother Nature’s beneficence in the deliverance of an ideal growing season? The green-fingered expertise of the viticulturalist? The alchemical-prowess of the winemaker? The bankrolling ability of the proprietor? Of course there is no simple answer, wine is far too complex to pigeonhole. Just as the 100 point scoring system is, in some perverse way, far too simplistic - but it is always subjective.
Recently I got to taste the Groth 2005 Reserve Cabernet sauvignon. Some twenty vintages later, this is a wine worthy of reviewing. This is not a typical over-blown Napa Cabernet; instead it is a restrained, but intricately layered interpretation of a much revered wine varietal. I have no idea what score Mr. Parker bequeathed upon this particular vintage, and I’m not even going to look it up, I simply don’t care – and I wish more people didn’t care. A little while back I was speaking to a stranger about wine scores and mused aloud that surely no one took these scores too seriously, only to be berated and told, in no uncertain terms, that some people need to be told what to drink. What? Did this lemming really utter those words? Unfortunately, it seems that there are more people out there than one might imagine who cannot make the most basic of choices for themselves.
Of course, this is coming from little old me, who as a self-confessed contrarian hardly ever agrees with film reviews, never even reads book reviews, and therefore is not likely to take a blind bit of notice of a wine review in which someone else feels the urge to tell me that what they are tasting is more valid than my own perception.