Good Buy I: The Critics

Here comes the delicate moment of choosing and purchasing a wine. Our last chapter about deciphering wine labels is part of the process, and now several more ways to help make the final decision. 

One is to refer to wine critics, but here I feel I should do a critique of the critics and be a bit more judgmental.

Nowadays it seems that everything becomes a competition in a world where people no longer have time, and are looking for quick answers: 10 best restaurants, “The World Gets Talent” show, best cook, best fashion designer, best make up, best of the best etc. This ignores the notion of pleasure and that not everything is a competition that can be marked. 

Music is another example. Take a classical symphony: there is a good theme, good harmony, balance, complexity, good development etc. It must be a good symphony then (?). But how to assess the emotions, or that which words cannot express? How to compare and judge a symphony by Beethoven, Mozart, Debussy or Mahler, or wines from Bordeaux, Bourgogne, Spain, Chile or China? Knowing as well that many wines, especially from Bordeaux or Bourgogne, need 10 or 20 years to start “speaking”.

Of course, some elements of the wine can be evaluated which is a common exercise while studying oenology. From the colour, the nose and palate: if the wine has minerality, fruitiness, spiciness, earthiness, oakiness, the finish, complexity etc. It is possible to assess the general quality of the wine: if it is well made, well balanced, if it can age or needs to be decanted etc. Yet not all qualities are boxes to tick.

Despite how it sounds I am not against wine critics, but rather cautioning against blindly following what in the end is one man’s taste or marking system. The most famous and powerful critic is Robert Parker, with so much influence that we have seen a “Parkerisation” of the wine world, especially Bordeaux, and a globalisation of taste. The illustrious initials “RP” and his 100 points marking system can make or break a winery, so some vintners don’t hesitate to change their way of making wine to please this renowned palate. It is established that “Bob” Parker likes high alcohol wines with a rich oak influence and lots of fruitiness. 

I have personally tried many wines highly rated by RP, and while they are generally well- made, were rarely interesting in my opinion.

A few opinions are better than just one, so if you really must base your purchase on ratings there are some apps that condense all the available professional and public critics. They are easy to navigate as you type the name of the wine or just take a picture. My personal favourite right now is “Wine-Searcher.”

For once here I have reviewed a wine that is not really my “cup of tea”, yet highly rated: 93 by RP and 91 by Wine Spectator. For our next chapter “Good Buy II”, I will do the opposite.

Quinta Valle D. Maria, CV Curriculum Vitae 2007 Douro DOC

This is a very traditional Portuguese red wine made from at least 20 grapes from one field. I tried this wine about a year ago and decanted it for a couple of hours before tasting, knowing that it is extremely powerful. Aged for 21 months mostly in new French oak casks and 15.5 percent vol. of alcohol with a deep garnet colour, this is a very full-bodied wine. Also a great wine to describe, as it is so rich you can tick almost all the boxes. The bouquet jumps out of the glass starting with red berries, blackcurrant, blackberries, moving to vanilla, black pepper, clove and later to cigar box, chocolate bean, leather etc. Very present yet well-integrated tannins on the palate with black cherry at first, red currant, blueberry, opening to spices and autumn undergrowth with a very long finish. Tried again the next day (still a fair bit left…) and the wine showed no tiredness. 

So a wine which is well made, concentrated, always developing in the glass, is nonetheless uninteresting in my opinion due to a lack of elegance, finesse, and emotions. But again, it is just one person’s opinion. David Rouault

David Rouault is a professional classical musician, part time wine consultant and full time wine lover, holding WSET Level 3,
Certified Specialist of Wine and Introductory Sommelier diplomas.

Categories World of Bacchus