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The Number Marks the Man, Not the Wine
There is a learned body of opinion that the numbers that sometimes accompany a wine review are meaningless piffle. Words matter. Those who advance this argument are often wine journalists who eschew numerical ratings and attempt to persuade the undecided wine buyer with dazzling prose.
I respectfully disagree. The number matters to me, and it's very personal. Allow me to explain.
When I assign a numerical rating to a review, I am simply providing a measure of my enthusiasm for the wine being evaluated. Others may arrive at their number through a mathematical calculation only they can decipher. I am telling you how the wine registered on my internal applause meter.
The higher the number, the more I liked the wine. What could be wrong with that? What could be so difficult to understand? For what it's worth, here's the reason I adopted this approach.
At the start of my career, I was a purist. I relied solely upon words to convey my impressions of each wine I recommended. More often than not, however, I was asked which of the recommended wines was best. Fair question, I thought.
I also noticed that the so-called "descriptors" became monotonous and lost their meaning through time and overuse. Then there was the issue of descriptors being misunderstood. Or worse, hearing from readers that they couldn't detect the aromas being described. I would reassure all that wines evolve and aromas change and not everyone experiences taste and smell the same way.
So while I still use descriptors, I use them sparingly. I make up for the lighter load of descriptors with anecdotal observations and, of course, the score that represents my overall opinion of the wine. You may have noticed that my recent reviews have been chock full of high scores, and you may have wondered what goes into a seriously high rating — say, 95 points or better.
You also might wonder how I could assign equivalent ratings to a slightly pale, still somewhat tannic Barbaresco and a voluptuous Cabernet Sauvignon from the Napa Valley.
The truth is I admire both styles. I love the Barbarescos for their earthiness, the great Napa Cabs for their boldness. The aromas and flavors couldn't be more different, but that's where it becomes important to figure out compatible cuisine. If you haven't washed down a dish of braised rabbit with chanterelles with a nicely aged Barbaresco or Barolo, well, you still have some living left to do.
So it happens that the wines of Marchesi di Gresy, Far Niente and Patz & Hall, diverse as they are, all sent my spirits and my taste buds soaring during recent evaluations. That's enough to get good scores in the low 90s. But when I find wines that are profoundly complex — and I believe they will not only hold up but will also actually improve with age — I tack on extra points, taking them to 95 points and beyond.
This methodology works for me, but I have no illusions that it's the only way to rate wines or even the best way. It has one important advantage, however, if you're a wine enthusiast who occasionally taps my recommendations for guidance. You have absolutely no problem discerning whether or not I'm absolutely gaga over a wine!
Wines are rated on a 100-point scale. Wines are chosen for review because they represent outstanding quality or value.
Candor 'Lot 2' Merlot, Central Coast ($18) — This ripe, full-bodied Merlot is brought to you by the good folks at Hope Family wines in Paso Robles. They were farmers growing grapes before they started making their own wines, so they're plugged into some of the better plots of vineyard in the Central Coast. The Lot 2 Merlot is a blend of two vintages, 2007 and 2008, and delivers a rich Central Coast red wine experience at a modest price. The wine is loaded with ripe plum, blackberry and currant fruit, sweet, nicely integrated tannins, and hints of spice.
Marchesi di Gresy 2004 Barbaresco Gaiun Martinenga, Italy ($85) — A classic Barbaresco from a superb vintage, Marchesi di Gresy's Gaiun is from a special block of the Martinenga vineyard and only produced in exceptional vintages. It is beginning to show nuances of leather, tar and wet earth, along with the trademark sour cherry fruit of the nebbiolo grape. The tannins are fine and long, coming into play most on the back of the palate. Watch this wine come alive with grilled meats and meat-based ragu! Superb for the collector who is willing to be patient and allow this lovely wine additional time to evolve. Rating: 97.
Marchesi di Gresy 2005 Barbaresco, Camp Gros Martinenga, Italy ($85) — Beautifully made, elegant and well-balanced, the Camp Gros is maybe the ultimate expression of Nebbiolo from the Martinenga vineyard. Don't be fooled by the pale color. Deliciously perfumed, it delivers aromas of earth, lead pencil and tar, supported by sweet black cherry fruit and packed with fine, beautifully integrated tannins. It is the very essence of Barbaresco elegance — a treasure from this outstanding vintage. I wouldn't hesitate to put it down in the cellar another 10 to 15 years. Gorgeous wine. Rating: 97.
Patz & Hall 2007 Pinot Noir, Hyde Vineyard, Carneros ($60) — Hyde Vineyard has historically produced some of the most profound Pinots from the Carneros district, which has often been criticized as the home of too many lightweights. Not so with Hyde from Patz & Hall. The power and depth are evident from the pour, which reveals a densely colored Pinot that looks as rich and powerful as it tastes. Aromas of blueberry, raspberry and black cherry are layered and complex, supported by firm tannins and juicy acidity. This is a blockbuster Pinot no matter your stylistic preferences, for it has elegance and finesse that is a match for its raw energy and power. Rating: 97.
Far Niente 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville ($115) — It starts with a seductive nose of rich cassis and vanilla, with a hint of wood-smoke. On the palate the wine is smooth and supple, showing layers of ripe blackberry and blueberry fruit, silky tannins and a long, mesmerizing finish. The major difference between this and other outstanding Cabs from Far Niente that I remember is the absence of firm grip on the finish. This ultra-smooth nuance seems to be a characteristic of the '07 vintage in the Napa Valley, and the Far Niente has it in spades. Rating: 97.
Patz & Hall 2007 Chardonnay, Zio Tony Ranch, Russian River Valley ($60) — Superb structure and balance are the characteristics that give the Zio Tony Chardonnay its standout quality. This exceptional example of what California can produce with the Chardonnay grape when it's on its game delivers grand cru quality at a price that is, though spendy, still short of the price you might pay for a comparable white Burgundy. This vintage exhibits the scent of lemon creme and spice, with firm acidity that suggests this wine will age beautifully. Rating: 97.
Patz & Hall 2007 Pinot Noir, Pisoni Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands ($80) — California wines above $50 a bottle are supposed to be dead in the water in today's wine market. If that's the case, I want to be buried alongside a case of Patz & Hall's Pisoni Pinot. This stellar Monterey County vineyard, perhaps the most famous Pinot vineyard in the United States, sells its fruit to a number of producers. It is in extremely good hands with James Hall of Patz & Hall. James allows the Pisoni fruit to shine, and that in fact is the point of this vineyard. The grapes always come off the vines very ripe, but with the structure necessary to produce beautifully balanced wines that are both wonderful to drink now yet excellent candidates for extended time in the cellar. This vintage offers concentrated aromas of blackberry, raspberry and strawberry, with hints of spice and a powerfully perfumed nose. It is long on the finish, with refined tannins that titillate rather than bite. Simply outstanding. Rating: 96.
King Estate 2008 Pinot Noir, Oregon ($27) — This lightly colored vintage from King Estate is nicely perfumed with spice, floral notes and hints of red berry. On the palate it delivers modest berry notes with good acid, so the fruit is likely to shine when this wine is paired with dishes, such as poached salmon or savory tapas. A very good midrange Oregon Pinot. Rating: 88.
To find out more about Robert Whitley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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