Chow Town

Forget points, wine is perfect only if people enjoying it deem it so

Last post, I was all about the 100 point tasting that I conducted at the 2014 Charlotte Wine and Food Festival.

The tasting was titled “1,000 Points of Wine” — with 10 wines that each had received scores of 100 points from some critic or another. 100 points. That’s perfection, right? The very notion that a wine is “perfect” is bizarre to me.

The best wine in the world is only as perfect as the experience itself — where you are, what kind of mood you’re in, what the company is like and if the wine is the sort of wine you like.

Some people like dry wines, some like them sparkling, some like it sweet and some want it in between. No one is right and no one is wrong. A wine is only “perfect” if the people enjoying it deem it so.

Indeed if you’ve read much of my blathering, you already know what I think that when it comes to wine, points are pointless.

Assigning a point score to a wine is about as informative as assigning a letter grade to a painting. It’s in the eye — or in this case, the mouth — of the beholder. And everyone’s taste is different.

Just because a particular critic has decided that a certain wine is great, there is no reason that everyone else should agree, anymore than we should all agree when someone says that red apples are better than yellow apples.

But all the wines in this tasting had received 100 point scores. Some of the critics who had measured out 100 points for these 10 wines don’t go for the same wines that I go for.

My first concern was the thought that I would have to tell people that these wines weren’t in fact 100-point wines. That’s not a particularly good way to endear yourself to your hosts, and a surefire method for never being invited back.

So be it. Some of these I liked and some I didn’t like so much, at least not 100 points worth of liking. But I realized that someone at some point in time had in fact fallen in love with each wine. My role was to try to suss out why.

While there was a northern Rhone wine that didn’t press my buttons right, there was a beauty from the southern Rhone: Domaine de la Janasse Chateauneuf-du-Pape Vieille Vignes (that’s “old vines” to you Anglophones) 2010. It was the first of two brilliant expressions of one of the world least understood grapes: Grenache, or if you like its original Spanish version, Garnacha.

Janasse makes fantastic wines; of that I am convinced. If you like big wine, this is your man. But even for someone who prefers wines that express elegance (that would be me), this is just plain gorgeous.

The other Garnacha based wine was Clos Erasmus 2005, the progeny of star winemaker Daphne Glorian in Priorat, Spain. While there are times that Priorat can taste more like Barossa Shiraz than Spanish wine, this was in no way stewy or cooked, as some wines from hot areas can be.

The Priorat is hot, for sure, but it also cools off at night in ways that would make any Barossa vintner jealous. Clos Erasmus had powerful black fruits, but still carried a strain of red fruits, with just enough tartness to keep that power under control. There were herbal and floral notes too and it was as fun to smell as to drink. I thought it was great.

One of the wines included was the late Aldo Conterno’s rare Barolo Riserva Gran Bussia 2005. I was delighted it was included because the Nebbiolo grape is such an odd and distinctive duck, that most people either love it or hate it. The same was true for the audience of about 60 people.

Me? I love this stuff though I can’t fathom chewing on its rough and tumble tannins and scorching acidity without a plate of Agnolotti covered in truffle slices, or some equally hedonistic pasta.

We finished with a couple of California stars: Cardinale 2006 and Dominus 2010, both of which were very young and still unfolding, particularly the Dominus, a wine known to last for decades. The Cardinale, not surprisingly, showed a generous side; the Dominus was as stingy as Scrooge, but as always carried a portmanteau of fruits, herbs, spices and textures, and offered a glimpse of length and long life.

Were all these worth 100 points? I still don’t know what the hell is meant by a perfect wine. A crisp Riesling on a summer day might please me more than any of these. But on the right day, at the right time …maybe.

Doug Frost is a Kansas City-based wine and spirits writer and consultant who for decades has happily educated the public about all things drink. He is one of only three people in the world to have earned the coveted titles of master sommelier and master of wine. He contributes a monthly wine column for The Star’s Food section.