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Tuesday Tributes
Suspending Rational Belief—19 Wines At 100 Points

By Charles Olken

Let’s be clear. In my world, there is no such thing as a 100-point wine. Great wines, sure. Absolute perfection? Nope. Nineteen perfect wines? I have to suspend disbelief to even get my head around that concept.

Years ago, I and other commentators raised the question about how Mr. Robert Parker, the giver of far too many high scores, would deal with what he found to be a truly exceptional vintage when he had essentially used up all of the upper end of the 100-Point rating system. Would he, we joked, have to being to rate wines over 100-points in order to give any sense of separation among them.

The problem is this. While it is theoretically possible for many equals to exist in a scientific measure of achievement against a set of norms, wine tasting is not science, it is art. And in art, there are gradations among grand achievements. We can argue which movie or sculpture or opera is the very best. And we might even agree that there are several “very bests”. I refuse to answer the question, asked of me at public appearances, “What is the best wine you have ever tasted”?, because I have half a dozen or more answers to that question, and not just one. But I do not have 19 answers.

So, now we come to question being raised all over the wine-reading world. “Has Mr. Parker lost his way with his ratings of 19 wines from the 2009 Bordeaux vintage at 100-points?

The most lucid comments on this subject are, to my way of thinking, to be found over on the excellent blog, The Wine Diarist, written by Mike Steinberger. Steinberger is a thinker, a man of measured and fair opinions. He has a pretty good “BS” detector, but he is willing to cut Mr. Parker some slack on the subject. I wish I could be so generous, but, in order to do so, it requires me to hold my nose and suspend every sense of belief I have in the hierarchical nature of wine appreciation. Can there be nineteen wines so perfect that every one of them is better than all but a handful of the wines Mr. Parker has ever tasted?

Let's, for a moment, suspend rationality and accept the possibility that the 2009 ratings are neither a case of outrageous grade inflation nor of bad judgment.

We are then left with the notion that the 2009s are, in fact, the greatest collection of wines in the last 100 years anywhere in the world. I am all in favor of that at one level and join Mike Steinberger in suggesting that you would then have to give credit to Mr. Parker for his courageous call. He must surely know that folks would be laughing up their sleeves at him. He has been the butt of bad stories and disbelief for some years now, and he cannot have missed that anti-Parkerism is one of the big-time topics in wine commentary.

But, to get to that point of accepting my first two premises, you then have to also accept that very ripe, lush and deep wines are delicious and are the objects of perfection. I am okay with that as well. I am, after all, a writer about California wine.

You can see where I am going, of course. The 2009s, no matter how delicious they are, are not classic, tight, wait till they mature wines of the type that have been the normative standard for Bordeaux for many, many years. They may be wonderful wines but they are not classics.

In the end, we are left with a couple of lessons. The first is that Mr. Parker’s grade inflation, which we all thought could not exceed itself, has done just that. For some thirty years now, Mr. Parker’s reputation has been built upon one grand discovery after another—discoveries that have made all else that came before pale into insignificance. Even if he believed that vintage after vintage moved the bar from grand to grander and from grander to grandest, he must surely have topped himself now.

There cannot yet be another arrow in his quiver of grade inflation. And that is the problem here for Mr. Parker. No one believed he could exceed his over the top ratings of the past few years, but he has proven us wrong. Perhaps he will again. But he is going to have to break the 100-point barrier to do it.

Aside from absolute purists who will assail the 2009s as too ripe, there will be little argument that those wines taken as a whole constituted a remarkable assemblage of quality. And, it is probably unfair of those who ascribe these ratings to the destruction of Parker’s tasting acumen. I think we all know better. It is simply another in the long line of “I have found the Holy Grail” reviews that have separated Mr. Parker from the rest of us. Today’s “100” is nothing more than last year’s “98” and a decade’s ago’s “96”. But, it is not the end of wine-reviewing as we know it just because he has no place to go from here.

What this constitutes, then, simply a mistake of hubris, a loss of good judgment. Grandeur in wine is possible. Lots of grand wines from an exceptional vintage is possible. Nineteen perfect wines—more than in all the vintages that came before combined? Well, you decide. You already know how I feel.


by Ron Washam, HMW
Posted on:3/6/2012 9:55:06 AM

I believe it is said that death has a way of dulling your sense of taste. Parker has been dead some four years now (I was the first to break this sadly unacknowledged story) so it mustn't come as a surprise that he has rated his beloved Bordeaux so highly and lavishly.

For those of us who have enjoyed many a laugh over the 100 point scale, Parker's nymphomaniacal reviews of the 2009 vintage in Bordeaux come as a welcome bit of validation. It was Parker, after all, who made the 100 Point Scale a necessity for consumer reviewers. That he is singlehandedly dismantling its credibility is wonderful comedy.

I'm tempted to tackle the Parker deal on HoseMaster. Not that anyone cares what I think, but, hey, it's what all the Poodles are barking at.

This stinks
by Robert LeRoy Parker
Posted on:3/7/2012 12:59:39 AM

Holding your nose is definitely the right reaction.

The perks of giving 100 point scores must be more enjoyable later in life.

I can go home now
by Thomas Pellechia
Posted on:3/7/2012 8:24:24 AM

...perfection has been reached, no need to carry on.


100 points
by Kurt Burris
Posted on:3/7/2012 11:35:59 AM

This is one of the inherant flaws of any score based rating system for any product, not just wine.  And not just the 100 point system.  But, my real point is that I'm reminded of Garrison Keiller and Lake Wobegon where "all the kids are above average".  Excepy here in Lake Parkergone,  all the kids are perfect.

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