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The Perfect Wine Is Waiting For Me

By Charles Olken

There was a time a few years ago when a noted wine critic gave perfect, 100-point scores to nineteen wines in one Issue. It was at that point that I first entertained the idea of retiring from wine writing because there was no way that I could ever achieve that level of vinous nirvana. At that point, I had been tasting and writing for well over three decades and not even once did I or Connoisseurs’ Guide ever rate any wine at 100 points. Wine is a subjective thing like physical beauty and Picasso paintings and diamonds. Every time we think we have seen something about as close to perfection as one can get in the artistic realm, along comes something else that may be better.

We can argue, I suppose, that Casablanca is a 100-point movie. I would have a hard time disagreeing although disagree is what I would do—just as I disagree with the notion that there is one wine, let alone nineteen, that has achieved vinous perfection. I can point to a few bottles that came oh-so close and certainly rate as the most memorably beautiful that I have ever tasted—a couple of reds from DRC, Heitz Martha’s Vineyard 1974 Cabernet, Joe Swan Zinfandel 1975. Each and every one of those wines was brilliant when young and reviewable, but each got better. If the ’74 Heitz, a three-star winner back in the day before we awarded points, had been given 100 points when young, what would its rating have had to have been twenty years later?

The great Paul Draper, the winemaking hand behind Ridge for so many years, once commented that it takes twelve years for Cabernet Sauvignon to begin to show its complex side. That observation made sense to me decades ago, and it makes even more sense today as wine scores escalate and some publications cannot like a wine without giving it 90 points or more and find scads of wines over which to fawn with point scores closer to 95. It has certainly seemed that 95 is the new 90 for all too many writers.

When those nineteen wines were bestowed the title of perfect by a Mr. Parker of Maryland, it was a sad day, and not just because I knew I would never taste nineteen perfect wines in one Issue. What I have known for the longest time is that I will possibly never taste a 100-point wine. If the great reds of this world age in better over time--age into greatness if you will—how can they be perfect when young? Maybe the thirty-five year old Joe Swan ’75 Zin, on the one night up in Sonoma town just a few years ago, was perfect. Maybe. But how do I know that the wine was not better ten years earlier or five years later? What I do know is that I loved it when it was young, but it was amazing later on.

Still, as I pass into my fifth decade at this stand, I remain hopeful. The perfect wine could still be out there waiting for me. Or maybe it is in my cellar. I am ready. I am an optimist. And I am still looking.


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by TomHill
Posted on:4/22/2014 9:17:54 AM

Charlie sez:"how can they be perfect when young?"


   I think you're missing an important point here. If you read the fine print of the Parker 100-pt scale, or the far more accurate WS 100-pt scale, these perfect scores are the taster's score when the wine reaches maturity somewhere down the road...not at the moment when they're being tasted young.  Not sure what the fine print reads for the CGCW 100-pt scale, I admit.

   So I can easily see how Parker can unerringly award 19 perfect scores on one set of wines. Whether I believe it or not..that's a whole nuther question.



A Different View
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:4/22/2014 9:45:30 AM

Hello Tom--

While I get your point, I would respectfully disagree. 

Let's say, for the sake of discussion, that the Joe Swan 75 Zin tasted in 2010 is the most remarkable Zin I have ever tasted and that I believe Zinfandel cannot get any better than that.

It is one of a hundred Zins I have had in my cellar, and yet it is the only one that has risen to that level. There are obviously Zins that have come close or I would not be cellaring Zin. But all of those lovely Zins were not nearly so good at three years old--or in the case of Parker and the 2009 Bordeaux, two years old--as they became later on.

Neither he nor I "know" how great a wine will become with age. We make educated guesses, but that is what they are. And if the Swan 75 is the great Zin in my life, better than earlier Swans or all the Geyservilles or the black label Lytton Springs, and it is therefore my 100-point wine, then it was (a) not 100 points when I tasted it young and (b) none of those other great Zins were 100 points when tasted young and were not 100 points when tasted at maturity.

I appreciate the craziness, the pure philosophical nature, of this discussion, but, for me, there is no 100 point wine when young. 

And thus I must, and do, attribute all the 100 point scores we see these days to grade inflation in the first place and to self-serving hubris in the second.

But, I am going to keep searching. :-}

by TomHill
Posted on:4/22/2014 10:17:05 AM

Well, Charlie...I think your point is well taken & I pretty much agree. I hope you know my reply was pretty much TFIC.

Charlie sez: "Neither he nor I "know" how great a wine will become with age."

   And that, Charlie, is the big difference between you... and Parker & the WineSpec raters.  They seem to wish (to me, anyway)  to project this aura of infalibility, based on their vast experience of tasting those wines. Maybe..or maybe (most likely) not. This is why, when Parker downrates a wine he gave a perfect (or gawdawful high) score to, on a subsequent taste, all his readers get their knickers in a knot. It seems to imply that he made a mistake in awarding it a 100 pt score originally.

   I think many of those raters would not be caught dead making a statement like yours above. Your honesty and candidness is, quite frankly, refreshing, Charlie.

   Reminds me of the late JohnBrennan of SanDiego, in his thin/white book (which I'm sure you recall) of the '70's, when he was predicting that those huge DabidBruce LateHrvsts would reach their peak of maturity about 2010-2020. I the time, I wondered "How the heck does he know that"?? There is no track record for those kinds of wine. He was wrong...most were pretty shakey by 1990.

   So...yeah..."self-serving hubris" is what much of it strikes me as being.



Platonic Ideal Wines
by Sherman
Posted on:4/25/2014 10:51:26 AM

I find it difficult to posit the existence of a "perfect" wine and, thus, have never tasted a wine that IMHO would rate 100 points. I've had many that come close but I believe that any product produced by man is incapable of perfection (even Rolls Royce offers warranty protection ;). And wine is a product made by man, as it doesn't exist in nature (at least not something that I'd want to drink with a nice dinner).

So the discusssion for me then becomes one of what do these 100-point scores represent? Are they snapshots of the wine at the time of tasting? Or are the tasters indulging in a bit of crystal-ball gazing and attempting to divine what the wine will be in the future? 

Young wines garnering 100 point scores
by Bob Henry
Posted on:5/3/2014 4:38:20 AM


I have been preaching about this inanity for years . . . using every street corner soap box and wine blog forum I can to publicize it.

To "wit" (or should I say "witlessly"):

Quoting from Wine Spectator (March 15, 1994, page 90):

How We Do the Tastings     . . . .     Ratings are based on

Young wines garnering 100 point scores (part 2)
by Bob Henry
Posted on:5/3/2014 4:42:43 AM

Continuing . . .

Quoting from Wine Spectator (March 15, 1994, page 90):

How We Do the Tastings     . . . .     Ratings are based on

Young wines garnering 100 point scores
by Bob Henry
Posted on:5/3/2014 4:45:41 AM

Okay Charlie, it's almost 4 in the morning and

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