Do wine scores miss the point?

by Panos Kakaviatos for 

3 February 2021

When I look at how I scored wines about 10 years ago, the scores were more conservative. Many more wines were rated between 88 and 92, and that was just swell. For a while, I never gave any wine 100 points, because perfection can be boring. 99 sounds more interesting, more real. And yet, how to deny the sheer exuberance of tasting, say, Cheval Blanc 2018 from bottle? From bottle mind you. I cannot really understand 100-point scores for barrel samples: the product is not even finished. 

But never mind 100. I miss an era, not too long ago but sadly gone, when a wine that garnered 88 out of 100 reflected a very good grade. Indeed, for American schools, from which the 100-point scale originates in the first place, 88 out of 100 is a high B, or “B+” rating. A very good rating. It would be like obtaining over 16 points in a French school, which is a high score in the 20-point scale that was often used in France for wine scoring.

Of course A grades are superior. But these days, any wine worth considering has to be in the 90s and not the low 90s. The 100-point scale has not been reduced to the 10 points between 90 and 100, but is more like a five-point scale. These days even an “A-” (a score between 90 and 92, or even 93 and 94) would be considered less than exciting for retailers who need to get wines off shelves (in the pandemic era, off curbsides or delivered from online sales).

What is a trophy wine anyway?

Several merchants have told me that you need 95 or more to get a consumer truly excited these days. Could this mean that many more great wines are being produced these days? Of course, the wine industry would tell you that. But what of valid criticism? What does the 100-point scale mean anymore?

Whatever the case may be, these days 90 can be considered rather good and nothing more; 93 quite good, 94 very good, 95 excellent and 97 outstanding, with 98-100 “nirvana zone” wines. We edge closer to Michael Broadbent’s five star ratings, with 96 one star and 100 the coveted five stars.

As for 100-point wines, they can only be those wines that have properly aged, arriving at time-earned complexity. For wines like 1982 Petrus or 1959 Latour, or 1988 Krug or 1996 Oenotheque Dom Perignon, which I have been lucky to have enjoyed, I can say “100” with more ease, not only out of sheer exuberance, but also because of intrinsic greatness from aging that brought about complexity.

In reality though, many wine writers and critics have upped their scores on the scale to reflect this new reality and so it can seem like we live in an era of point inflation.

All the more reason to read the notes of a wine critic or writer and to pay less attention to the scores. I find it more interesting to read what the writer or critic has to say about the wine rather than rely on a number, but – gee whiz – how original a thought is that? 🙄 😂 🍷🍷


New dry white from the Médoc meets increasing demand

Brane Cantenac Blanc 2019

By Panos Kakaviatos for 

2 February 2021

The label contrasts royal blue and white, evoking perhaps the Mediterranean Sea.

But this is no Greek dry white, but another from the Médoc, known for its great red wines. Made from vines on 3.2 hectares on siliceous, clay soils, this maiden 2019 vintage of Brane Cantenac Blanc blends 72% Sauvignon Blanc 28% Semillon.

Owner Henri Lurton, of the excellent second growth in Margaux, Château Brane Cantenac, decided to introduce this dry white wine no doubt out of his passion for winemaking, and he thus joins a growing number of white wine producers from the Médoc.

Production is not going to be substantial and yet market demand is growing for dry white wine. As this recent market report summarizes, “the global dry white wine market is anticipated to rise at a considerable rate during the forecast period, between 2021 and 2026.” Indeed, this year the report indicates dry white wines sales already “growing at a steady rate”.

So it makes sense for Bordeaux appellations like Sauternes to produce more dry whites (given lower demand for the “sweet wines”). An increasing number of red wine producers in Bordeaux are following suit, which seems less clear. Indeed, I do not recall tasting as many dry white wines from the Médoc as I did late last year to assess the 2018 vintage of dry white wines from Bordeaux, tasting notes here.

Harvested fairly early in this maiden vintage to retain freshness, the Brane Cantenac Blanc (appellation Bordeaux AOC) exhibits a steely aspect but also fine freshness. There is citrus, some exotic fruit and subtle notes that integrate the 25% new oak quite nicely. The wine was aged for eight months on lees in 225- and 500-liter French oak barrels.

However, I wonder about the €58 (retail) price tag, as one can find comparable quality for less.

Chalk it up to the prestige of the estate as a selling point?

The wine clocks in at 13.5% alcohol, with 4.71 grams of acidity per liter and with pH 3.09. More information about the wine here.



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Bordeaux 2018: Where does reality in bottle meet hype from barrel?

By Panos Kakaviatos for 

24 January 2021

From barrel, I had characterized 2018 Bordeaux as a vintage for “Hedonists and Intellectuals”. Over the course of the last few months, including several visits to Bordeaux during official lockdowns in France, I tasted 2018s on location, after recent bottling. Some bottles had been sent to me to Strasbourg, but it was great to go on location and taste when I could.

Then again, the advantage to having bottles delivered is that you can spend more time with each wine… I may request that for 2020.

My intro to the vintage as published in last month – here the link – posed the question whether the reality in bottle meets the hype from barrel, and to some extent it does.

Thanks for reading that text before you go to my tasting notes. Suffice to say, the term “great” often has been used to describe each new dry and hot vintage in Bordeaux, but – as ever – the devil is in the details.

Based on my tastings, many wines from the less-hyped 2019 vintage should surpass the 2018 vintage for lovers of cooler balances, even if alcohol levels are not so different. 2018 may win in terms of density, but 2019 seems to convey more subtlety, overall. Certainly 2016 is the vintage par excellence for lovers of cooler balances, of which I count myself.

How will 2016, 2018 and 2019 compare down the road?

Having said that, 2018 has many a gorgeous gem and some excellent wines with excellent price/quality ratios (although 2019 may prove the most interesting in terms of pricing), and I have purchased some 2018 vintage wines as a result, including, for higher end purchasing, Château Canon, Château Cheval Blanc, Château Larcis Ducasse and Château Léoville Las Cases. Read More

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Right Bank Satellites 2018

Mostly Castillon: some excellent, affordable wines

By Panos Kakaviatos for 

24 January 2021

Many less heralded appellations from the Right Bank with cooler clay and/or limestone soils excelled in 2018. But I did not get to too many of them. We can start with Montagne Saint Emilion and Jean-Claude Berrouet, whose name resonates in the wine world as one of its greats, thanks in large part to his many years crafting Petrus in Pomerol. In Montagne Saint Emilion, owns Château Vieux Château Saint-André, which he had purchased in 1979 as well as Château Samion (Lalande de Pomerol), in 1982. His son Jeff took over in 2002, and I have visited several times, always impressed by the freshness and refinement of both wines, which never fell prey to the exaggerated modern era on the Right Bank. Old Merlot vines, 40 years old in Montagne and 50 years old in Lalande de Pomerol, match with excellent clay soils. Vinifications preserve fruit freshness, and tannins are carefully extracted without excess, before the wine ages twelve months. In 2019, the Berrouets acquired two new estates: Château Bonneau, 6 hectares in Montagne-Saint-Émilion and Château Hyon La Fleur, 2.5 hectares in Saint-Christophe-des-Barde (Saint-Émilion).

Jeff and Jean-Claude Berrouet at Vieux Château Saint André

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Sauternes and Barsac 2018

Saved by the October (Botrytis) Bell  

By Panos Kakaviatos for

24 January 2021

Readers may recall that a hailstorm reduced yields for some estates to near nothing, if not nothing. Château Guiraud for example had announced that it would only make dry white wine in 2018, because of the devastating hail.

As for the growing season, the botrytis only showed up very late. Following some passerillage (raisining) in September, October rains “just saved” the vintage, as Jean-Pierre Meslier of Château Raymond Lafon said. In any case, the same problem that that affects dry whites in 2018 applies to some late harvest “stickies”, as well: not enough acidity. But several estates proved their savvy – and I am not sure how – by making well balanced, spicy and exciting wines.

Mask on: Jean-Jacques Dubourdieu of Château Doisy-Daëne at the blind tasting of whites from Sauternes and Barsac

Before getting to Château d’Yquem, where I enjoyed lunch with Jane Anson and Yohan Castaing, we tasted other classified growths blind at Château Doisy Daëne in Barsac, in a cozy tasting room. Jean-Jacques Dubourdieu poured many wines for us, on behalf of fellow producers. As with other producers, October rains brought the bulk of the botrytis. “We had fear because of the real lack of botrytis” Finally by October, rains brought it. “Yes some passerillage” and “very doré”, he said. “The grapes were very healthy, so sorting was less essential”. Some estates, such as Château Climens and Château de Fargues produced little or no wine because of the hail. These were tasted blind, so the notes are more or less spontaneous. It would be useful to taste again and over a longer period of time, but first impressions count!  Read More

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