September 15, 2011: Recently Reviewed, Highly-Rated in Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate

The rating system, or 100-point scale, is a very controversial subject matter in the Wine Business. In some cases ratings can “make or break” a wine or producer, but it is a risk that many choose to take. This week we will explore a selection of wines that recently received “high” ratings- in our opinion this is validated when quality (balance/complexity), value, varietal correctness, and “sense of place” are well-matched with the corresponding review.

Robert Parker is probably one of the most polarizing figures in the wine business. He has been independently reviewing wine since the late summer of 1978 when he sent out a complimentary issue of what was then called “Baltimore/Washington Wine Advocate.” It is believed by some in the business that Parker has a specific palate (I suppose that we all do!) and prefers certain types of wine, grape varieties, regions, or producers, above others. Therefore the principal “concern” is that many producers, in an effort to attain higher ratings, tailor their wines to Robert Parker’s perceived palate preferences.

The following is a summary of Robert Parker’s Critic Ethics and Standards: The Wine Advocate and are 100% subscriber funded and supported. They refuse all advertising from any source. In fact, they purchase approximately 60% the wines that they taste. Their target audience is the wine consumer, not the wine trade, therefore many times this results in an adversarial relationship with the wine trade. Robert Parker demands that his critics maintain rigid standards of independence and integrity; this pertains to matters such as “Hospitality and Entertainment Standards,” “Courage” (or what he refers to as “democratic tasting”), “Experience,” “Individual Accountability,” “Emphasis on Pleasure and Value,” “The Focus on Qualitative Issues,” and “Candor.”

The Wine Spectator reviews more than 15,000 wines per year in blind tastings (or so they claim, anyway!). They believe that the foundation of any wine critic’s success is the trust he or she builds with readers; this resides in two general qualities, expertise and integrity. The Wine Spectator has adopted specific policies in order to maintain credibility with readers; these include: “Blind Tastings,” “Financial Independence,” and “Ethical Behavior.”

Overall, I believe that it is most important to keep in mind that the reviews and “scores” are the opinions of the wine critics. We each have very specific likes and dislikes, and, these likes and dislikes can and generally do change with time and experience. Just because a wine receives a poor rating does not necessarily mean that it’s a bad wine (and the opposite is true as well)!

So, we hope you will join us this week to taste six highly-rated wines and determine if you agree with the wine critic’s reviews, which are presented in quotes below. The wines include:

Acrobat Pinot Gris 2010– Willamette Valley, Oregon. “89 Wine Spectator, Best Value. Light and refreshing, offering flavors of melon and apricot on an open frame. Drink now. 51,000 cases made.”

Alma Rosa Chardonnay 2008– Santa Barbara, Central Coast, California. “91 Wine Advocate. The 2008 Chardonnay impresses for its detail, clarity and nuance, all of which flow through beautifully. This is an attractive, mid-weight Chardonnay with tons of varietal character and terrific overall balance. A brief passage in oak (2 months) and partial malo (17%), brings out plenty of texture while retaining considerable freshness. A pointed finish rounds out this gorgeous white, which also happens to be a great value in American Chardonnay. Anticipated maturity: 2011-2013.”

Bethel Heights Pinot Noir 2009– Willamette Valley, Oregon. “90 Wine Spectator. Polished, light, and immensely appealing for its pretty raspberry, cream and floral aromas and flavors, lingering easily on the sleek finish. Drink now through 2015. 5,100 cases made.”

Saint Cosme Cotes du Rhone 2010– Southern Rhone Valley, France. “90 Wine Spectator. This has lush, silky-textured layers of dark plum, anise, and crushed raspberry fruit, woven with black tea and granite notes through the finish. Impresses with its length and depth. Drink now through 2012. 11,000 cases made.”

Honig Cabernet Sauvignon 2008– Napa Valley, California. “91 Wine Spectator. Firm and well-structured, delivering a tight, focused core of mineral, dried berry, spicy mocha, cedar and oak. But what’s most impressive is the balance of texture, flavor and weight. A fine Cabernet. Drink now through 2018. 15,000 cases made.”

Ridge Zinfandel East Bench 2009– Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma, California. “91 Wine Advocate. The 2009 Zinfandel East Bench is a big, burly wine loaded with dark cherries, flowers, tobacco and sweet herbs, all of which come together on a medium-bodied frame. It shows lovely length and personality, although some rough edges remain. With air, though, some of those angular contours begin to soften. Anticipated maturity: 2012-2019.” Just for fun, and to show the variance from one publication to another, this is the Wine Spectator review of the same wine: “89 Wine Spectator. Distinctive for its deep, rich fruit that blends ripe black cherry with spicy dilled raspberry. The flavors are zesty, and a touch earthy, with notes of toasted herb and briary anise, while the tannins are a bit rustic on the finish. Drink now through 2016. 6,000 cases made.”

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