Anthony Gismondi: Rating wines is really a matter of personal taste

Source: vancouversun.com

Anthony Gismondi explains what’s goes into the 100-point rating system for wines

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Two questions from regular readers Robert and Ben dovetail neatly into today’s column, one I’ve been thinking about writing for a while.

Robert reports that he and his wife don’t understand the 100-point rating system. “Virtually every wine is between 86 and 93 points, which seems to mean not much difference on the palate. And is a 90-point $35 Bordeaux style wine equivalent to a 90-point $65 (wine from) Bordeaux? Good question, Robert.

Ben asks if I could please recommend a few wines that sell for less than $10 to $12 “for those of us who enjoy a glass of wine but can’t afford expensive bottles.” Also, a fair question. Believe it or not, the answers are somewhat related.

When I first started tasting wine, I used the industry-standard 20-point system. It is a very detailed and disciplined score sheet that walks you through the wine from colour, nose, taste, aftertaste and overall impression. The 20-point scale was the global choice for wine professionals until a guy named Robert Parker came along. Parker’s Wine Advocate newsletter posited that the 20-point scale meant nothing to American consumers who grew up in an A to F school system based on a 100-point scale. A passing grade was 50 per cent or more. The spoils went to those who scored in the high 80s and 90s and the brightest who scored 100/100 on rare occasions.

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Wine retailers jumped at the 100-point system, spreading it far and wide on wine shelves across the world. As detailed as the tasting process can be, nobody wants to buy a well-made 70 point wine, so between push back from wineries and consumers, the scoring zone settled in on the last 15 points of the 100-point scale. Since then, the advent of social media influencers has reduced the spread to mostly a 10-point scale because retailers and wineries gravitate to the highest score even if the author is unknown or has no tasting experience.

So to your point, Robert, in this column every point above 85 means a significant change in the quality of the wine and most likely does to other professional tasters. That is to say, the difference between an 89 point wine and a 90 point wine is significant. The challenge is the differences can be complex and difficult to explain in plain words. Both are excellent wines, but the higher score likely goes to a better-balanced wine, a wine that will age longer, is better with food, and perhaps best of all, wine made with less intervention.

It really comes down to trust with the writer and whether your tastes are similar or completely different. Many people avoided highly-ranked Parker wines because they didn’t like the rich hedonistic style he enjoyed. Suffice to say, there is more than one way to use reviews.

When it comes to price versus score, I never consider the price to be important in the tasting, but when you see a $10, 87-point wine and an 87-point wine for $30, you should reach for the cheaper wine and enjoy the value.

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Drinkable wines under $12 are difficult to find in such a highly-taxed market, but I’m going to keep it simple here and give you a shortlist. Also, you might consider the growing selection of bag-in-the-box wines. The quality can be sublime. The technology is second to none, the packaging is environmentally friendly, and the “box,” or its 750ml equivalent price, is attractive.

Whites: Two Oceans Sauvignon Blanc 2020, Western Cape, South Africa $10.99; Aveleda Casal Garcia Vinho Verde N/V, Portugal $11.99; Terre Siciliane B Io Bianco Organic, Italy $29.99 (or $7.49 a bottle)

Rosé: Paul Mas Arrogant Frog Rosé, Pays d’Oc, France 3-L $34.99 (or $8.75 a bottle)

Reds: Jose Maria da Fonseca Periquita, Setúbal Peninsula, Portugal $8.99; Torres Sangre de Toro N/V, Penedès, Spain $11.99, Santa Carolina Estrellas Cabernet Sauvignon, Chile 11.97; Big House Cardinal Zin California $35.99 (or $8.99 a bottle).

Weekend wine picks

La Crema Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2019, Sonoma County, California, United States

$31.99 I 89/100

UPC: 049331002222

As big and as sprawling as it is, the Sonoma Coast AVA is known for its strong maritime influence due to fog moderating the warm summer temperatures. It is always the richest version of the brand’s many Chardonnays, mixing ripe red apple and lemon curd with orange and coating baking spice and vanilla-scented oak. It boasts a broad mix of clones, all barrel fermented and aged seven months in a mix of French (75 per cent) and American (25 per cent), but only 17 per cent is new. It is a perfect Chardonnay vintage and a wine you can enjoy now through 2023. Dungeness crab is a terrific match in British Columbia.

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Moraine Chardonnay 2019, Naramata Bench, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada

$26 I 89/100

UPC: 626990127796

This easy-drinking, well-crafted Chardonnay is coming off some of the oldest vines on the Naramata Bench and is all barrel fermented in French oak. I love the combination of acid and creamy textures that pull you into the glass. Look for a mix of citrus-soaked hazelnuts and ripe melon, and red apple with a slick of butter in the finish. It is a terrific wine to be enjoyed with fresh west coast seafood dishes such as halibut, prawns, and crab.

Foxly Chardonnay 2016, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada

$28.99 I 89/100

UPC: 626990440840

Foxly is a new line of wines from Foxtrot that is more affordable and drinkable sooner, but it firmly remains within the house style. Leaner, tighter, and sophisticated, they are wines for wine drinkers and people who love to serve their wine with food. Look for a mix of green apple mixed with a citrus mineral undercurrent and a long, lean, fresh. A ready-to-drink bottle of Chardonnay that is made for the table.

Quails’ Gate Chardonnay 2019, West Kelowna, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada

$23.99 I 90/100

UPC: 778856119015

Am I in B.C.? Chardonnay at 12.5 per cent is such a delight to nose and drink. It signals a desire to make wines of place and wines that speak to their grape it’s made from. This wine has been solid for years, but it doesn’t mean it can’t evolve, and this label continues the journey to something more than ordinary. Restrained, it mixes bright apple with fresh lemon, some complexing lees, and a clean, balanced finish.

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Marcel Cabelier Côtes du Jura Chardonnay Vieilles Vignes 2015, Jura, France

$26.99 I 89/100

UPC: 03570590109324

This old vine Chardonnay (25 years) is made in the famed region of Jura, Cotes du Jura, to be specific, and it opens with a touch of oxidation given its six years in the bottle. After that, its saline hazelnut aromas and flavours draw you toward the glass and bring on thoughts of grilled fish and mushroom risottos. It is a Chardonnay for the enthusiast and the dinner table. It is nice to see it in just under 30 stores at a very competitive price.


B.C. blueberry risotto from the B.C. Blueberry Council.
B.C. blueberry risotto from the B.C. Blueberry Council. Rosa Westinghouse

Recipe match: Blueberry risotto

Risotto gets a surprising twist thanks to sweet B.C. blueberries. The dish, originally shared by the B.C. Blueberry Council, sees the classic Italian rice dish given some unexpected flavour — and colour. The dish is balanced with the addition of leeks and feta cheese. Consider serving this rich risotto with a seafood main such as trout, salmon or prawns for a full meal experience.

B.C. blueberry risotto

Risotto

2 tbsp (30 mL) extra virgin olive oil

1 1/2 cups (375 mL) finely chopped leek or 1 large finely chopped onion

1 finely chopped shallot

1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) salt

1 tbsp (15 mL) butter

1 1/2 cups (375 mL) arborio rice

1/2 cup (125 mL) dry white wine

7 cups (1750 mL) vegetable stock or chicken stock

1/4 cup (60 mL) grated feta (reserve half for garnish)

Blueberry sauce

1 cup (250 mL) frozen B.C. blueberries

2 tbsp (30 mL) water

1 tbsp (15 mL) butter

In a medium saucepan, warm the stock over low heat.

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In a large saucepan, warm 2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil over low heat. Add the chopped leek and shallot. Stir with a wooden spoon for 2 minutes or until soft and translucent. Add the arborio rice and butter and stir for 1 minute. Add the wine and stir until the wine is completely absorbed.

Add one cup of stock and stir until it is absorbed. (Reserve one cup of stock for later). Continue adding one cup of stock at a time. Take the risotto off the heat once you have added six cups of stock.

In a small saucepan on low heat, add one cup of frozen blueberries, 2 tbsp of water and 1 tbsp of butter. Stir for a couple of minutes or until the blueberries release their juices. Strain the blueberry sauce with a sieve.

Add the strained blueberry sauce to the risotto and stir until combined. Add 2 tbsp of grated feta to the risotto and stir until combined.

Put the risotto back on low heat. Add the last cup of stock and stir until it has been absorbed. Taste the risotto to make sure it is not too al dente. If it is, add half a cup of water at a time and stir until it is the perfect texture. Serve while hot. Garnish with the remaining grated feta.

Serves four. 

Recipe match

You often find blueberry flavours in Shiraz, so we suggest you give the juicy red a chance with this dish.

Stag’s Hollow Syrah 2018, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada $27

A juicy, spicy, meaty, ripe blueberry affair that will melt into this fruity, midsummer risotto dish.

Wakefield Shiraz 2018, Clare Valley, South Australia, Australia $19.99

A rich, fleshy, juicy blue/black fruit palate courtesy of the warm Aussie sun should easily handle this delicious risotto.

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