Imagine a a narrow, unevenly lit, and thoroughly cramped comic book shop near the Delaware / Pennsylvania state borders, inside of which we find a short, lanky kid in a blue-and-white 3/4-sleeve t-shirt fresh from rummaging through the bargain-bin boxes. He’s holding up two “B-grade” comic books – one in each hand, suspended like some kind of very odd but colorfully shrink-wrapped leaves suspended from opposite branches of a geek tree.
“Excuse me… I have a question… which of these comics will be worth more in a few years?”
The (ok, admittedly bearded, large, and in appearance at least completely-fitting-the-cliché) comic shop owner stops what he’s doing, gives the kid a sideways glance, then slides his chair closer and leans over the shop counter. He looks the kid squarely in the eye in a rather… serious way, and answers him.
“A better question,” he says in a voice filled with much more kindness and understanding than would be belied in his stare, “would be ‘which one of these comics would give me more enjoyment.’”
The name of the comic shop and its owner are lost somewhere in my memory (or more likely were stored in brain cells long-since destroyed by alcohol consumption). The kid, of course, was me – many, many (many) moons ago. And that comic shop visit was just about the last time I can remember finding myself in the throes of what I like to call “blind collection mode” – a mode of “appreciation” in which far too many wine aficionados would likely find themselves today, if only they’d take the personal blinders off long enough to realize it.
BCM isn’t caused by wine scores, but it is enabled by them. Because once you put a numerical value on a product or experience, you’re inviting a comparison of worth – and people will define the “worth” part in various ways, even to the point of absurdity…
The point here is not to “bash” wine scores themselves (though I don’t personally care for them), but to underscore that BCM-style thinking can easily use scores as a convenient enabler, a crutch. What you get with BCM run amok is often higher prices for higher-scoring wines and (somewhat ironically) less availability of those wines for the people to whom they might give the most pleasure.
It’s why small-production, high-scoring wines can sell out quickly – many (not all!) of the purchasers are collecting them simply because the wines have high scores and/or might be “worth more” in the future, often with no intention of ever actually opening those wines for themselves. I see that kind of thinking as (very) odd, because it’s fundamentally disconnected from pleasure (at least, the pleasure that is truly experiencing a wine). And if anything, wine is meant to give pleasure – at its highest, artistic, levels it’s meant to give aesthetic and mental and emotional pleasure.
All of this was top-of-mind for me because nothing stokes the BCM muscles quite like wines that garner perfect 100 point scores, and I’d recently decided to (finally) go head-to-head with my media samples of Chris Carpenter’s “perfect” wine – the 2006 Cardinale Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.
I’ve had varying experiences with his wines in the past, finding some way too Bretty, others stunning, but all of them well-made. [ Editor’s note: WRONG, Jack! See comments for clarification, none of the wines I’ve sampled made by Chris were Brettty! ] None of the samples of Chris’ previous wines that I’d ever tasted were given a 100-point score, essentially calling it perfection (at least in terms of Napa Cab winemaking) – which is what my friend Steve Heimoff did last year in Wine Enthusiast. A lot of potential wine-scoring baggage there, and so I decided to wait out the maelstrom of “100 points!” coverage and taste the wine after it had a bit more time under its developmental belt.
I asked Steve specifically about this rarely-awarded score over a year ago, and his answer was quite matter-of-fact; the Cardinale stood out at a tasting that featured the best-of-the-best of Napa Cabs, so arriving at a perfect score was as much a matter of logical deduction as it was artistic appreciation and assessment:
“The Cardinale  was one of approx. 60 Cabs/Bordeaux blends the Napa Vintners set me up with. I took more than 3 hours to really contemplate this tasting. It was pretty clear from the beginning that the Cardinale was ‘the wine of the flight.’ I went through a series of eliminations. At the end the Cardinale was so superior that it had to merit a perfect score.”
Here’s something to keep in mind when we find ourselves entering BCM mode – if the the guy or gal giving the perfect score review isn’t making too big a deal out of it, then maybe neither should we.
Perfection is in the eye of the beholder, because when you get to that level of potential score/rating/whatever, one agonizes over hairs of assessment split so fine that you’d need an electron microscope to log the details. Did I find the Cardinale to be “perfect.” No, I didn’t.
Did Steve get it wrong? No, he didn’t. To his palate, the wine was perfect. To mine, which is a different palate, and not nearly as focused on CA wines as his, the Cardinale lacked (by the thinnest of margins, I should add) a certain level of finesse that would have put it over the top for me into “perfection” territory; which is a minor cavil really, because the wine for sure has balance and more finesse than the vast majority of high-end Napa Reds that I’ve sampled. And we’re talking microns of measurement between “A” or “A+” here. But I did find it “goose-bump-inducing” – it’s a fantastic wine, and one of the few that could, I think, rightly make a claim at being a real artistic expression, a seamless melding of expression of place and deft winemaking talent.
The more important thing, I suppose, is that at over $200, a wine ought to knock your f-cking socks off. And this one does. But after is all is done and said, I’d advise “collecting” the 2006 Cardinale Cab only so long as to age it to the point where you can serve it up with a roast. In other words, don’t “collect” it – enjoy it!
2006 Cardinale Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley)
This is a big, bold, luscious and delicious wine. Despite the size, it’s totally comfortable in its own skin, and it should be – all of the elements are dialed up in fantastic balance: body, vibrancy, fruitiness, spiciness. It’s dark fruits and sweet oak are so silky and approachable now that you might be fooled into thinking that this wine might not age well, but leaving it open in the bottle for a few days reveals additional layers of complexity, particularly a spicy chocolate component that is nothing short of beguiling – all of which bodes well for its future in bottle. All the while, the acidity and tannin structure are there supporting the whole show, and it’s a grand display – the kind of stellar, kick-ass Napa red that gets people hooked on stellar, kick-ass Napa reds.
30 thoughts on “Joe Vs. The 100-Point Wine (Thoughts On The 2006 Cardinale Cab And The Yoke Of “Blind Collection Mode”)”
Good argument for wine lovers (who like to buy based on scores) to become comfortable with a pundit (being you and Steve and RMPJr., etc.) and said pundit's palate. If the roustabouts on the streets can find a regular reviewer whose jive is in-sync with their jive, then the reviews (and scores) can hold a tremendous amount of value. Conversely, in the case of a notable palate that is not tuned like a particular consumer's palate, someone may buy highly-rated wines, not like them, question and doubt his own palate, and perhaps even decide that he doesn't understand wine (or obviously doesn't like it), and wine evangelism has detoured into wine Jehovah's Witnessing
Joe – **exactly**! One of the worst things that could happen to a budding wine lover, I think, would be that they see a 98 point score and decide to buy a wine based on that alone, find it smells like Band-Aids to them and then go away thinking that maybe they just don not understand wine and give up on it. That to me is one of the biggest dangers of BCM thinking and scores having too broad of an impact (via misuse) on the wine sales and media world.
(comment got cut off). "wine Jehovah's Witnessing" meaning "off-putting and counterproductive". In my opinion, but they've been really pestering my neighborhood lately. :)
Joe – I find a very large dog helps with unwanted solicitors at the front door. Just sayin'. :-)
Well you can't blame critics for the odd behavior of certain consumers! We just review the stuff–if the "hoarders" want to stash it away for 20 years, or sell it on eBay, or whatever, it's not our fault. So something of a straw dog here, Joe. Anyway, a coincidence: I wrote my blog today (on the 100 point system etc.) before I read this. It only shows: Great minds think alike!
Hey Steve – drat! Can't I do *anything* original?!??? :)
I don't blame critics – hell, I probably count as a critic these days! But I do take some umbrage at the hoarding mentality. It's wine – let's f*cking *enjoy* the stuff!
Nicely done. A while back I was working the table at a Grand Tasting Event, representing Stonestreet, when Stephen Test was the winemaker and had received some very nice scores. I was in NY, but it could have been any where, and has happened to me more than once. A consumer came up excited that the wine was being poured, and during our conversation it turned out that he'd purchased a case or two based on the ratings, but had never tasted it. As I watched him sample the glass, it wasn't so easy to determine exactly what he was thinking, but focusing on enjoyment, rather than everything else, was a lesson well learned, even without comic book metaphors.
Thanks, Jim. I hope that poor guy at least learned to like the wine on which he spent so much of his hard-earned money! Cheers!
Valid point, and I really love your writing style and delivery!
Thanks, Madison – appreciate the good vibes!
I think, Joe, the point is this: The 2006 Cardinale is a great wine. You loved it, Steve loved it… is anyone out there, blogger or "real" (coughcough) reviewer alike, giving it, say, 85?
I sometimes wonder if people are really as simple as we think they are. Do they really get so hung up on 100 (vs 99 or 98 or even 95)? Do they actually think that receiving 100 points or an A+ or a 5/5 truly infers the wine is "perfect"? (no such thing as perfect…)
Maybe they do. People are silly that way. Anyway, sounds like great wine. Too bad the price point is through the stratosphere (and I consider wine under $30 to be "cheap"!)
Steve P – it's an expensive bottle of juice by any measure! I think people do sometimes fall into the trap and just look at the numbers. There are plenty of people – smart people! – who do that. Consider my Araujo profile (full article at https://www.1winedude.com/index.php/2010/07/29/cul… ) in which I quoted someone from the Wine Spectator forums talking about their 2007 Estate Cab:
"Who wants to pay $265 for a pos 92 point cab? I can go buy Hall Cabernet for $40.00 that’s 94 points or if I want a little more expensive cab 96 point Caymus SS for $99.00”
I find the above reasoning pretty pale, personally – it assumes that all Napa cabs are somehow equivalent in terms of how we might prefer them, and that they therefore can be compared equitably on differences as small as 2 points. To me, that is absurd.
Please help me. I bottle all of my wines Brett negative and 4-ethyl phenol (the compound we all associate with brett aromatics) well below threshold. All of the micro and compound analysis is done right before bottling. Thus it sounds like I might have a bottling line sanitization problem if you are experiencing bretty wines. Do you recall which wines were bretty to you. I'd love to be able to analyze them from my library to see if I need to address a problem. Thanks.
Hey Chris – thanks for chiming in. It was the 05 Verite “La Joie” that set my Brett radar off and that is the wine I had in mind when I wrote this post. I no longer have that particular bottle (it was sampled back in Dec.). If I'm the only one noting it then it could be a tolerance issue (mine is pretty low for Brett) or that I mistook something similar (in aroma) but unrelated to Brett to be Brett – I don't have a lab, of course, and I am fallible :). I am totally willing to eat crow on that Brett comment publicly here if your research finds I was way wrong (would love to know the details of the results, by the way, especially if it's not Brett). Cheers!
Chris D. – not sure exactly what you mean. If you're talking lots of manipulation, then I don't think it matters unless the person drinking it has an expectation that a "perfect" wine should only come naturally with minimal winemaking techniques applied. In that case, they might feel cheated, but I'm not going to say that manipulated wines are always somehow wrong or can't possibly taste great.
so you're a "NO * NEXT TO BARRY BONDS'S NAME" kind of guy?
HA! Yeah, I suppose I am a "NO * NEXT TO BARRY BONDS'S NAME" kind of guy then. :-)
I do not make the Verite wines, and cannot speak to how they are made.
I make the Lokoya, Cardinale, and La Jota wines.
If you do come upon any of those wines with brett let me know.
Keep up the great work.
Ah ha! Thanks for that, Chris, and I have to apologize because the info, I had on that wine was totally incorrect! I will amend the post ASAP! Really sorry about that! Of course, this means that the Verite might actually be Bretty (not your problem, though! :-)…
Mr Carpenters comments not withstanding…in regards to your statement –> "I’ve had varying experiences with his wines in the past, finding some way too Bretty, others stunning, but all of them well-made"…
There is no such thing as a well made bretty wine. Its a flaw (barrel contaminant)– one can only say they "enjoyed" the mistake (which I never do…horse manue …yech)
Andy – I agree. Sort of. The wine could otherwise be totally well-made, but have Brett fro barrel aging. Of course, that's still a flaw so you could argue that the presence of that flaw is a notch against the winemaking….
Chris D – Well, there are two ways to view that kind of manipulation. Vanilla Ice, or Beastie Boys. In the former, it's probably not worth it and feels more like a rip off than an artistic use of the past. In the latter, just the opposite.
So, extending the analogy to wine, I'd say if the end result is artistic and nearly sublime, then is the manipulation justified? Maybe it is. I'd have a hard time believing that an overly-manipulated wine (Ice Ice Baby) would garner significant critical praise… but I guess stranger things have happened (didn't Milli Vanilli win some Grammys? :-). Cheers!
Please tell me what you consider the difference is between attaching a 100pt score or your system of A+ and down is.
Macdaddy – theoretically, not a whole lot, except that (in my view) numbers imply a level or precision that isn't truly possible in wine tasting. To me, it's more akin to "grading" an essay or art project than a math exam.
My scale isn't exactly equivalent to a point system, either, because the gradient really gets finer up the scale. Differences between an A-, A & A+ are *really* subtle and much more influenced by subjectivity than, say, C+ / B- / B differences.
It's not perfect but neither is wine evaluation. :) Cheers!
Sounds like you are a lot more confused than I thought you were. Being the son of two educators one who gave grades and one who didn't. One was a USMC Drill Instructor which by now I'm sure you know which one did not give scores. But being scored I have dealt with all my life (I campaigned professionally on a national level at motocross racing when I was a young man) Most of my career I spent as a chef so I was used to being judged on many different levels ; guests, critics and health departments. Numbers from some health departments letters from others. Restaurant scores by critics always fluctuated depending on which city I was cooking in. Michelin tops at three stars. The Boston Globe’s highest was five. Michael Bauer restaurant critic for the San Francisco Chronicle topped out at four stars. One set of scores kept the restaurant open or closed the other calculated how busy you would be and how much money you would make. But it always came down to you were only as good as the last dish you made. I take that same approach to wine writing.
I have always thought if you actually read my review I would not have to give a score at all. But we all know in a maximum 140 character civilization the chances of anyone reading the entire review is getting slimmer and slimmer.
I used to never read other wine blogs but after you winning Best Wine Blog last year, I have checked 1WineDude out a few times but have noticed most comments come from other wine bloggers. I better get back to writing for my audience on both my wine blogs as it seems I am always behind these days.
When you say “(in my view) numbers imply a level or precision that isn't truly possible in wine tasting” does that statement pertain to Mr. Heimoff also?
Macdaddy – I admit to being sonewhat confused… by your comment! :)
Comments here come from all kinds of people, including writers, producers, and people who just drink the stuff. Comments on any blog are always slightly skewed to represent those who are most comfortable writing out their thoughts in public. It really depends on the topic of a given post, I think – all who take the time to comment are welcome here, whether they're bloggers or not (either way is fine with me).
My statements about scores pertain to *anyone* who uses them – including a whole lot of bloggers. It's a "philosophical" / approach difference. My struggle with using *any* rating system is pretty well documented in these virtual pages, and I settled on the letter grade to give a general sense of where thought the wine stood without having to deal with things like differences between 89 and 90 points.
A Victorian Muscat has achieved just that a perfect score of 100 in the United States wine ranking.Its the first Australian wine to win such an accolade.Winemaker and Director of Campbells wines at Rutherglen Colin Campbell says the Merchant Prince Rare Rutherglen Muscat has a blend of wine including a muscat made nearly 50 years ago.
Joe, Thanks for the transparency on the Brett comment. I find that too many non-winemakers scream Brett when it's not… some of the best terroir-wines I've ever had were labeled Brett even when they were in fact clean. In contrast, I've seen Brett (and H2S) wines labeled as great examples of terroir. Thanks for being so open about it all.
Hi Carl – if I'm anything, it's transparent! :)
I don't have a lab, just my nose and my (unfortunate!) experience with band-aid, meaty, horse-sweat, and other manner of Brett off-odors. Gotta call it when I see it, but I probably ought to phrase it as "possible" Bretty funk in the future. Nothing gets my Bretty-smelling goat more than Brett being labeled as terroir!
I have, Marc – two wines received A+ formally (featured on the blog and/or in my twitter wine reviews), a couple of others (3 I think total) informally (not formally reviewed but in my notes, and they wines not very easy to come by).
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