The February/March 2006 issue of Gourmet Traveller Wine landed in our mail box yesterday. In addition to the magazine was a pocket-sized Tasting Notebook produced in association with Penfolds. Its an interesting little booklet with an introduction by Peter Gago, Penfolds Chief Winemaker and tasting notes on several of the Bin numbered Penfold wines. Gago comments that 2004 has a couple of firsts for Penfolds, one being “the first time that Penfolds has released a white wine in the Bin range”. I had to check that. According to my Rewards of Patience (4th Ed.) Reserve Bin whites were made in 1994 (Bin 94A Chardonnay, released 1997), 1995, (Bin 95A Chardonnay, released 1999), and 1998 (Bin 98A Chardonnay, unreleased as of May 2000). I guess what Peter means is 2004 is the first release of a white wine with a fixed Bin number.
But I digress. The notebook also includes a number of pages where the enthusiastic wine drinker can jot down tasting notes, which seems not unreasonable for a Tasting Notebook. You can record the identity of the Wine, Vintage, Price, Value for Money, Tasted Where, and then wax lyrical on the ethereal pleasures of the bottles’ contents. You can also make note of the food you might have eaten. And you can score the wine, and here is where considerable thought must have gone into this little booklet. Scoring requires a simple tick in one (or perhaps more) of the following four boxes – OUTSTANDING, EXTREMELY GOOD, VERY GOOD, or GOOD.
I’ve been known to sit and stare at various scoring systems and this one was no different. When I have been observed doing this its often been concluded that the visual concentration observed indicates deep, deep thought. But my mental state often depends upon the scoring system under review. Those closest to me know that the glazed expression can sometimes be closely akin to catatonia – I’m there, I’m just not responding.
I responded to the scoring system in the Gourmet Traveller Wine Tasting Notebook. Let’s not beat about the bush, or in this case vine. Wines are made to be scored, they need to be scored. If they could talk, they would tell you how important it is to them to be scored, to be scored by important people, to be scored often, and for the scores to be big, really, really big! Eighty-five is better than any thing less, ninety better still, ninety-five and you have really scored. But 100 is perfect. Still OUTSTANDING seems quite effusive, certainly better than GOOD. Well that is as long its accepted as the best descriptor available, and EXTREMELY GOOD accepted as the next level down. What about if you want to use stupendous, exceptional, incomparable, unrivaled, matchless, or any number of other descriptors. The limit is bounded by the extent of your vocabulary.
No, there are only four verbal descriptors in the Gourmet Traveller Wine Tasting Notebook scoring system, you can’t use more. Why not? That is the problem with verbal descriptors, or any non-numerical scoring system for that matter. Their greatest meaning is most often for the person using the system. And one of the problems with wine critics is that they need to be seen to be different, so there are a lot of unique scoring systems. True, numerical scoring systems are not perfect but there is no ambiguity in a numerical score. But hey, if you find less confusion between two puffs, recommended, three stars and extremely good, versus 18/20, 90/100, or 88/100 then more power to you.
Of course there are those who believe that wines should not be given numerical scores, or perhaps not even judged or compared at all. I find it an interesting thought as I stare, rather more blankly than usual, out my window into the canyon below.
Oh, and one last point. What happens when you taste a wine that is less than GOOD? I guess like most wine critics you don’t make a note of it in the Gourmet Traveller Wine Tasting Notebook.