A group of us convened at Bacco on Monday 10th February, to delve into the contentious world of Parker Points. I have to claim an interest – I suggested this as a topic as I had tended towards the ‘blame Parker for climate change’ school – blaming him for the increasing popularity of big wines with loads of fruit, tannin and alcohol, rather than the far more reasonable explanation that more sunshine, warmer and wetter weather, and better vineyard and winery practice have enabled winemakers to make wines that express the character of grapes that are riper than they were a few decades ago.
Tim had curated a fantastic line-up of wines, all of them achieving 90 points or more on the Wine Advocate website, where Parker’s judgements are stored – and those of the ten individuals who now make the judgements since his retirement.
The big learning for me was that the points are not the point! Tim explained that any wine that has been judged is not only given a score, but also a detailed write-up. This provides the context for the judgement – acknowledging that the judgement is made knowing what the wine is (ie not a competition-style blind judgement), and building on the judges’ knowledge about the producer and the wines they have tasted previously. It made our lives harder, as we had to acknowledge the thought process rather than challenge the number, but it was hugely interesting.
Highlights for me (and my personal judgement highest point-earners) were
Two whites – a Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon blend from Cullen in Margaret River with glorious complex tropical/butterscotch flavours and a Chardonnay that foxed us all: a 2005 Chablis that had only just been released – the structure and flavours I was attributing to it being oaked turned out to result from having spent over a decade on its lees.
A glorious perfumed, elegant Pinot Noir from Alto Adige in northern Italy, a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Syrah from super Tuscan Isole e Olena, and a pair of Fontalloro Sangioveses from Felsina which demonstrated really well the nuances of understanding Parker’s philosophy – the 2015 vintage earned 97 (Parker) points, and 2016 98+, which basically means you have to go back and taste them again…and again…
My personal preferences aside, a couple of wines made from Syrah/Shiraz were probably the key way I got to understand how to use Parker points. If you just use points, you would be spending £100 to drink 97 points worth of a big alcoholic “full bodied” “generously fruited” Barossa Valley adolescent (vintage 2010) with (to my mind) rather too much going on. If you use the tasting notes you might spend £25 on a 2014 “very impressive Syrah from ….the Adelaide Hills…with elegant tannins and a cooler climate flavour expression..” and just 91 points. I’ll trade 6 points for £75!
Bacco served a delicious meals, culminating in Tim’s favourite pudding – bonet from Piedmont washed down with a demi-sec Champagne, making this a great start to our 2020 fine wine tastings and dinners.
Wines are listed on the Wines we have tasted page.