Yes, I do read the Wine Spectator from time to time. Today, I was lucky enough to grab the office copy as it came in and sat down to thumb through it before it disappeared. I pretty much flipped right to the back, eager to read about the wines being reviewed. This seemed like a great issue with lots of my favorite wines.
I’ve culled out the wines that I think deserve your attention, though I did skip over the extensive Alsatian section since I am out of my depth there, but working on it! This issue had great features on domestic wines, Italian wine and the wines of the Rhone.
A few observations before I jump to the wines:I have to admit, I am a fan of the Wine Spectator’s methodology and do respect the reviewers’ palates for the most part. Some reviews are totally at odds with my experiences, but that doesn’t bother me. If we all had identical experiences, there really wouldn’t be room for more than one person to offer his or her opinion.
My observations here are more about pricing. This is the first time in a while that I sat down and examined a list of wines like this. Holy freaking hand grenades!
The 18 top-rated Chateauneuf du Papes are all over $40. There is a 92 pointer at $35 I recommend, but if you want two more points you’re going to have to pony up at least $58 and as much as $110. Look, I love Chateauneuf as much as the next guy, as long as the next guy doesn’t think Grenache is a noble grape and finds something a little pedestrian in almost all Chateauneuf, but these prices are coo-coo.
That, of course, creates plenty of space for $60 Gigondas and $30 Cotes du Rhone du Villages. Sorry, but this seems nuts to me. There are some great wines out there at very reasonable prices, and I’ve focused my lists around them, but I really have to question why people are buying these wines with crazy prices. Is it for the wine, or for the score it gets?
And just a bit about scores: Not to call out Bruce Sanderson, who has taken over reviewing Italian wines for the Spectator, and is doing a fine job of it for the most part, but the review for the 2009 Castello di Querceto Chianti Classico is terribly puzzling. In the review, Bruce remarks that the wine is “dark and extracted but there’s neither sweetness nor substance at the core,” yet then goes on to bestow 89pts on this $15 bottle of wine, which makes it look pretty attractive. Too bad it sounds like crap.
At $15 with an 89pt score, there will be many buyers of this wine. I have to wonder what most of them will think of what sounds like a dry, charmless wine. I doubt many people would be paying the money for a wine that is “dark and extracted” but with no “sweetness nor substance at the core.” Those 89 points are sure to drive sales, much like the higher priced wines with even more points. A sad fact indeed.
But I digress, let’s get back to the horrors of wine pricing. Curiously, in contrast to the Southern Rhone, the wines of Cote Rotie and Crozes Hermitage seem to be entirely reasonable, more so with Cote Rotie. Not because the wines are less expensive, they’re not and generally run double the $30-$40 range of the Crozes, but rather because the wines are relatively rare and produced in small quantities from a challenging slope. One has to wonder if the Syrah malaise is in evidence here. If so, let it continue for the sake of us Northern Rhone lovers!
And then there is everything that is wrong with California Cabernet, or more honestly I should say Napa Cabernet. The 15 top scoring wines, with scores ranging from 98 to 93 points are all over $110 a bottle, with a stunning average price of $190 a bottle. Incidentally, the 16th and 17th wines are both $80: Beringer’s Single Vineyard Cabernets from the Chabot and Home Vineyards. Both of which were awarded 92 pts, the same as wine 23 which clocks in at a whopping $38.
It seems to me that there is ever more pressure on what a handful of critics deem the “best” wines. The truth is, even if these are the best, they are the best by a matter of degree, and that degree will be lost on the vast majority of people. Fortunately, there are plenty of great wines out there that remain within the reach of almost anybody, wines that deliver just as much pleasure and satisfaction as wines costing many times more. I’m going to focus on those wines here, and while some are indeed a bit pricy at $50 or even $55 a bottle, let’s not lose sight of the fact that premium wines are expensive to produce. At the same time, let’s also not lose sight of the fact that you really can’t equate quality or value with points.