North of 95 Points – What Do Wine Scores Mean?

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a tasting at the Winetasters Society of Toronto titled, “North of 95 Points”.  I jumped to register quickly for this tasting because I figured these wines should be pretty good if they scored 95 points and higher from either Wine Spectator or Robert Parker.  Then, the whole thing got me thinking…what exactly do these scores mean?  We all know that many wine critics and experts score the wines they review – either on a 100 point, 20 point, or 5 point scale, or 5 or 3 stars, or wine glasses, or whatever.  Usually, as soon as Robert Parker or Wine Spectator gives a wine a rating of 90 or higher it disappears off the shelves faster than you can blink.  Yes, ‘Parker Points’ can make an awful lot of money for a winery.  On this blog I don’t rate wines with numbers or symbols. I can’t say I never will, but right now I don’t. Readers can usually tell by my tasting note what my impression of the wine was.  I feel that giving a wine a score is like going to an art gallery and saying “Well, that painting is a 95, but that one there is only a 90!”.  What?  And anyway, what really is the difference between a wine with a score of 91 points and one with a score of 93 points?

Evaluating and judging wines is not a science – it is more of an art.  Judging wine is also very subjective.  Everyone has his or her own tastes, likes, and dislikes.  What may be an amazing wine to one person may just be an okay wine for someone else.  Some people prefer the modern New World style of wine  (Robert Parker) and some may have a more traditional European palate (Jancis Robinson).

I guess what I’m trying to say is to take these scores with a grain of salt.  If you really want to follow wine scores then try to taste as much as possible and compare your notes with those of a few of the critics you read most often.  Try to determine the critics who have tastes similar to yours and then follow their recommendations.  A few things the critics look for when judging the quality of a wine are: concentration of fruit, length of the finish, complexity, and balance.  Click here if you’d like some tips on how to taste wine like a pro.

All that being said, I thought most of the wines at the North of 95 Points tasting were excellent.  You won’t be able to run out and buy any of these wines as they’re long gone from wine store shelves.  But, if you’re lucky enough to have a few bottles in your cellar then read on to see how they are drinking now.

Tasting Notes: in no particular order.

Le Vieux Donjon Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2005: Wine Spectator 95 Points – rated No. 3 in Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of 2007.  This was the lightest coloured wine of the tasting with a distinctly garnet tinge.  An interesting nose of suede, white pepper, dried strawberry, candied berries, dried leaves, and a floral note.  Leather, spice, white pepper, and tart red fruit on the palate.  A balanced wine with a silky texture and a lingering length.  Very Good.

Qunita Do Vale Meao 2004 Douro: Wine Spectator 97 Points – rated No. 18 in Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of 2006.  A blend of at least 4 of the classic Port varieties (Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Francesca, etc.).  Quite pronounced aromas of plum, cassis, ripe dark fruit, spice, coffee grounds, and violets.  Very full-bodied on the palate with concentrated flavours including sour cherry, spicy plum, earth, and crushed violets.  This wine definitely needs a few more years in the cellar to soften up those chunky tannins.  This was rated as my second favourite wine of the tasting.

Quinta do Crasto Reserva Old Vines 2005 Douro: Wine Spectator 95 Points – rated No. 3 in Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of 2008.  A field blend from a vineyard planted with 25 to 30 different grapes averaging 70 years of age.  A beautiful perfume of violets, lavender, dark fruit, white pepper, and dark spice.  Full and luxurious on the palate showing flavours of spice, leather, crunchy dark fruit, blueberry, pepper, and a pretty floral note with a finish that goes on forever.  Very complex and balanced and could definitely benefit from at least a couple more years in the cellar and should last for more than a decade.  I rated this wine as my favourite of the tasting.

Casa Lapostolle Clos Apalta 2005 Colchagua Valley:  Wine Spectator 96 Points – rated No. 1 in Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of 2008.  A blend of 42% Carmenere, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Merlot, and 4% Petit Verdot.  A deep inky colour with intense aromas of black cherry, cassis, plum, black licorice, and graphite pencil.  Full-bodied and velvety on the palate with firm, fuzzy tannins, and lingering dark fruit, dried earth, spice and graphite flavours.  My third favourite wine of the tasting.

Bodegas Lan Culmen Reserva 2001 Rioja:  Wine Spectator 94 Points.  A blend of 85% Tempranillo and 15% Garnacha.  An opaque ruby colour – not showing any signs of garnet even after 10 years.  Developing aromas of smoky dark berries, red fruit, spice, and lots of dill notes.  Flavours of strawberry and dried cherry on the palate layered with spice and, this may sound funny, an unmistakable dill pickle chips character.  Very silky and smooth.  A very good wine.

Bodegas Pintia 2004 Tinto Toro: Robert Parker 95 Points.  This winery is owned by the very famous Vega Sicilia.  Enticing aromas of blueberry, blackberry, black currant, spice, and a floral note.  Rich and opulent on the palate with ample chunky tannins and flavours of cigar box, dill, dark berries, baking spice, and violets. A beautiful, lingering finish. Balanced and complex.  Definitely a cellar dweller.  My fourth favourite of the tasting.

Massena Eleventh Hour 2005 Shiraz Barossa: Robert Parker 96 Points.  An inky ruby colour.  Quite pronounced aromas of sweet jammy fruit, prunes, raisins, figs, and butter tarts.  Very full-bodied with round tannins, jammy fruit, and raisin pie.  So over-the-top jammy you could almost spread this on your toast.  My least favourite of the tasting.

Oliver Hill Jimmy Selection 2005 Shiraz McLaren Vale: Robert Parker 96 Points.  Very aromatic showing eucalyptus, black licorice, cloves, forest floor, cassis, and black pepper. Dense and mouth-filling with flavours of ripe dark fruit, eucalyptus, spice, and pepper with a hot finish.  Definitely a wine for those who like the New World Wine style of big reds.

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