Some peculiarities of wine in our time are the side effects of the widespread use of the 100-point system of scoring wines. It was pioneered by the wine newsletter writer Robert M. Parker, Jr., in 1978 and then given broader exposure when adopted by Wine Spectator magazine in the mid-1980s. Originally an American phenomenon, the 100-point system is now employed in other nations, including France, Italy, and Australia.
Although decried by traditionalists as crude and inappropriate, the fact is that the 100-point system offers many advantages, not the least of them being its intuitiveness for readers.
Also, it has the practical advantage of allowing both writers and readers a way of organizing tasting notes for hundreds of wines at a time. If you're only reporting on, say, 20 or 25 wines at a time — as was common before the 1980s — then you don't need to be concerned about organizing a fleet of notes. But when you're tasting and reporting on hundreds of wines, as is now common, then you desperately need a methodology. The 100-point system serves.
However, no good methodology goes unpunished. One of the less desirable effects of the 100-point system is that it throws all wine babies into the same vat.
Chateau Margaux is tasted. So, too, is a California zinfandel. Although they're not tasted side by side, the 100-point system does ask an unspoken question: Can you give them both 99 points? Theoretically, yes.
But in practice it rarely happens, even though the two red wines are hardly in competition with each other. A 99-point score for both wines would suggest, by implication, that a zinfandel is the equal of a Chateau Margaux. So, consciously or not, tasters tend to shy from awarding nosebleed scores to more humble wine types.
In fairness, scores are never offered without written notes, where tasters offer compensatory praise to offset an otherwise paltry score.
All of this is a long-winded explanation as to why some wines — too many wines, even — don't get the acclamation they deserve. If you try the wines to follow, believe me, you won't be missing the point at all.
HERE'S THE (SCORE-FREE) DEAL
Perdera "Isola dei Nuraghi" 2004, Argiolas — What do you think the odds are of a Sardinian red wine made mostly of a local grape variety called monica without much noticeable oakiness or a huge fruit extraction achieving a high score? No prizes for guessing, "Not a chance."
Yet Perdera is a swell red wine, all the more so for its food affability and not a little finesse. Is it a blockbuster? Nah. But it's original-tasting and it exalts food. That's what really good wines should do.
Perdera is the name of a 74-acre vineyard in Sardinia owned by the Argiolas family. Although its 650-foot elevation and chalky clay soil surely account for part of the distinctive taste of this wine, mostly it's due to the grapes themselves. Ninety percent of Perdera is composed of the Sardinian red grape called monica; the balance is 5% each of carignan and bovale sardo.
Vibrantly fruity with whiffs of cherry and black pepper, it's the sort of red you serve with bean stews, sausages, salami, lamb chops, or a plate of pasta with meat sauce at a family meal. Also, it's a bargain: $12.95 a bottle. Widely available.
Muscadet "Clos des Allées" Vieilles Vignes 2005, Domaine Luneau-Papin — Great Muscadet (bien sur, il existe) is deserving of all the points usually heaped on conventional chardonnays and unconventional grüner veltliners. Since there are plenty of points to go around, why not spare more than a few for Muscadet? Yet it rarely occurs.
Why? Partly because only a handful of Muscadets are truly deserving. And partly because even the best Muscadets don't leap out in big tastings. Muscadet is a wine that shines only with food: oysters above all, but any shellfish and even some cheeses.
If you've yet to be persuaded about the worthiness of Muscadet, I can only commend to you — plead, really — that you try this extraordinary rendition from Domaine Luneau-Papin.
Pierre Papin is one of Muscadet's most rigorous producers. The single-vineyard bottling called Clos des Allées comes from 30-year-old vines (that's old in Muscadet); is hand-harvested (rare in Muscadet); and delivers an intense, unusually rich-textured, ripe, spicy fruitiness unlike almost any other dry white wine from the zone. It's a Muscadet like no other — and it will only improve for the next 10 years. Crush Wine and Spirits has it for $14.95 a bottle.