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December 2017
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I was sitting around our dinner table on Thursday, sharing a couple different wines with my wife Karla and our friend Carol. In front of us was a chardonnay from South Australia, a cabernet franc from Oregon’s Columbia River, and a chenin blanc from Clarksburg.

Analyzing the qualities of all three, clearly the chardonnay expressed the most character, expression of place, length, and purity of fruit. The others were also very good wines, but were not quite as well rounded as was the chardonnay. The chard also scored the highest by a major “wine advocate”.

Both Carol and Karla preferred the others to the chardonnay, and both are avid chard lovers. The wine was much more acidic than the cocktail chards-in the same realm as a Macon- that flood our grocery store shelves today.

A spirited discussion resulted in the inevitable place where all experienced wine tasters visit, the land of Points vs. Preference.

If you’ve ever heard me talk about shopping for wine, you’ll remember I always say “It’s not about the dress on the girl, it’s what is inside that counts.” What I mean by this is, though most wine is purchased by price and visual appeal, shouldn’t we be more interested in the intrinsic value of the character of the product which will end up in your glass?

Points are a great system of expressing an overall picture of the balance of a wine. It can give the consumer an indication of quality on a macro scale. I like to use points to help categorize and prioritize what to try, and to communicate with my clients and readers about the general quality level of a particular bottle. However, let’s dig a little deeper and find out what the deal is with why a couple chardonnay lovers loathed this very good chard.

So, if two chardonnay’s sit side by side, are both rated 91 points and cost $25, well, they ought to be pretty much the same, right? Uh…well…uh…I guess the wine guy has some ’splaining to do.

I’ve awarded 90+ points or a gold medal to chardonnay’s that are the big showy type, as well as those of the balanced and classic Burgundian model, and the fruity, oak free versions as well. What gives?

Points and medals are not awarded based upon personal preference. The best competitions and publications taste against a standard. Yes, true, we are all human and have a measure of personal bias, but as best as us human type judges can do, we try to stay objective.

Back to the girl in the good looking dress. In the above example, chardonnay “A” is from South Australia’s Adelaide Hills, with ”B” hailing from the Napa Valley. Cool climates, such as Adelaide Hills tend to bear fruit higher natural acidity and a firmer structure, while warm climates such as the Napa Valley often produce fruit resulting in lush ripeness, higher alcohol, and a softer mouth feel.

Tasting these regional wines side by side there is very little similarities, outside of the underlying general flavor profile of the chardonnay grape. They are so different that your average wine taster can tell them apart without too much difficulty in a blind tasting after only about a half hour of education.

But both of these wines were 91 points and cost $25 bucks!

Yup. Absolutely. It is all about the underlying quality of the wine, and not the flash of the scores, or packaging.There is only one truly meaningful statistic on a bottle of wine a consumer can use to tip themselves about what may be inside. Every bottle sold has it. Sometimes it is hard to find, but it is the single most important number listed on a bottle.  Alcohol percentage.

Higher alcohol wines are, generally, more lush, soft, and offer a perception of sweetness. Think full bodied cocktail wines. (Ethanol, the primary intoxicant in wine, can seem sweet to the taste) Lower alcohol wines generally come from fruit that did not develop as much sugar on the vine, and will have retained higher acidity. Think lighter and more food friendly.

But they both scored 91 points and cost $25 bucks!

We all like buying a highly rated wine for a fair price, but if you don’t like what’s inside, why bother. Higher quality wines will often add more useful information as to what may be behind the cork. If the bottle labels a region, by all means make note! Regionality, coupled with alcohol content, is the single most telling sign of what the wine may taste like. Remember what I already said…warm = lush, cool = firm and food friendly.

If you are not sure if the region listed is warm or cool, just ask the store attendant, or drop me a line. It may seem intimidating, but with just a little practice you’ll start to remember regions quite easily. While there are tens of thousands of producer labels on the market, there are only a few hundred wine regions, and most of them can be grouped into a small handful of major areas to remember.

Before splashing out on the next 90 something, take an extra thirty seconds to check the alcohol content and, when available, the region from which the grapes were grown. Match that information with the point score. You’ll quickly be able to match points to your preferences and enjoy wine even more…and isn’t that the most meaningful point anyway?

Remember, it’s not what is in your glass, it’s who you share it with.

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