Dan's Blog


Friday, November 03, 2017

I’ll bet that that got your attention!  Well personally I can’t wait for it to happen. It may have been a good scoring system two to three decades ago, but today it is only a 10 point system, with NOBODY noticing a good, even, commercial wine that scores 88 or 89.

In the early 1990s there was mass jubilation at my employers, Orlando Wyndham, when Wine Spectator gave the first vintage of Jacob’s Creek Chardonnay a score of 85 – Boy! Everybody in the organisation was so pleased, as it signalled success in the USA, for this fledgling wine.

Today, if a wine scores less than 90 nobody looks at it, in fact 94 is rapidly becoming the new 90. Check it out for yourself.

It wasn’t always like this. Scouring through my 1990 edition of James Halliday’s Australian Wine Guide, I found the following high scores (there were many wines which scored in the 60s and 70s in this edition):

Lindemans 1986 Hunter Burgundy Reserve Bin 7210 – scored an 86

Penfolds 1984 Grange – scored 90 (more recently re-rated at 94)

Penfolds 1987 St Henri – scored an 80

Penfolds 1986 Bin 128 – scored an 80

Orlando 1986 St Hugo – scored an 88By the way, I still have one or two in my cellar and it is drinking superbly at 31 years old!

Imagine the hue and cry if a Grange only got a 90 today? The lowest I could find on the internet was 94 for the 1997 vintage.

So how did it come off the rails? Two words – Robert Parker.  This US wine critic started scoring wines at 100 because he thought they were perfection and after a while the average scores started to climb for the best wines, and slowly the rest followed.

Yes, wine quality has improved over the last 30 years, but it is really “bracket creep” that explains why there are so many wines today in the upper 90s? It’s a bit like 5-Star wineries – there used to be a few (well earned) in the 1990s.  Now they are heading towards ‘a dime a dozen’ territory! Soon it will be like hotels, where these days there are 6-Star and even 7-Star hotels. I wonder which hotel will be the globe’s first 10-Star hotel. Will it be twice as good as a 5-Star hotel? I strongly suspect that it will not!

The wine ratings war started between Robert Parker and Wine Spectator Magazine as they both vied for pre-eminence in the US market. They were both chasing the same consumers/users and had big egos. Over time this fight spread around the globe. Today, it is not only about attracting readers, but also about selling advertising space, certificates, bottle stickers, and of course running extremely profitable wine events.

I suspect that in order to gain popularity some wine critics along the way boosted their scores up a smidge, which meant that the winery would use their review, rather than Fred’s (who gave their wine one point less) and thus making the booster a tad more popular and hence more successful.

So how do we fix this farce? How about adding in half points? Increase the score ceiling to 105 or even 110?

It is ludicrous to think that in a matter as subjective and variable as wine (which tastes different depending on when you taste a wine, or even what mood you’re in) one can rely so definitively on one person’s tasting of that product at one particular point in time.

Well, I don’t think we can fix this mess, so we should just kill it off and go back to using either the 20 point system and/or the 5-Star system as a guide to a wine’s quality rather than as the “gospel truth” of its quality.

Personally, I only give scores to wines when I am an official judge at an event, preferring to describe the wine as I saw it at that time with words which hopefully, will incite the imagination of the reader and inspire them to try that wine for themselves.

I see no point to the 100 point system. What do you think?


This week’s wine is “right out of left field” in every way possible!

Firstly, it comes from the other “ends of the earth”! Nova Scotia, in eastern Canada – a place that is more likely to conjure up images of snow and ice than lush, green, grape vines.

Secondly, it is made entirely from hybrid grape varieties. That is, varieties that have been especially cross-bred in order to significantly withstand a colder climate than what “regular” Vitis Vinifera grape vines can.

Thirdly, it has a very clever, rather cheeky/controversial name. The wine in question is the JOST VINEYARDS “4 SKINS” RED. The name caused plenty of comments when I posted on Facebook to say that the sample was on its way to Adelaide!

JOST VINEYARDS which is located in Malagash, Nova Scotia, is the largest of a small group of wineries on the beautiful Devonian Coast close to the shores of the Northumberland Straight which separates Prince Edward Island from Nova Scotia. The group’s motto is: “Through wine we share Atlantic Canada’s splendour with the world. Enjoy.”

Enough of the travelogue and onto the wine itself!

The JOST 4 SKINS NV is a blend of four red hybrid varieties:

Marechal Foch: A Vitis Ruparia x Vitis Rupestris cross bred for cold resistance.

Leon Millot:  A (Vitis Ruparia x Vitis Rupestris) x Vitis Vinifera cross which is blue skinned, early ripening and disease resistant – created in 1911, in France.

Lucy Kuhlmann:  A sibling of Marechal Foch, which ripens early and has an herbal/capsicum flavour.

Castel:  A Vitis Rupestris x Vitis Vinifera (Oeillade) cross that is early ripening, high in sugar and deeply red coloured.

Wow! What a rare blend, but more importantly what does it taste like?  This wine has massive purple colour with gentle, complex aromas of sweet ripe apples. On the palate it has tasty, interesting, grapey flavours, with hints of lemon that are quite different but appealing. A DELIGHTFUL WINE! 

The other JOST VINEYARDS wine which I had the opportunity to taste was the 2016 white wine designated as ‘TIDAL BAY’– Which is the signature white blend of the region.  This blend is made from the hybrid varieties of L’Acadie, Ortega and New York Muscat. Again, this is an unusual but delightful wine! It has copious citrus aromas and flavours of Granny Smith apples and a hint of sweetness on the palate. There is a smidge of minerality on the mid-palate leading to a lingering, refreshing finish.

By the way, this wine was awarded the Chairman’s Trophy 94 points in the “2016 Ultimate Wine Challenge” and a silver medal in the 2017 “National Wine Awards of Canada.”

So the moral to this story is, don’t turn your nose up at a wine just because it comes from an unusual place, or is made from an unheard of variety.  Give it a go, try it and discover something new and you will probably be pleasantly surprised by the experience. Cheers!