It’s closing in at twenty years and I still remember the 1990 Bordeaux tasting as if it was yesterday. It was the first time I had Cheval Blanc. When I think about it, I’d never tasted the La Conseillante or the Cos d’Estournel either. It was my entrance to premium Bordeaux in a great vintage.
I had just bought Mr.Parker’s guide to Bordeaux. I read it as if it was the bible. I knew exactly his comments on the wines we would have at the 1990 tasting. Wine was new to me and the numerical ratings attracted – a lot. I had no objections at all; this was perfect. Strangely, I studied political science at the same time at the university and had political theory as one of the main subjects. Normative theory; testing the durability of events and arguments based on various standards. Values. Comparing that to empirical theory. We were trained to challenge ideas, yet I never gave it a thought why I didn’t. Apply the knowledge gained on my newly found passion that is.
95 points on the ’82 Ducru. I made notes. Had them with me when I went shopping for Bordeaux in Copenhagen. Weighed the scores against the prices. As a student I didn’t have the finances so the choice of wine had to be carefully thought through. In the mid to end of the 1990’s numerical ratings seemed to bring out the worst in people – or rather – take away reasoning. I was attending tastings where the scores of the almighty functioned as some kind of result. Academics, bright people; few questioned it. Me neither.
Then something happened.
I had come across some ’76 Bordeaux I remember. Prices were good. They were all gorgeous wines when drunk around 1995-98. Elegant. My doyen didn’t agree. 76 points. 81 points. 83 points. I lost something there. Or better put; I gained something. The questioning.
1997, one year before ending my studies, I went on my first wine trip. Franken. I fell in love. Not only with the Silvaner wines and the Fränkischer trocken style, no, I fell in love with meeting producers, sipping seriously good wines I’d never heard of and experiencing the vineyards. Roughly at the same time, Madeira came in to my world. I was fascinated by the wines capability to age and I remember my first purchase, the 1940 Sercial from Vinhos Justino’s Henriques, today named Justino’s only. An eye opener. But no ratings were to be found. Don’t know if that made me feel naked or just motivated; probably the latter. I was on a quest; I needed to learn more. What others told me to drink didn’t attract me; I had started to think and make my own mistakes.
We’re all in to wine for different reasons. There’s they guy who wants to impress his buddies. High ratings only. Sought after wines. There’s the genuinely interested. Curiosity leads his way. A search for understanding. Then we have they guy who likes wine but do feel uncertain what to buy and doesn’t have enough interest to read more than recommendations. Thank god for points! But even if we claim independence from the numerical ratings many of us still look at them and unconsciously end up joining the crowd on the search for the same wine.
Why do we focus on finding what we define as the best and not focus on diversity?
I love La Moulinne. Cheval Blanc’s one heck of a pour as well. But are they leading the way for my wine passion or just a part of the diversity? Thinking back, was it more rewarding on a personal level to visit Chateau Pavie or a guy in Vinho Verde producing wines on Loureiro, a grape few have ever heard of? At Pavie I learned that money matters and you can do anything if you have them. Recruit those considered the best. Put enormous efforts in to details. At Quinta do Ameal I realized that passion and an ambition to show the quality of a little known grape didn’t always make life easy – but educating the curious consumers about Loureiro were such a reward and hence worth not giving up.
Sometimes we need to ask ourselves why – why we’re in to wine. Is it the search for perfection? If so, how do you define something complete. And what does this feeling result in for you. A feeling of belonging to something? Or is it a search for something better all the time? Better wines? What is a superior wine by the way?
The last years I’ve been amazed by fantastic wines from regions I knew little about – or wines from countries where my prejudice had taken the charge. In many of the cases these revelations were the result of visiting a particular country or region. Curiosity had simply taken me there. Can an Azal from Vinho Verde be a great wine? Why don’t we speak about Sousão table wines from the Douro – or Vinhão as it’s called in Vinho Verde? Why is it fun to mock Muscat? And does that apply to both Muscat d’Alexandrie and Muscat a petit grains? Just because you know wine, do you have to be derogatory towards Lambrusco?
Diversity doesn’t mean you give up on quality. Diversity rewards your search for knowledge. Not only does it result in new findings, new preferences; it can also add cultural enlightenment. Understanding people. Wine is simply an important feature of civilization and a life long personal search for knowledge.
Do you know Királyleányka?
The other day I poured a glass of Királyleányka from Csetvei Pince in Mór, a tiny region west of Budapest. The grape variety, Királyleányka, translates to little princess and it origins from Transylvania. Quite small clusters, this natural crossing of Grasă and Fetească albă has aromatics reminding you of a restrained Muscat a petit grains. Csetvei’s version, the 2012, shows delicate floral notes mixed with a mineral wet rocks feel. It’s a real surprise tasting the stuff. A grapefruit like acidity, you can almost compare it to having a chew on the peel. Bone dry and dominated by the mineral feel, this wine is such a pleasure to sip. Purity simply. 11,5 percent and still it has some length.
Can the 2012 Csetvei Királyleányka receive a high numerical rating? Do I honestly care? The wine makes me genuinely happy. It stands for, represents, all I want from my wine passion. It made me write this article. Diversity runs my wine show. What runs your?
NB. Don’t read this as a critique only against numerical ratings. Read it more as an expression what the score hunt makes us miss out there. After all, isn’t perfect scores just an illusion and actually quite depressing when you think about it?
NB.2. There’s 1 600 bottles of the 2012 Csetvei Királyleányka. I suggest you better get moving – if diversity’s your thing.