Some scored, some not

Increasingly, though I’m happy to give glowing or excoriating reports on wines, I dislike scoring then. Sometimes it seems such an absurd attempt to apply precision to something that is at least partly a matter of taste, of passion, of appropriateness to the moment, of context, and of various other things that make a pedantic score a matter of nonsense. Quite apart from the fact that you’re perfectly likely to score it differently a day or a month or a year hence.

I do see the value of scoring sometimes – in a (small) range of comparable wines, for example. Though even then one must be aware that the order the wines are poured, the build-up in one’s mouth of tannin, etc has an effect. Or where it is necessary to give a shorthand summary of one’s impressions of quality.

This has all been gone into before, of course, more deeply than this. It’s not an easy topic. And I will continue to score wines on occasion, for particular purposes where the shreds of usefulness are more important than the problems involved (for the Platter Guide, for example).

I was only thinking of all this because someone I respect from a good Stellenbosch estate remarked to me recently that I should really be using a meaningful scoring system whenever I discussed wines, if I wanted to gather a meaningful number of followers (or whatever one calls them). I think this was his point. The essence of the answer I gave was that I offer what I can and what I want to – if anyone is interested in it, that’s fine; if not, too bad. I do know that most people want scores and prices and little more, but that’s not what I wish to offer. In the columns I’ve written for the Mail & Guardian, for example, I have always pointed to the prices of wines I’ve mentioned, as that seems to me a crucial consideration, and I’ve tried to indicate the character of wines and why I like or dislike them – but scores, no.

I can do it, of course, like anyone can, and I try to be objective. Recently I did one of my regular round-up tastings with Angela lloyd and Ingrid Motteux, where we tasted wines sighted, discuss them and score them – noting differences where they are significant. So for example:

Elgin Vintners Sauvignon-Blanc-Semillon 2011 (R135). We agreed that a score of 15.5/20 was appropriate. My note: Powerful wine. More sweaty, tropical sauvignon aromas than semillon characters – though a little lemon zest. Easy-going into the mouth, full-flavoured. Strong, not refined. The acid OK but a bit unintegrated. A little tannic grip – what we usually call “phenolic” when it comes to white wine.

Morgenster White 2011 (R149). Oh dear. I see I forgot to write down my own score, let alone the collective consensual one. But none of us were as impressed as we’d have like to be from a maiden release of a white Bordeaux blend from this producer of a fine red Bordeaux blend. Why have they rushed it out? Morgenster seems to have lost a bit of control over it’s offerings, from the time when they focused on those Bordeaux reds. The Italian stuff they’ve come out with has been rather diappointing and beside the point. And this white? Remarkably ordinary, really, and dull. Nothing really wrong with it except that they’ve used too much new oak, which dominates the aroma and flavour. Score? surely around 15 for something lacklustre but sound enough; preferably 14.5.

And, frankly, we were all a bit diappointed with the Morgenster Bordeaux-style reds too. The Lourens River Valler 2009 (R149) was also very ordinary – whereas often this second-label is a great value alternative to the top wine. The Morgenster 2009 continues the trajectory that this wine has basically been following since that magnificent, almost austerely elegant 2000 that lifted all our spirits then. This vintage is trying too hard to please with soft, merlot-caricature ripeness. The tannins, yes, are the cashiest of cashmere, but that’s not quite enough. There is some intensity of good fruit, and the oaking is masterly enough. But as to real character or interest? Not really. I could score it, depending on mood and irritability level, anything between 15.5 and 16.5, I suppose, and still be disappointed in it. The other wine at least a point less, and greater disappointment. Come on Morgenster – you should be doing better than this!

Boland Cellar Flutterby range with pretty butterfly imagery. We tasted a Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Rosé 2011 and Merlot 2010. All R30, all in those nice lightweight plastic bottles with shelf-life marked on them as well as a bottling date – some months ago, actually; probably these were a failed export order. Soft, gentle, fruity wines, with some sugary insipidity and a whack of acidity to make you believe for a brief moment that there was some refreshing quality to them. The Sauvignon did have some nicely forthcoming grenadilla aromas. We all scored them around 12/20. Which does sufficiently indicate that we didn’t think much of them, I suppose, and I could have abandoned all the words.

Then, the other night, with dinner, I opened a bottle of wine which thrilled me. Stark-Condé Twin Peak Vineyards Syrah 2005. I get so tired of people who say that even the best Cape reds don’t develop in bottle. This wine certainly had. I last tasted it for Platter nearly five years ago and was enthusiastic about it then (scoring it 4.5 stars!), pointing to its delicacy as well as the elegantly rich intensity which balanced the big tannins, which needed a few years to soften, and the rather big but unobtrusive 14.5% alcohol. Well, the tannins have softened, and from this bottle were beautifully part of a harmonious whole that was more compelling and interesting than it was five years back. I didn’t note down (even if I noted, which I confess is unlikely) a whole list of flavours and aromas it reminded me of; I just sip[ed and savoured and drank. Whether the wine will improve further I don’t know, but it might – it will certainly keep. A most appealing wine, undoubtedly one of the best local shirazes I’ve had for a long time, and I’m pleased that I put Stark-Condé among my Top 20 producers. I have no wish to score this wine, just to recommend it, and its successors

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