Every year wine journalists re-ignite the debate on how to assess the quality of a wine and communicate their expert judgment to wine imbibers. Robert Parker has a 100 point scale but it actually starts at 80 and goes up to 100+. Others have five stars, a 20 point scale, or three stars and a "coup de coeur" which I believe means "heart attack" in French. As you will note from my musings on vintages I am not a great believer in numerical assessments made early in the life of a wine for the simple reason that all too often they are: a) totally wrong; b) not descriptive. To rectify these errors I have concocted my own scale which I hope the 2,500 monthly readers of the Burgoblog will find useful. So, in Miss World order:
Not Quite Right: the wine has a noticeable flaw without being corked. Sometimes due to excessive oxidation, too long in the fridge, or bringing up to room temperature by means of a mircowave oven. Here the challenge is to perceive what might have been and refill other people's glasses so there is none left for your own. Avoid pouring the wine down the sink as this can rile your host.
Quaffable: the wine has been made perfectly well, it largely reflects its terroir, there is not enough complexity or elegance to savour it, but boy is it nice to drink! Here the challenge is to avoid drinking the first bottle too fast. A good example of the quaffable quality is an honest Bourgogne blanc served with a pile of warm gougeres.
Just Decent: this is a wine from a quality vineyard which could have been better than it is, but it isn't, which means it is just decent. Wines are classified as 'just decent' because the vineyard yield has been too high so they are dilute, the fruit lacks ripeness, or style is rather dull. This quality of wine is often associated with famous vineyards like Gevrey-Chambertin and lazy winemakers who don't look after their vines. The vineyard name sells the wine.
Quite Nice: such wines that are satisfying, show quality, bring some personality to the glass, but don't thrill, amaze or surprise. They put not a step wrong, nor do they bring the house down. All in all, they are quite nice to look at and lovely to know. There are many wines of this quality from the lesser known Burgundy villages which don't have premiers crus or grands crus vineyards. No matter how hard the winemaker tries they will never ascend higher than 'quite nice'.
Fairly Good: there is a clear step up in quality between 'quite nice' and 'fairly good'. The goodness comes from the ripe fruit and the more giving style. Dare I say that there should be a voluptuous wink? Yes, I dare say so. Pinots from a year with just a few more days of sunshine are classed as 'fairly good'. These wines must bring a smile to your lips and evoke some pleasant memories of romance or bonhomie.
Not Bad At All: refers to wines which suprise the imbiber, either in a blind tasting or because the producer is unknown or the quality just leaps out of the glass. The initial impact must be very positive on the nose and consistent on the palate leading to the exclamatory understatement: "I say that's not bad at all" (translation for my kind American readers especially Albert Lee in San Francisco: "Excellent").
Awfully Good: such wines as these are hovering on the steps of greatness before the Erechteion on the Acropolis. There is no point in employing understatement here! Instead we juxtapose a awful pejorative with a good compliment to achieve a powerful contrasting emotion. Scientific description must give way to poetry. Wines that were judged to be of lower quality earlier in the evening may later in the evening appear to be 'awfully good'. They are not intrinsically so.
Absolutely Splendid!: the occurrence is rare but when it happens an outburst is required whatever the social circumstances. Wines at this level attract adjectives such as sublime, unique and remarkable. One may never taste again such an impressive beverage and be left in such ecstasies. These wines are the gift of the best terroirs, producers, vintages and also the best moments.
A Triumph: in ancient Rome a Triumph was pretty much better than anything going (including an Ovation) and few were awarded. A wine alone can not be a triumph... it is the occasion of drinking an absolutely splendid wine with great friends that creates a Triumph.