Wine: In Search of Perfection

Does communicating the virtue of a wine take more than a number?


Reale cardamone Tramonti Costa d’Amalfi; Colere Confluence Marlborough pinot blanc; Discovery Point Martinborough pinot noir. Pictures / Supplied.

Have you ever tasted perfection? I’ve sampled some sublime wines among the thousands I try every year, but I haven’t found perfection yet. And don’t think I ever will. Even if I had imbibed my vinous ideal, you might not agree, so you won’t see me handing out 100-point scores in a hurry.

Though 100-point scores used to be an American preserve — using a scale popularised by influential US wine critic Robert Parker — in recent years we’ve been witnessing an increase in full marks awarded in Australasia. Local wines may have been scaling new heights in quality, underpinned by a series of strong vintages, but I question whether a wine should be, or even could be, considered flawless.

Great wine is a complex creation of the interplay of site and season, guided by gentle human intervention. What I most prize in a wine is the distinctive voice of its place, which can sometimes speak more strongly in a challenging vintage than when it’s the product of optimum conditions. More important for me than seeking perfection is listening out for wines that are true.

These wines can possess an intrigue akin to that of a wise wrinkled face that would never appear on the cover of Vogue. Rather than subscribing to the Western view of perfection, the Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi seems more realistic; the celebration of beauty that is imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. Or a perfection that is not inherent in a thing itself, but created in the imaginative response of the recipient — and so a personal phenomenon rather than a universal standard (which would be impossible to agree on anyway).

The problem with proclamations of perfection highlights a general issue with numeric scoring systems. Awarding a specific mark to a wine suggests there’s a science behind the system, when critics can only ever provide a rough guide.

And if this is conveyed solely by a number, it’s very rough indeed, a reductionist approach I’d argue often serves more as hype than real help for wine drinkers in search of wines that suit and extend their tastes.

That’s why I choose not to publish scores with my reviews, preferring instead to focus on providing a context for the wines I recommend, and a description from which readers can hopefully make their own informed decisions. So it was refreshing to read an opinion piece penned by Mahana Estates’ winemaker Michael Glover, who questioned whether the use of numbers and scores is truly “in keeping with the ‘spirit’ or ‘endeavour’ of wine”.

Though many wineries promote their wines using points, Glover has taken the rare stand from now on to “only publish or use words rather than scores, ratings, or stars” relating to his wines and is requesting wine critics and journalists do the same.

“A bottle of wine can tell a story of seasons, people and places,” Glover maintains. “It may be conservative or it may be adventurous. It may be loud or it may be quiet. Regardless, it will resonate with some people and not with others ... it will be personal. Does a number really do justice to all of this? Does a number tell a story?”

Reale cardamone Tramonti Costa d’Amalfi 2013 $37
In the village of Tramonti, the Reale family run a restaurant and make tiny quantities of wine from an organic vineyard. cardamone comes from close to century-old vines, predominantly of the ancient piedirosso variety, a red specialty of Southern Italy’s Campania region. It’s pure and perfumed, with bright, soft and juicy blueberry and cherry fruit infused with parma violet florals and peppery spice. From info@artigianoimports.co.nz

Colere Confluence Marlborough pinot blanc 2012 $29
Colere is a new label focusing on small parcels of wine from predominantly organic and biodynamic boutique vineyards around New Zealand. This unfined and unfiltered pinot banc is a wonderfully textural example of this lesser planted variety from the Kerner Vineyard (that’s spawned other great pnot blancs), which combines fresh lemon fruit with rich notes of almond paste and beeswax. From regionalwines.co.nz and finerwines.co.nz

Discovery Point Martinborough pinot noir 2014 $29.99
Made through a collaboration between respected winemaker Rod McDonald and local Master of Wine Stephen Bennett, this is one of most complex pinots available at its price. Its dense black cherry fruit is joined by notes of smoke and spice supported by some structuring tannins. From Farro Fresh stores, Kingsland Liquor Centre, Herne Bay Cellars and thegoodwine.co.nz

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