Saturday, October 24, 2009

92 points...and what it means... Part 1

Cerro Prieto 2006 Paso Bordo...92 points, from Wine Enthusiast magazine. But what exactly does that mean? Well, generally, if you follow wine much at all, 90+ points are awarded to very, very, good wines. After that, it gets somewhat confusing. As one of my beer drinking friends said, "Hrumph, that's 8 points away from being 100, so I guess it's not THAT good." A more common response is, "Wow, you got 92 points! I can't wait to try it because it must be a great wine."

Honestly, the truth lies somewhere in between, because 100 points is a perfect wine. Just recently, a neighbor 2 hills over, Justin Smith of Saxum, garnered a
100 pointer...a perfect wine. Not only that, it was only 1 of 4 perfect wines awarded by Wine Spectator, and the first ever perfect score for a Paso Robles vineyard/winery. I might add that in the October, 2009, issue of Wine Enthusiast, Cerro Prieto was mentioned as one of the vineyard/wineries in the proposed Willow Creek sub-appellation (still part of Paso Robles AVA), along with Saxum, Jack Creek Cellars, Linne Calodo, L'Aventure, and Booker.
92 points or not, just being mentioned in the same rarefied air of those spectacular wineries was high praise, indeed.

But I digress...what does it all mean...the 92 points and all? I will quote liberally and frequently from Steve Heimoff 's blog of October 8, 2009 (, to help put this point business into perspective. His blog title, pretty well says it all. "How can we get distributors and other wine buyers to get beyond their '90 point plus' obsession?" Basically Steve writes that "87,86, 84, and even 83 points are not 'low 80s, but mid to high 80s' wines."

Heimoff continues, "The problem is that distributors and many wine buyers look at anything below an 86 as a 'low score'. 87 and 86 are not low scores, and neither is an 85 or 84. All are considered "very good" or "good" scores by Wine Enthusiast's definition. "Of course, if a wine scores 85 points and retails for $50 or more, then there is a problem, but it's not my's the problem of people at the winery who establish the price," writes Heimoff.

Again quoting, "It's a cliche to say that anything below 90 is dead on arrival. At Wine Enthusiast we don't turn up our noses at an 86 point wine. Wines that score in the 90s tend to be bigger, riper, and probably oakier than those in the 80s...and what I don't understand is how to get the word out that the 90 point threshold is not some magical, absolute event horizon, the dividing line between Heaven and Hell. It's just a number. If you have any ideas how to decriminalize scores in the 80s, let me know." For those of you who enjoy not only drinking, but reading about wine, and wish to stay current on any political, financial, agricultural, technical, or tasting information related to wine, I would highly recommend Steve Heimoff's blog. A real benefit is that his blogs and print articles are not only interesting, they are he has a keen sense of humor. Personally, he is my favorite wine writer/blogger, and I would encourage anyone reading this blog to check out Heimoff's.

Again, back to 92 points...for Cerro Prieto it is a monumental honor and achievement that a low volume winery (250-350 cases/yr) can compete with much older, much better financed, and much more experienced wineries. The saying goes, "Great wines start in the vineyard", and it is truer than one might imagine. It took 7 years before I felt our vineyard was fine tuned enough to make our own wine. We sell 90% of our grapes to up scale, high end wineries, and make our wine from the other 10%. Amazingly, our 2006 Paso Bordo was our first bottling, but we started with a vineyard in perfect shape to make a near perfect wine. Low yield of 3-5 lbs/vine, painstaking care of each and every vine, and no hesitation in dropping any fruit deemed "less than perfect"...those principles all go into making a 92 point wine. To be continued in Part 2.

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