The reality is that if we ever turned tastings on their head, asking the critics to pick the 98, 96, 93, 92, 90, 89, 87 and 83 from eight wines that they had previously given these scores to, there is little doubt in my mind that most would fail more than 50% of the time. The numbers are so subjective and of that moment as to make them no more than a vague estimate of one taster's biased notion of how a particular wine tastes at a specific moment amidst a defined selection of it competitors. At any rate, why not use a scale that everyone can at least understand, if not envy?
Which brings us to my attempt to qualify something that may not submit to qualification:
[starting from the bottom]
- plonk--this is swill, industrial waste escaping the remediation pond. Think the white version of 2 buck chuck, which has an essence of lighter fluid to it;
- OK--passable at a barbecue when you need something to down when surrounded by the attractive guests of your neighbor. Never to be poured at home, nor presented to friends in the form of a gift. After 2 glasses switch to hard liquor or water;
- Good--Yeah, this is wine. Someone made an effort to process grapes to juice is a professional manner, even if 19 million cases were made. Certainly drinkable at one of those professional networking functions where you get too many cards from folks you would never in your wildest dreams call or those informal cheese board mixers at the lodge you're visiting during ski season. Finish, smile, forget about it.
- Very good/quaffable--Ahh Miles and his demons. A wine of this description rises to the level of crafting; a talented hand is involved in the process of vines to blossoms, grapes to fermentation. This wine can be enjoyed with distinction, at any random dinner party (w/o wine geeks present) it stands out and pleases, even though you know it lacks subtlety and complexity and you're dying for something with a bit more bite to it.
- Excellent/tasty--Here's one of those things that make you go "MMM!" Broad based and full of fruit, structure and backbone, this rating only falls on wines that you would love to have again and mention to your friends in the form of a boast--"Well I had the ____ last evening with roasted pork loin and it was the bomb." Nothing is really missing in this selection and your friends will think you sage if they ever receive one of these offerings as a gift.
- Superb--Easy here, we're in the octane zone. The stuff of legends as in "back in 2005 I had a _____ and nearly flipped. We dragged the sommelier over and he shot a load in his shorts after just a quick swirl." You get my meaning; this has to be profound, the top of a varietal class that you've done with a passion. If you know pinot and that Rochioli is the best pinot you've had in some time, well you know how to rate it. Hoard these beauties, drink under the cover of darkness, approach with stealth and no one within earshot of your cork pull.
So that's the scale. No numbers, they are meaningless in the larger scheme of things and no one, not even the best, can explain the difference between a 94 and a 95 or an 18 and an 18.5 or even a 73 and a 74. I dare them to try.