Just curious – what qualities does a wine have to have to score 98 or 100? I like your column, especially when you refer to "frugal"!
There is, as you may be implying, sadly a vast chasm between "frugal" wines and those that tend to score in the high 90s. I hope this doesn't sound like a stretch, but your query calls to my mind two women, Bo Derek and Nadia Comaneci.
I am dating myself with those references. Both women, icons of "perfection" in their own ways, rose to fame in the 1970s. Derek starred in the 1979 film 10 as the cornrow-haired beauty of the film's provocative title. Was she a perfect 10, physically speaking? To some it was in principle an offensive question because it attempts to rank something as intangible and subjective as human attraction in numerical terms. At the very least it implied this: A perfect 10 is rare enough to merit a movie.
Then there's Comaneci, darling of the 1976 Montreal Olympics and the first woman (she was in fact a 14-year-old girl) to be awarded a perfect 10 in a modern Olympic gymnast event. Perfect 10? Even if you didn't agree fully with the judges, you had to have been wearing foggy eyeglasses or looking the other way not to have agreed she came darned close.
Wines get that close. But, as with Comaneci, they are rare indeed. Great, transcendental wines are made in exceedingly small quantities and generally, sadly cost a fortune, often sold directly to collectors rather than through the general retail market. Their virtues mainly boil down to balance and complexity. The wines are elegant, not obvious. Their flavours, not just fruity but also savoury, unfold over many seconds and even minutes after each sip. They also generally possess the fruit-tannin-acid harmony to improve in the cellar over decades. Perfection is a tall order.
If any wine in my experience were to merit a perfect score, it would be Château Pétrus 1989. Others would surely give the nod to such wines as La Tâche 1978, Latour 1961 and – most storied of all – Cheval Blanc 1947.
But thankfully there are wines that come pretty close, scoring in the mid-90s, which can be had for less than the price of dinner at a fine restaurant – like this Palazzo Brunello di Montalcino 2006.
The Flavour Principle, a new cookbook and drinks compendium by Lucy Waverman and Beppi Crosariol, is in bookstores everywhere. Published by HarperCollins.