Drinking Outside The Box

With Simon Woods – wine for people who have a life

Having problems scoring? February 26, 2009 at 4:44 pm

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There’s yet another debate on Tom Cannavan’s wine forum about Scoring Systems for wines. And for me, once again it’s shown just how out of touch with normal people some wine geeks can be. Is anyone apart really interested in just how long you can still taste a wine for after you’ve spat it out or swallowed it? Made me think it was time to ressurect a post of mine from a couple of years ago (if it seems familiar, perhaps it’s because it appeared in an old issue of the food & wine newsletter Scoff)


I’ve always had problems scoring – wines, that is. I remember going to a tasting years ago of Setúbal, the Portuguese fortified Muscat, when I was experimenting with the 100-point scale. It was when I gave a wine 120 points that I realised it wasn’t for me. Nowadays, I don’t score wines, I give them medals. So S = silver, S+ = buy me a beer and you might talk me up to gold, while S- = probably a bronze, but I’m feeling benevolent, and so on. I have a trophy category above gold medals, for when my socks have been well and truly blown off (except in summer, when I sometimes wear sandals, but without socks. On these occasions, trophy wines undo my sandals, pour iced water over my throbbing feet, and offer me a pisco sour).

But a rating of B, S+, G(-) and so on next to a wine looks a bit pathetic, so here are my alternative wine categorisations. Firstly…

Plant Pot Wines – As in find the nearest, and tip it in. NBM – Nil By Mouth – is an equivalent. My friend Charles Metcalfe has AE – auto-eject. In other words, totally dreadful wines. You won’t find too many of these around today. A good thing? I’m not so sure. There’s a part of me that says I’d rather come across a totally crap wine than some of the wines in the next tier up – which is…

Waiting Room Wines – Or Accountant Wines, or Argos Wines, or Nail Bar Wines. Wines that make the word ‘bland’ seem dynamic. Wines that you are not aware of having swallowed. Wines that, thinking of the previous category, would make your plant pot sprout second-hand plastic flowers. Drinkable, but instantly forgettable. Let’s move on, although not necessarily to something better…

Heartless Tart Wines – If anything, these are worse than Waiting Room Wines. You can forget a Waiting Room Wine, but there’s no escaping a Heartless Tart. These are wines that have been manufactured by Robo-winemaker to a recipe rather than being allowed to develop in a more natural state. Instead of overdressing, there’s overoaking. Instead of cosmetic surgery, there’s overripeness. Instead of too much make-up, there’s incongruous sweetness and alcohol. Such wines come at all price levels. Ban them from your table, and go instead for…

Breakfast Wines – Not that I’m advocating drinking wine while John Humphries is still heckling politicians. The idea here is that, just as a good breakfast should be honest and wholesome, but without supplying the culinary heights of the day, so a breakfast wine should be a good drink – wet, alcoholic, tasty and drinkable, but not central to the proceedings. If you want something more assertive, head for

Proper Wines – Let’s take ‘wet, alcoholic, tasty and drinkable’ and ratchet it up to the next level. Here, personality comes into play. Stuff ripeness, stuff oak, stuff alcohol, these are wines that rise above winemaking styles and really express a sense of place and, at times, a sense of wildness. Can wine get any better? Well yes, it can…

Wedding Wines – My wedding day remains the best day of my life. Someone told me that they never saw me without a smile on my face, and that’s the sort of wine, we’re talking about here. Wedding Wines should be magnificent, munificent, just wonderful and wonderful. They sound like the ultimate wines. And yet…

Yeah But No But Wines – Is Sushi better than Tapas? Is Machu Picchu better than the Taj Mahal? Is Beethoven better than Eminem? There’s no right answer. These are controversial wines, wines that will have some people drooling, while others will put them in the Plant Pot category. Greatness doesn’t necessarily mean universal appreciation.

So there you have it. Chances that these categories will gain universal approval are slim, but they’re a darn sight more interesting than 85 points or four and a half stars. So, any suggestions for examples of each type? Or of how you grade wines?

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