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Is There Grade Inflation Going On In Wine Scoring?

SAN JOSE (KCBS)— Have wine makers recently uncorked the secrets to creating the perfect glass of vino? Noted critic Robert Parker, who rates wines on a 100-point scale for Wine Advocate has given a perfect score to a total of 511 wines, but this number has grown exponentially in recent years. Just five years ago, only 69 wines scored 100 "Parker Points" and in 2004, the number of perfect bottles was only 17.

So what does a perfect score from Parker mean for a particular bottle? We would like to think that 100 points means perfection, but to back up, wine production in the last 25 years has really improved. It's much easier today with modern technology to make a really fine wine without any flaws.

If you're talking about giving wine more than 100 points it has to be more than just flawless. It has to be the best of the best. It's actually a little troubling. Throughout the industry, Parker's reviews are thought of as selecting wines that have a very lush, fruit forward character and are generally high in alcoholic content.

Wines Getting Finer Parker Ratings Due To Taste Or Technology?

We used to speak of how the European wines were always much lower in alcohol than California wines. But in recent years, due to vintners trying to satisfy Parker, there wines are higher in alcohol as well. It leaves a real quandary for someone who's trying to make a fine wine.

To look at the bigger picture, you have to consider what a higher point rating means for wines. They get a higher price; you see Bordeaux wines being sold on first release at $3,000 a bottle or more. California wines sell at $1,200 or $1,300 a bottle on release. These are very limited production wines with high Parker ratings.

There's actually a lab that does testing for Northern California wineries that promises that they can show you how to adjust your wine making to get scores in the 90s from Parker. They've carefully calculated exactly what it is that Parker's looking for with a ratio of fruitiness to alcohol level.

It leaves you with a funny feeling. Are these wines really proving the best of the best or is it just the score that some guy feels like giving it on a day.

Is the wine really getting better? Is Parker like the professor in college who gave out too many A grades on papers? I attend a number of professional wine judgings each year and it's very rare for us to find a wine that we all think deserves 100 points. His point system seems kind of hard to fathom and it makes me uncomfortable.

He may be undermining his own reputation; in fact there are a lot of wineries that don't pay attention to Parker anymore. A lot of people say, wow, here's a wine that's not catered to Parker.

California is starting to get more cabernets down to below 14 percent alcohol. With wine, a label that says 14.5 percent could actually be 15.5 percent. You're legally allowed plus or minus one point. So if you see something labeled 14.9, it's more likely going to be closer to 16 percent. These high alcohol wines just don't work with food. They're fine if you want to use it as a cocktail, but there's an entire generation that has associated wine as something that you enjoy with food, but not as a substitute for cocktails.

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