What do I mean by relative? To be concise, the scale is built for certain wines and not for others, or wines are considered in comparison to other wines. For example, big, plush, chewy Cabernet Sauvignon, or rich, honey-laced sweet wine are the types of wines that are able to garner a 100. The scale only dols out the ultimate reward to wines that are big, full-bodied, uber intense, and rich.
What’s wrong with that, those wines are delicious? Amen, they are delicious, and many of them deserve to be called perfect wines of their class. But what about varietal and regional typicity? Should all Sauvignon blancs be made sweet and rich so they have the right to be perfect 100s? Are there no close to perfect flinty, dry, complexly layered Sauvignon blancs? What about New World Merlot? Merlot will never be as plush and largesse as Cabernet, does this mean it is not everything it is supposed to be (critics attack me here, suppose and ought are dangerous words)?
My questions are not arbitrary. I have looked at every score WS has given New World Sauvignon blanc (SB) and Merlot. Out of nearly 4000 entries since the mid-80s, WS has never given a SB higher than a 94, and that only 3 times (93 – 8 times, 92 – 10 times). Perhaps they might argue they simply have never received a wine that warrants higher than this. But out of 4000 wines, not a one was a near perfect example of what Savvy ought (!) to be? What about Merlot? Out of over 6000 entries, it has reached the heights of 96 95 once each (94 – 16 times, 93 – 41 times). 6000 entries, 20 years, no Merlot for 100! Perhaps I should applaud their high standards. If you venture across the pond, the scores do go up. For appellations that produce predominantly Merlot based wines, 100s have been bestowed. As far as I can tell, Didier Daganeau is the only one to achieve scores for Savvy above 94, he managed a few 96s (and I think they were dry wines from the Loire). Indeed Daganeaus wines are superb! So is the scale bent toward Europe? For all their complaining about Parker and WS forcing them to change their winemaking, should they perhaps be thanking them?
Are Parker, WS, Wine Enthusiast useful? Absolutely! With the mammoth amount of a wine on a shelf, they are a great guide. But I think it behooves us as consumers to understand the implications of not only the way tastings are conducted and how it may impact the perception of individual wine but also the significance of the scale used.