A wine rating is a summary of the appraisal of a wine by one or more critics, most notoriously Robert Parker, who assigns ‘Parker points’ on a scale of 0 to 100—although the lowest possible score is 50, scores of less than 70 are rare, and scores of less than 80 are uncommon. Since the 1970s, the practice of rating wines on a 100-point scale has proliferated. Other scales, including 0-to-20 and 0-to-5 (sometimes featuring stars in lieu of numbers), are also in use. Certain websites enable consumers to emulate critics by contributing to ‘community’ notes and scores. In competitions, wines are generally tasted blind by a panel of critics, usually alongside other wines from the same appellation or region. In theory, a rating is merely intended to supplement a tasting note; in practice, the tasting note—if it even exists—is often ignored or omitted, with the wine reduced to nothing more than a headline number.
In the 1st century the Romans established the region of Alsace, then part of the province of Germania Superior, as a centre of viticulture. In more recent history, Alsace has at times been German and at other times French, but at all times, and above all, proudly Alsatian. Despite the centralizing tendency of the French Republic, the region still retains a strong and separate identity, with its own language, culture, cuisine, and wine tradition, which revolves around not French but Germanic grape varieties. Alsatian wines are, for the most part, single varietal white wines, with the most prized made from Riesling,
Our sense of taste arises from specialized sensory cells in taste buds on the tongue, palate, soft palate, and in the throat. There are around 5,000 taste buds in the mouth, each with 50-100 sensory cells or chemoreceptors. These sensory cells are responsive to one of five groups of chemicals, with each chemical within a group interpreted as one of the five fundamental tastes: alkaloids as bitterness, sugars as sweetness, ionic salts as saltiness, acids as sourness, and amino acids as umami or savouriness. Although some parts
True cork taint is due to 2,4,6-trichloroanisole (TCA), formed when certain phenolic compounds react with chlorine-containing compounds used as disinfectants. This need not result from the cork, as TCA is also found in barrels and other winery equipment. If there is a high degree of cork taint, the wine smells musty (‘like wet cardboard’) and falls flat on the palate, without fruit or vibrancy. Some people are very sensitive to cork taint, others much less so.
Early foragers and farmers made wine from wild grapes or other fruits. According to archaeological evidence, by 6000BC grape wine was being made in the Caucasus, and by 3200BC domesticated grapes had become abundant in the entire Near East. In Mesopotamia, wine was imported from the cooler northern regions, and so came to be known as ‘liquor of the mountains’. In Egypt as in Mesopotamia, wine was for nobles and priests, and mostly reserved for religious or medicinal purposes. The Egyptians fermented grape juice in amphorae that they covered with cloth or leather lids and then sealed up with mud from the Nile. By biblical times, wine had acquired some less dignified uses.
In many European wine regions, the wines and culinary traditions developed reciprocally such that the wines naturally pair with the regional fare. Many of these so-called ‘food wines’ can seem overly tart or tannic if drunk on their own, but come alive once paired with food, and, in particular, those foods that they co-evolved with. If you respect these time-honored pairings, you are much less likely to go wrong.