The kind of wine that should get 100 points from the critics, but doesn’t

Many people have observed that today’s major wine critics seem to award their highest scores to wines of a certain profile. If a wine gets, say, 95 points or more on a 100-point scale, it seems like certain words tend to pop up in the tasting note: “massive”, “concentrated”, “powerful”, “hedonistic”, and “opulent” leap to mind, usually embellished with exclamations about “gobs and gobs of fruit” or “a finish that goes on and on for over 60 seconds!”

I like big wines as much as the next guy, but the wines that really scramble my brain are the ones that don’t have to knock you backwards with power to impress you – they’re the ones with a sense of dynamics, subtlety, complexity – wines with more than one gear. The ones where you judge it with your palate and not a stopwatch – based on the quality and beauty of the flavors, not on how many seconds that the overextracted fruit flavors register for in your mouth.  Let’s take wine appreciation away from the realm of competitive sport, shall we?

I recently came across a wine that could be the poster child for my argument. I hesitated to write about this wine, because I recently did an episode on this blog about a wine from the same producer. But some wines just demand attention, and at a recent Polaner tasting in New York, this wine stood head and shoulders above not only the many fine wines poured that day, but also above almost every other wine I’ve ever tasted.

The wine I’m talking about: the 1991 R. Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Gran Reserva, a classic rioja rendered as flawlessly as I’ve ever had the pleasure to taste. Right out of the gate, the nose has so much going on – an airy openness, an oxidative note, a hint of a savory element, spice, leather, tobacco – all anchored by a pleasing sweetness to the fruit that is not powerful, but incredibly impactful.   The nose is just thrilling and sets up so much anticipation for tasting the wine, which is just what the nose of a wine should do in my book.

The palate, thankfully, lives up to the pleasure given off by the bouquet of the wine. The Continue reading