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Grape expectations: He sips, he scores with a handy app

A reader emailed me to find out about my take on scoring wines. To score or not to score? And, if I score, do I employ a 20 or 100 point system?

I grew up drinking wine in an age when there was never any attempt to evaluate other than stating a preference for bottle A over bottle B. But as wine writing and wine competitions began to proliferate, so rating systems were invented. Some were numeric, most based on a 0-20 point scale. Others involved symbols like stars or glasses (typically 1-5) or even a row of happy faces.

Around 1985, everything changed. Robert M Parker, an American lawyer who had fallen in love with wine, invented a scoring system he believed would take the mystery and the guesswork out of choosing wine.

As a methodology, it was perfectly suited to the American market where the public have no time for subtle nuances or shades of grey. Here was something an American wine drinker could relate to -- 100 points = 100pc. Trouble was, Robert Parker's influence came to mean a wine's commercial clout could vary hugely according to how he rated it. Minute differences in scores substantially increased or decreased the price the wine could command. A saying arose: "Parker gives a wine 89, no one buys it. Parker gives a wine 91, no one can afford it."

Rather than slavishly follow the numbers, I'd always urge people to find a critic they've come to trust and take their recommendations. But I can see a purpose for scoring and I do use my own 20-point system. Basically, anything I rate 18-20 is 'stellar'; 17-18, 'a class act'; 15-17 'stylish'; 13-15 'decent'; 11-13 'reliable value for money'; 10-12 'only for parties'; anything under eight is basically 'paint stripper'.

Lately, I've been using an excellent Apple app called 'Wine Notes'. Fun, quick and easy to use, I'd recommend it as a useful tool for the wine lover. Clever graphics enable you to note profiling and flavour sensations and a lot of predictive help with filling in cells that contain information like 'Producer', 'Grape Variety', etc. It allows for scoring up to 10 or 100 (I've petitioned Bill, the inventor, for a 20-point alternative, for the moment I just double up). If you want to share your scores, the app allows you to post directly to Facebook or Twitter. You can see other people's scores at #winenotes.

Meanwhile, my tentative 'Chardonnay Fortnight' has escalated into 'Mainly Chardonnay Month'. I bought a mixed case from Curious Wines (www.curiouswines.ie) and thus far I've been delighted with both quality and variety. The curiously named King's Bastard Chardonnay 2009 from Marlborough, NZ (€12.79 on special) is the one for those of you who love the outrageous, uproarious tropical fruit flavours of new world Chardy. The Pogiobello 2009, (pictured) from Udine, Northern Italy, (€11.19 on special) is tighter structured, with a clean, bracing, mineral finish, altogether more refined, less 'shouty'.

Lidl's Chablis Premier Cru 2008 (€14.99) is fast becoming one of my regular 'take-homes'; I don't think it can be bettered for the money.


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