Without a doubt, Robert Parker is one of the world's most influential wine critics. A high score from The Wine Advocate can instantly boost a wine's reputation and, in many cases, its price as well. Behind the scenes is a lot of hard work: each reviewer at The Wine Advocate submits some 4,000 tasting notes per year.
“If I am to meet my goal, I must taste 11 wines per day including Sundays, my birthday, Christmas Day and New Years,” says Italy reviewer Monica Larner. “If I take off a week for holiday, I am faced with 88 wines on the day I return to work.”
So, when these professional tasters go through the motions, what is it actually like when they taste a perfect score?
When the magical moment happens, Larner is both terrified and liberated at the same time, getting a strong feeling of confident affirmation. “The clouds begin to part, a single beam of sunshine falls to earth with golden luminosity and the angels start to sing. You just know—you are armed with the deep inner security that you could look any person straight in the eye, at any time during your life, and say: ‘Yes, I gave that wine 100 points.’”
“In short, it’s exhilarating to taste a wine that reaches that pinnacle of quality,” says Wine Advocate managing editor Joe Czerwinski, who is in charge of Provence, the Rhône Valley, Languedoc-Roussillon, Australia and New Zealand. “There’s a thrill of anticipation,” he continues. “Because these wines are rarely tasted blind—if at all—and there’s often that little buzz building in advance that you suspect could have the potential for ‘perfection.’”
“I’m giving the 100% score when the wine is technically perfect and—or most of all—leaves me with a sense of wonder,” says Stephan Reinhardt, Wine Advocate’s Germany-based reviewer. “A wine that deserves a full 100 points is touching me, my soul and my brain, and for a moment, I’m blocking out everything else. They are pretty rare, but the impression is so deep and also physical that it won’t be lost, never. There is something unique and very specific in those wines. Every single sip is telling its story, and emptying the bottle is like reading a great book or at least a report. It’s like a great work of art.”
That said, Reinhardt affably states that one must be “in the mood” to taste a potential 100-pointer: “We reviewers are not tasting machines. Giving such a high score means there is no better version of this wine possible or imaginable. At least not in this moment. You love it as it is. A 100-pointer makes you happy and smiling. It’s kind of like having good sex. Just a little bit.”
“And no, it's not just emotion that's drives you to the highest spheres,” he continues. “A perfect wine needs a great terroir and vintage as well—the wine is reporting about its origin and its vintage. It has to be true with respect to its genuine context: its cultured nature. It doesn’t have to be a big wine, but it has to be concentrated and complex, tensioned or vibrant and elegant, persistent and balanced. And it cuts through your brain like a laser beam. You don’t need minutes to give it 100 points, rather, it’s a question of seconds.”
Reinhardt hopes to find a 100-point wine from Champagne. “I have to taste more Champagne because, in all the years I’ve been at The Wine Advocate, not a single one got 100 points! I fear I have to line up a 2002 retrospective—I assume there are some candidates.”