What’s Behind a Perfect 100 Score?

Wine Enthusiast’s editors dish on their ultimate “wow moment.”

­­I’ve been reviewing spirits for Wine Enthusiast for about five years. I’ve granted plenty of scores 90-plus, and several 95 or higher. But a perfect 100? That had eluded me, until just a few months ago.

It was a Japanese whisky—specifically, Nikka’s Miyagikyo Single Malt 12 Years Old—that changed the game.

“Elegant,” I had written. “Balanced mix of honey, fresh apples, vanilla, delicate smoke, a touch of espresso on the finish. It’s firing on all cylinders.” It was a glass I didn’t want to put down, and I happily drained every drop.

But in July, Nikka announced that the Miyagikyo, along with three other age-statement whiskies, would only be available in the U.S. on a limited basis. Surging demand for Japanese whisky had sharply dwindled supply. In other words, the bottle had just become almost impossible to get.

So why bother to trumpet its awesomeness? Because it was unquestionably worthy. But, just like that, my first 100-pointer got away.

That got me wondering, how did my fellow editors know and feel when they’d discovered perfection?

“My perfect-scorers have certain things in common, including finesse, radiance and complexity,” said Kerin O’Keefe, Italian editor. “But it was their impeccable, seamless balance that completely blew me away.”

Contributing Editor Paul Gregutt, who reviews wines from Oregon and Canada, took a more romantic view. “Perfect is a highly subjective assessment, one that, like true love, cannot be hunted down. It must find you. When it does, you will know.”

Gregutt’s first 100-pointer was a Royal’s 2006 City Syrah made in Washington. It took three tastings before he committed to that score.

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“It kept dogging me, like a dream you can’t shake, whispering to me, ‘100 points, 100 points, 100 points,’ “ he said. “Eventually, I began to pay attention.” His tasting note serves as confirmation. “There is nothing missing, from the first sniff to the last sip, the wine delivers on all levels.”

Meanwhile, European Editor Roger Voss reminisced about Quinta do Noval’s 2011 Nacional Vintage Port.

“I remember the balance first, the fact that its fruit was so direct, its tannins so ripe,” Voss said. “You could almost drink it there and then. But then I thought—this wine will outlive grandchildren, not just me. It had that supreme quality of a really great wine. As it ages, it will constantly fascinate and amaze.”

This feedback confirmed what I already suspected: A great bottle is about more than just technical perfection. (Although yes, it is about that, too.) It’s also about the intangible, the feelings it inspires. It’s the bottle you can’t get out of your mind. It whispers in your ear. It provokes awe, or in my case, it was the glass I just couldn’t bear to put down.

Yet, even though I didn’t get to publish my first perfect score, I won’t despair. After all, there are still plenty of bottles on my shelves waiting for review. Who knows? A second 100-pointer might be there right now, just waiting to find me.

Published on February 22, 2016
Topics: Ratings
About the Author
Kara Newman 
Spirits Editor

Kara Newman reviews spirits and writes about spirits and cocktail trends for Wine Enthusiast. She's the author of several cocktail books, including Shake.Stir.Sip. and NIGHTCAP: More than 40 Cocktails to Close Out Any Evening, which debuts in September 2018. Email: spirits@wineenthusiast.net




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