“Assuming 100 to be the standard for best”: The 100-point wine scale predates Robert Parker’s by 125 years
During my recent visit to Albuquerque I came across numerous references indicating that the wines of Bernalillo, located just north of Albuquerque, were celebrated next to those of El Paso in what is now Texas. One such example appears in Colonel James F. Meline’s account of his summer tour Two Thousand Miles on Horseback (1866). Colonel Meline took time to stop and taste several of the wines in Bernalillo. He found that the “wines are capable, with proper treatment, of being made excellent” from the “superior” grapes. Unfortunately, the wine was “inexpertly handled” and “used almost as fast as made”. Thus old wines were “almost out of the question.” It was later in Albuquerque that he was able to drink a Bernalillo wine “that was quite as good as any made at El Paso.”
Colonel Meline must have been suitably impressed by the Bernalillo wine he tasted in Albuquerque for he sent two bottles to the American Wine Growers’ Association of Cincinnati, Ohio. The Association published in its proceedings, which Colonel Meline reproduced in his appendix, that the 1861 white wine received a “vote 90” and the red wine “81.” According to George Graham, Esquire, President of the Association, the white wine “was considered better than most wines of the same age, either of Catawba or good Rhine wine.” The wines were judged “by figures marked up to 100, which is the highest character of wine of any kind…Most of our Ohio wine does not reach the excellence of the wine presented to you.”
It is by pure chance then that I should encounter descriptions of an early 100-point rating system in the history of the wines of New Mexico. The rating system was equally applied to all wines and in this instance alone, to those of New Mexico, Ohio, and Germany. This is a remarkable discovery given that Robert Parker is credited with promulgating the 100-point scale over a century later with his launch of The Wine Advocate in 1978. This scale is much criticized by Hugh Johnson who wrote it “is apparently based on the American High School marking system”. There were earlier 100-point scales in use such as one created by Professor William Cruess in 1935. That the scale used by the American Wine Growers’ Association predates Prohibition and even the American Civil War places it in the early years of the American commercial wine industry.
The American Wine Growers Association of Cincinnati was founded in 1851 as an outgrowth of the Cincinnati Horticultural Society. It was modeled on the German Wein Bau Verbesserungs Gesellschaft (Wine Farmers’ Improvement Society) to “promote the cultivation of the grape, the preparation of wine in its greatest purity, and the encouragement of such efforts”. The society was to measure “the specific gravity of wines, and noting their properties and qualities.” This was a very important association for by 1859, Ohio was the top producer of wine in America.
The Wine Growers Association held monthly meetings where they visited vineyards, discussed techniques, and tasted wines. They immediately held a “Wine Examination” where they tasted 45 different wines on March 29, 1851. These wines were “marked with numbers, in uniform bottles, without any designation”. The wines were tasted four at a time with each member of the committee silently voting on their “choice sample”. From each group, the bottle with the majority vote was set aside for additional rounds of tasting until the top three wines were chosen. This method remained the standard for nearly two years.
The association continued to critically examine and rank wine. The majority of the wines tasted were made from Catawba since that was the favorite grape of the state. The Association soon realized that it needed to hedge against the increasing spread of Catawba vines exhibiting disease. To find other hardy varieties that made equally good wine, a group of eight gentlemen visited the estate of Nicholas Longworth during October 1852. Nicholas Longworth is considered a pioneer in the American wine commercial industry. Over several years Nicholas Longworth had accumulated some 100 grapevines from different parts of America. The group took the opportunity to taste and note grapes from 27 different varieties. From these vines Nicholas Longworth produced small batches of wine that were submitted to the association for critical tasting. These wines were tasted several months later on January 29, 1853. For the first time, the wines were rated using a 100-point scale with “good Catawba being assumed 100”. The scale allowed the Association to decide “upon the merits of the wines”. The tasters assigned a “grade…at such lower number as he deemed it entitled to”. Final grades were formed from all of the results.
Here are a few of the wines rated on January 29, 1853.
Of Mr. Longworth’s specimens, “all new wines”:
- Cox, rated at 70. High perfume: Mosher, marked 100.
- Danville, rated at 50. High flavor, Brace; others poor.
- Winter, rated at 24. Some marked 0.
- Fermented on skin, rated as 31. Marked 0 by three.
Mr. Rehfuss’ “experimental wines”
- Catawba, 1851, manured, rated 97.
- Catawba, 1851, not manured, rated 89.
- Catawba, 1852, manured, rated 100. Better than other new wines.
- Catawba, 1852, not manured, rated 92.
- Catawba (Ohio) 1848, Rehfuss, rated 93. Good.
- Catawba (Kentucky) 1848, Rehfuss, rated 93. Good.
- Catawba (Kentucky) 1852, J. Rintz, rated 91. Fine, very good.
- Missouri, 1848, rated 35. Spoiled.
- Foreign wine, (Hock,) 1846, rated 45. Very pleasant.
- Foreign wine, (Hock,) 1846, rated 71. Very bitter.
I have not yet found any discussion regarding the specific implementation of this scale. It does appear this scale was required to scientifically determine the best replacement for the Catawba vine. This 100-point scale became the subsequent standard for all of the Association’s tastings including the best in class tastings. The scale was applied to both experimental and commercial domestic wine as well as foreign wines. The scale continued to be used as a “vote upon the quality” of wine through at least 1870. The results of these tastings were published in horticultural journals and occasionally in the newspapers. It appears that the 100-point scale has deeper roots in the American wine industry than previously credited.
 Meline, James Florant. Two Thousand Miles on Horseback. 1868. URL: https://books.google.com/books?id=9ZVOAAAAMAAJ&pg=PR1#v=onepage&q&f=false
 Johnson, Hugh. Wine A Life Uncorked. University of California Press.
 Noble, A.C. “Wine tasting is a science”, California Agriculture, July 1980. URL: https://ucanr.edu/repositoryfiles/ca3407p8-72264.pdf
 The Horticultural review and botanical magazine, Volume 1. 1851. URL: https://books.google.com/books?id=SAIfAAAAIAAJ&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false
 History of Ohio Wines. The Ohio Department of Agriculture. URL: http://www.tasteohiowines.com/history-of-ohio-wines.aspx
 The Horticultural review and botanical magazine, Volume 3. 1853. URL: https://books.google.com/books?id=MgMfAAAAIAAJ&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false
 American Wine-Growers’ Association. Saturday, June 25. Date: Sunday, June 26, 1870 Paper: Cincinnati Daily Enquirer (Cincinnati, OH) Volume: XXXIV Issue: 176 Page: 4
I have wanted to write about the experimental vineyard of New Mexico for some time but have not yet found that time! The vineyard was the site for studies of both table and wine grapes until the early 20th century. Until I can devote further attention, here is an image of 25 varieties that were grown including Thompson’s Seedless, Chasselas Napoleon, Madre Field Comet, Trousseau and more!
 Varieties Grown at the Experiment Station. New Mexico State University. Agricultural Experiment Station. Bulletin, Volumes 50-70. 1904. URL: https://books.google.com/books?id=6JY1AAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false
It was only a couple years ago that I started trying local wines during my visits to New Mexico. In my limited experience I have found the wines of Milagro Vineyards to be savory and weighty. The 2009 Milagro Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon is decisively weighty with bell pepper, green house notes, and vintage perfume. It has surprising heft for the relatively low alcohol level. It is not my style of wine but does remind me of some younger wines from Virginia and I have no doubt there are plenty of fans. The 2010 Milagro Vineyards, Syrah offered cleaner fruit, tartness, and a hint of minerals. I still think that Syrah is a strong variety for New Mexico and if you have never had a wine from this state, you cannot go wrong with this one. These wines were purchased at Jubilation Wine & Spirit in Albuquerque.
2009 Milagro Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon – $25
This wine is Cabernet Sauvignon that was aged for 21 months in French oak. Alcohol 12.3%. The color was an older looking light to medium garnet. The nose revealed fresh, moist bell pepper aromas. In the mouth was a rounded start to the weighty, black fruit. There were ripe, almost chewy tannins that were in balance. The wine finished with vintage perfume, green house notes, and a sweet fruit aftertaste. Becomes more weighty and savory with air. * Now.
2010 Milagro Vineyards, Syrah – $28
This wine is Syrah that was aged for 21 months in French oak. Alcohol 13.9%. This was the most weighty and rounded of the two with savory, clean fruit. There was a hint of racy black fruit, a little greenhouse note, and a generally clean nature. There were tart red fruit hints at the back sides of the tongue and a hint of hard minerals. ** Now-2016.
Jacques Puffeney and Michel Gahier are neighbors in Montigny-les-Arsures which is a regarded as the “prime site” for Trousseau in Jura. Their two wines which are featured in today’s post were imported by Rosenthal Wine Merchant. That is where the similarity ends. While the 2011 Jacques Puffeney, Trousseau, Cuvee Les Betangeres, Arbois reflects the two additional years of age, it is a darker wine with complexity increased by earth and bacon fat. In contrast the 2013 Michel Gahier, Trousseau, Les Grans Vergers, Arbois is brighter with red fruit, citric notes, and minerality. While I do not have any experience with mature Trousseau, I think it is fairly obvious that both of these bottles will continue to develop and last for many years. I recommend that you grab some friends to try both bottles together. These wines were purchased at MacArthur Beverages.
2011 Jacques Puffeney, Trousseau, Cuvee Les Betangeres, Arbois – $34
Imported by Rosenthal Wine Merchants. This wine is 100% Trousseau that was fermented in cuve then aged for 20 months in used foudre. Alcohol 13%. There were more fruity flavors with a touch of roundness that became racy towards the finish. Drier tannins supported the wine from underneath. There was a depth to the flavor that was forward in a way but still young. With air the complex dark flavors became a little earthy with cherry flavors and bacon fat. So drinkable. ***(*) Now-2022.
2013 Michel Gahier, Trousseau, Les Grans Vergers, Arbois – $34
Imported by Rosenthal Wine Merchants. This wine is 100% Trousseau sourced from 60-70 year old vines that was aged in old foudre and barrel. Alcohol 12.5%. The nose bore darker red fruits that mixed with fresh floral aromas from a green house. In the mouth were lively red fruit and black minerals before racy, citric red fruit came out. There were good ripe, citric pithe tannins in the structure. There was a dry, black finish with a perfumed aftertaste. With air the wine took on more acidic, greenhouse, and black pepper notes. *** 2016-2022.
If the wines of Bruno Duchêne (Bruno Duchene), Cyril Fhal (Domaine Clos du Rouge Gorge), and Jean-Louis Tribouley (Jean-Louis Tribouley) entice you then you must try the wines of Loïc Roure (Domaine du Possible). Rather than re-hashing background information I suggest you read Domaine du Possible: Côtes du Roussillon from Loïc Roure. The 2013 Domaine du Possible, Charivari, Cotes du Roussillon is one of those ethereal yet impossibly aromatic, flavorful, and mouth filling wines. It has true barnyard aromas, which may not be for everyone, followed by a balance of delicately ripe fruit, minerals, acidity, and structure. It is different than what I have drunk from the Côtes du Roussillon and is just generally unique. This is “natural wine” done right. This wine was purchased at MacArthur Beverages.
2013 Domaine du Possible, Charivari, Côtes du Roussillon – $26
Imported by Louis/Dressner. This wine is 100% Carignan sourced from vines 30-106 years old on soils of gneiss that underwent 100% Carbonic maceration. Alcohol ?%. Barnyard and natural wine aromas immediately wafted from the glass. In the mouth was a hint of sparkle on the tongue tip for this lighter yet filling wine. The flavors had less earth and barnyard than the nose. The gentle, ripe flavors mixed with minerals and were generally clean before a touch of barnyard returned in the finish. There was a very long and ethereal aftertaste. This wine remained balanced with delicately ripe fruit, minerals, and minimal structure suggesting a wine for now rather than aging. **** Now-2016.
The strange label and capped bottle shaped like those used for sparkling wine led me to believe this was a sparkling red wine. Despite what was in the bottle I knew I would be in for a ride since the wine was imported by Louis/Dressner. The company website yielded no specific clues under the “Wine” description section. Instead there is the fun statement, “WITH THE EXCEPTION OF ALVAS, THEY CHANGE EVERY YEAR! CUT US SOME SLACK!”. It turned out to be a still red wine so I let the bottle warm up. .it had enough of the tell-tale natural wine profile that Jenn did not like it. If it weren’t for the cardamom aroma I might have been put off but fortunately I tasted the wine and rather enjoyed it. In the end I found it a wacky, fun wine that should be aged until the spring. This wine was purchased at MacArthur Beverages.
NV Gianfranco Manca, Panevino, Lot N R112, Delirante nelle Peggio – $22
Imported by Louis/Dressner. This wine is 100% Cannonau. Alcohol 14.5%. The nose was aromatic, evocative of a natural wine but also had a beguiling cardamom note. In the mouth this natural red wine showed brighter red fruit that built up ripeness and texture. There was no spritz but it had a very lively middle. There were minerals, fresh perfume, and a citric flavor matched by fine, black pepper flavors. The acidity was tangy and caused salivation. The wine oscillated between open and closed so might be best after a few months of age. **(*) 2015-2018.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from Hogshead Wine! I hope you enjoy all of your wines this holiday season.
 Ewing, Juliana Horatia. Snap-Dragons. A Tale of Christmas Eve and Old Father Christmas. 1888. URL: