It is not uncommon for people to taste wine with me, only to then ask "Is this wine any good?" I have never said out loud the thought that runs through my mind. It goes something like "Why ask me? YOU just tasted it!" But the world of wine is a funny thing, and most people, regardless of the size of their wine budget, are willing to spend more on a wine someone else says is "good".
This is not to say there aren't bad wines. Some wines are simply "badly made" or flawed by cork taint or ruined because it was not properly stored. But the vast majority of today's luxury wines ($20+) are without flaws. They are, however, made to fit into an increasingly crowded, confining, and uniform style. Along the way, premium wines from around the globe are tasting more and more alike, losing their ability to reflect the unique flavors of their vineyard. This trend, underway for over 20 years now, has a small, dedicated, and highly respected group of detractors, of self-proclaimed "gadflys".
One such gadfly, Kermit Lynch, penned these poetic words to lament America's love-affair with increasingly big-bodied wines - "Dismissing a wine because it isn't big enough is like dismissing a book because it isn't thick enough, or a piece of music because it isn't loud enough."
Kermit wrote that in 1990, and now, over 15 years and many winemaking "advances" later, America's love affair with bigger and BIGGER wines continues unabated. To wit, average alcohol levels in California red wines were 12.5% in 1990, but are 14.5% today (a 16% increase by volume, just about the alcoholic equivalent of an additional glass of 1990 wine in every one of today's bottles).
And one need not look far to find a producer who favors wines in excess of 15% - if they have enough Big Fruit to balance the high alcohol, such wines perfectly fit today's formula for high ratings. The wine world is nothing if not akin to the worlds of art or fashion - equally prone to fads and styles. And bigger and bigger wines are highly fashionable, a relatively new trend in the ancient world of wine.
Apparently, a lot of people have become convinced that the thickness of a book, the loudness of a piece of music, and the BIGNESS of a wine serve as reliable buying guides. But Kermit is not alone in his love for softer-bodied wines, elegant wines, wines that get panned in comparative tastings today, but will bloom into beautiful swans in later years. Fellow gadfly Dan Berger recently wrote a wonderful commentary on this same subject. Dan, by the way, was one of the judges at the recent "Judgment of Paris" Redux, which repeated the famed Paris tasting of 1976 that put California wines on the world map. To read all of Dan's comments, click here
Quote for the Day:
For it is truly bizarre for artists to be universally ranked among the giants, generation after generation . . . and then to be cast from the highest slopes of Parnassus to the lower slopes of art's ever-growing dust-heap.
Author: Joseph W. Alsop, Jr.