Does It Matter How A Wine is Made or Just Whether You Like It Or Not?

 input-process-output-26790097

As many of you know, I love to partake in other blogs and wine bulletin boards, for these discussions are always ‘fruitful fodder’ for my own blog here. And believe, not a day goes by where another topic comes up that I feel is perfect to ‘verbiage’ about it!

There is constant chatter about being ‘non-interventionist’ when it comes to making wine, ie. taking as few steps as possible in going from grape to bottle. I think all of us can agree that, in theory, this is a desired path, and not only with grapes to wine, but with farm to table, etc.

The reality is that winemakers are interventionists, each and every one of us. By mearly making the decision WHEN to pick a grape, we have intervened. By choosing specific rootstocks to put into the grand, we are intervening. By choosing to age our wines in stainless steel or oak or cement, we are intervening. And on and on and on.

But there are many other steps taken by some, but not all, winemakers to go from grape to bottle, and this is where it gets a bit ‘sticky’. One discussion veered off toward the topic of MegaPurple, a product that was created to give red wine more color and to add a touch of sweetness.

The product itself is created from wine grapes, so it is a legal additive and is approved for use in wine. That said, it is associated with mass production, ‘industrial’ wines that lack color and depth and therefore NEED this product in order to make them palatable and, more importantly, visibly ‘appealing’.

Therefore, should a winemaker admit to using this, they would be ‘banned’ from many a discussion about ‘better’ wines because, you know, it just shouldn’t ‘happen’. These ‘smaller production, higher value’ wines obviously don’t NEED this product because, you know, they are ‘better made’ and more ‘artisinal’.

Guess what – this product, along with others that wine connoisseurs would find ‘unmentionable’, are used by smaller producers from time to time. And what about ‘oak chips’, created so that wines could age in stainless steel but still have that ‘oak flavor and aroma’ that consumers just dig? Again, this product is associated with lower priced industrial wines, but I know of a few producers who have used this, and continue to say in their marketing that their wines are ‘aged in French oak’. They just conveniently forget to add the word ‘chips’ J

Which brings me back to the original question – do you care how a wine is made if you like it? Or in other words, do the winemaker’s means justify the winemaker’s end? Do you truly care if MegaPurple is added if you like the finished product? And just as importantly, how would you feel if that winemaker didn’t disclose this?

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on this today . . .

Cheers!

Are Young Wines ‘Assessed’ Fairly? Depends Upon The Producer, Perhaps?

young wine

 

I enjoy reading a number of different blogs and one that caught my eye was Steve Heimoff’s commentary on the World of Pinot Noir tasting which took place last weekend at the beautiful Bacara Resort in Goleta, just north of Santa Barbara.

He went to a Burgundy vertical tasting of a specific producer’s wines, and he commented that all of them were great, but that only the oldest one was ‘drinkable’ now. Upon further questioning, he felt the younger wines were simply showing too much acid or tannin and simply weren’t balanced – but he did not see this as a fault, but instead, a sign that these wines will continue to age.

This brings up the big question – what if he were tasting a wine from a ‘lesser known’ or ‘unknown’ producer that had these same traits (ie was ‘backwards’ and needed more time to truly strut its stuff). Would he be as ‘kind’ and ‘understanding’ and give it the same benefit of the doubt?

And I’m not trying to single Mr. Heimoff out, as I do appreciate his take on many things wine-related. I believe that most reviewers, without the benefit of a ‘track record’, may indeed not be as kind to a ‘backwards’ wine these days as they may have been, say, two decades ago.

Producers are releasing their wines earlier and earlier to try to recoup their monetary outlays and to try to make room for future vintages. In order to do this, though, many wines are being made in a much more ‘forward’ manner,  wines that are more approachable and drinkable at younger and younger ages.

So what to make of producers who are making wines with plenty of ‘rough edges’, wines that are meant to lay down for a while. Do you still search these out, even if reviewers would ‘pan’ them for not being ‘drinkable’ now?

I’m curious to hear your thoughts on this.

Cheers!

All About Grenache . . .

IMG_20130920_133925_682

As many of you know, I am quite passionate about rhone varieties in general. I believe there is more ‘variety’ in these varieties than in most others, and they tend to be ‘underdogs’ in today’s wine market, something I can appreciate as I’ve always been a fan of ‘the underdog’.

The Connoisseurs’ Guide to California Wines recently posted a blog post about Grenache entitled ‘Next Big Thing or Another Passing Fancy’ and I was intrigued by the thoughts put forth by Stephen Eliot, the author. He expressed his love for the variety, but his ‘frustration’ on not seeing it get more enthusiastic support from the public. Read his post here.

He ponders whether this lack of support is due to the fact that the wine is currently made in so many different styles that consumers can’t ‘understand’ it easily.  Or whether it is because it tends to be a blending grape and rarely stands on its own. Finally, he wonders out loud whether or not Grenache ‘is a varietal capable of real greatness, of complexity and depth that will rival that of the best Cabernets, Pinot Noirs and Syrahs . . .’.

I think these are all valid points, and ones that need to be discussed further. To me, the real issues are as follows:

  • Most consumers have not been exposed to the variety on its own often enough, and therefore more exposure and education has to occur. Go to a Rhone Rangers event and taste these wines – in fact, there will be a seminar devoted to the variety at the next event in early April.
  • Many ‘grenaches’ out there tend to be blends, even those labeled as ‘grenache. When winemakers blend syrah or other varieties into Grenache to ‘give it more structure’ or ‘to add the color missing in the variety’, they, to me, mask the underlying beauty the variety brings forth. Why is it okay to do this with Grenache but NOT okay to do this with pinot noir?
  • Many domestic Grenache producers are starting to price themselves out of the market for these wines, even before there is much of a market. Pricing needs to be kept at reasonable levels for consumers to be willing to give them a shot.
  • Winemakers, in my opinion, need to take a more ‘hands off’ approach to ‘tweaking’ these wines. Lay off the new oak, which will oftentimes cover up what the variety brings to the table rather than ‘adding’ to it. Understand that these wines will tend to be a bit higher in alcohol than other varieties because their skins are incredibly tough and bitter and you have to have the patience to wait to pick until the skins soften.

I would love to hear your thoughts on domestic grenaches and what might be done to shine more light on the variety and expose it to more folks.

Cheers!

Blinded By The Cab . . . or Merlot . . . . or Pinot . . .or Chardonnay . . .

Dark-Clouds

I attend dozens of wine tastings each year, featuring all different types of wines. Most of the events I attend where my wine is being poured feature domestic wines, sometimes from a specific region and sometimes featuring certain varieties.

Most of the time, those in attendance seem to be pretty knowledgeable and ‘open’ about trying what I have to offer, but not always.

I poured at an event recently where at least a dozen people came up, looked at the bottles that I had on display, and then asked whether I had a cabernet sauvignon, or perhaps a merlot, or maybe a pinot. In all three cases, I said I did not, that I did not produce those varieties, but that I had a number of other wines that they may want to try.

In every case, they said thanks but no thanks and walked away. I was able to ‘grab’ a few before moving on and asked if they might be interested in trying the syrahs, grenaches, etc. that I was pouring.  No thank you, I was told over and over, I don’t know what those are.

It’s certainly easy to get overwhelmed at wine tastings, especially tasting where there are dozens of wineries pouring north of 100 wines or more in total. And I can certainly respect those that are ‘on a mission’, only searching out specific varieties or regions to compare and contrast all that are there.

In the cases I mentioned, though, it had more to do with ‘familiarity’ than it did to a specific tasting ‘strategy’. It surprised me quite a bit, because I look at wine tastings as an opportunity to not only reinforce what I believe I like, but to ‘challenge’ myself by trying those things I don’t ‘think’ I’ll like, based on previous experiences with a specific producer, a variety, or a region. To me, that’s one of my favorite parts of a tasting.

What kinds of strategies do you employ at larger wine tastings that may have dozens of producers or more and that you might find 100+ wines at? I’ll be awaiting your replies (-: