Friday, January 15, 2010

Corvette Wines

With the coming of the new year and the spring, a lot of wines will be changing vintages, causing us to republish the wine list more frequently than during the rest of the year. Because of this, we taste a lot of candidate wines to more or less set the list for the year and to get the heavy editing out of the way during the winter lull. In spite of (or because of) tasting a lot of new wines, I feel the wine curmudgeon inside me just itching to get to the surface.

The sales reps are so right: these wines they are showing me are indeed crowd pleasers and we can indeed sell these wines oh so easily to our customers. But my inner curmudgeon is not happy with many wines he has been tasting recently. These wines—designed to be anything-but-challenging to the palates of the average American diner—are simple, one dimensional, devoid of varietal typicity, and to sum them up in a single word: boring!

Thank you Robert Parker and Wine Spectator for giving top reviews to this style of wine! These facile and easy-to-like wines have you so-called professionals suckered in just like the majority of your readers. They're just like that bright red Corvette: flashy, sexy, red, and very fast in a straight line. It takes more sophistication (or curmudgeonly tendencies) to see beyond to the car that is uncomfortable to sit in for long periods, has no visibility, has no trunk/boot space, takes a fortune to keep in repair and in fuel, and can't corner worth a darn.

That sexy 'vette's pretty fun for the occasional spin, but not one to take on a tour across the country for the long haul. Same with these wines: very sexy and tasty for a one night stand, but not one you're going to bring home to meet mama, great for the first glass and tedious thereafter.

Here's how a typical tasting session goes. The rep pours several glasses of wine. And on looking at them, I see very dark, highly extracted, deep purple, almost opaque wine. Funny, I thought that Pinot Noir was a light bodied, lightly colored wine.

And then I smell them. I get gobs and gobs of vanilla and generally a lot of fruit. What kind of fruit, who can say? Just a big snootful of very, very ripe fruit. All I can tell is that the grapes were hyperripe and that the winemakers have been very generous with their oak regimes. "Why do they all smell the same?" I wonder.

And then on to tasting. The initial impression is generally of alcohol, followed by lots of jammy fruit, loads of glycerin and (in many cases) residual sugar, and of course, lots and lots of vanilla from oak. And I say, "Wow!" in response to my senses being bombarded by obscene amounts of alcohol, fruit, sugar, and oak. The rep beams, "You like it?" I generally ignore this and ask, "What grape is this again?"

And while the rep is talking about harvesting at 29 Brix, cold maceration, and the remarkably long finish, I'm wondering where the acid and tannins, the backbone of the wine, went. And moreover, where its soul went.

When I taste a wine, especially a food wine, I don't want to be bombarded with alcohol, fruit, sugar, or oak. I would like a restrained wine that can play in harmony with food and one that has sufficient acid and tannins to refresh my palate between bites of food. And above all, I never want to ask, "What grape is this again?"

I value diversity in wine and appreciate each grape on its own merits: Sangiovese for its light body and red cherry fruit and Syrah for its weight, white pepper, and slightly funky nose as expressed in classic Chave Hermitage. What I don't appreciate is when I have to ask why the Shiraz, the Cab, the Merlot, and the Malbec that I am tasting all taste the same, all deep red, sexy, and slinky.

I worry that I may be the last of a dying breed, someone who learned wine B.P. (Before Parker). I worry that I am the last of the breed that appreciates acid and tannins, varietal typicity, and diversity. I wonder if any customers will get what I am ranting about.

Thank you again Bob Parker and Marv Shanken, but would you please get your Corvettes out of my parking lot?


  1. You aren't alone. Try googling The Wine Society. But I live in the UK. Things are different here. Roger

  2. Not the last. I'll have to stop by if I ever get another day off besides Monday. Great wine and great women share at least one trait: different is good (usually)!