Thursday, January 04, 2007

Wine Tastes Gud

Never one to shirk from my self-appointed role as hedonist of the wine blogosphere, I have to say that I've now read Tom Wark's recent post three times and I'm still not sure what he's after. Perhaps as a PR rep for Appellation America, he is trying to wrap his head around some new thoughts on the potential for New World Terroir, but frankly it lost me. Rather than reply further and get this lost in the myriad replies, I wanted to post it here with a little more clarity and depth.

I believe that wine is the quintessential beverage of mankind. It represents everything life can bring us - pleasure, joy, communion with God and our fellow man, an appreciation for nature and her works…..because wine brings these things, both small and large, to my life I have always wanted to encourage others to seek it out, to draw it into their own lives to make them as full as mine has been.

Much of the mission of this blog has been in line with that, encouraging both the industry and consumers to reach out to each other to broaden wine's appeal and increase US consumption (to be somewhat blunt). I doubt I've succeeded in any measurable way, "but I'm tryin, Ringo. I'm tryin' real hard to be the shepherd."


That's why my dander gets up a bit when I see the implication that we should be appreciating wine as an intellectual exercise and that expression of terroir should be evident in every wine. As I said in my reply to Tom's post, I don't drink wine for intellectual stimulation. I do love to discuss and debate wine. I've done many blind tastings and argued over many different style issues, but I've never found them to be intellectually stimulating except as it applies to my work. At home, as a consumer, I drink for pleasure. I do not shop for wines as an exercise for my brain, rather I seek those that "taste gud" - I shop for them as an exercise for my soul.


I once worked with a winemaker who played classical music while she worked, not to exercise her brain, but because she said she wanted her "soul to soar" while she crafted her wines. She wasn't after analytical thought - "does this blend best express the terroir of the site?" - she was after an emotional expression - "does this wine taste delicious (her favorite descriptor) and make me happy?"

I'm sure that there are those find the solitary contemplation of a glass of Burgundy equal to a measured reading of Keats, and Tom is probably one of these people, but IMO they constitute less than 5% of all wine drinkers (wine geeks). This is why I don't think that changing New World wine styles to capture a minority that is already captured is going to help either the industry to find more consumers or for more Americans to discover wine. Its already confusing enough, let's not overcomplicate it and further isolate ourselves from those unwashed, non-intellectual masses . [sarcasm]

Bottom line - let me point out what's really being debated here - this is about New World wine style and the perception by some that the expression of terroir is the end-all be-all of winemaking. Let's not mask the desires of those who want wine of a different style (less ripe, less "intervention", more "terroir") under the guise of "intellectual exercise". If you want wines of that style, support them with your dollars, your blog and your reviews. I'll keep drinking wines, both those that express their "terroir" and those that exhibit an "international style" because they taste gud.



(On a related note: my thoughts, for those who are interested, on "terroir" driven wines vs. "style" driven wines and the nebulous concept of "authentic wine" )

Labels: ,

12 Comments:

Anonymous winehiker said...

I'm not sure I buy the intellectual argument, either, but in Tom's defense, I think he was just trying to figure out Dan Berger's article. Because his livelihood appears to depend on it, I believe Mr. Berger is merely reacting to an erosion in wine journalism (bad for journalists) and a growing blogosphere of widening opinion (good for wine consumers).

January 04, 2007 11:29 AM  
Blogger JD said...

Well said. So-called international wines have a definite appeal in a broad spectrum of wines I enjoy. And, this is a category in which many bargains can be found.

January 04, 2007 2:00 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

JD:

Dan Berger won't ever have a problem as a wine journalist. Also, Dan has been discussing the intricacies of terroir and reviews and winemaking techniques and how they are relate long long before Appellation America ever emerged.

That said, my point, in part, is this:

As wine styles tend to move away from authentic depictions of terroir, it becomes much easier to evaluate a bottle of wine and call oneself a "wine reviewer"...or at least act like one. If the merits of a wine need only be judged by how intense and dark the wine is, it becomes quite easy to "review" wine.

I'd like to say that isn't a judgment. But it is.

If we buy the idea that characteristics in wine derived from terroir are really what make wine interesting (and in some cases really really "gud") then understanding the various terroir-derived characteristics that various vineyards and regions deliver is not only a hedonistic but an intellectual excersize.

And, not many people are capable of making judgements about the degree to which a wine is faithful to the terroir.

So, my final point, at least here, is that those who can do this are, in my mind, better wine reviewers.

January 04, 2007 7:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"And, not many people are capable of making judgements about the degree to which a wine is faithful to the terroir."

And not many people really care about the terroir, partly because ther's still too much debate about just what that term even means for them to do so. Shall we include "aromas of sweaty saddles" in our terroir descriptors like they did in the Hunter Valley Shiraz years ago, only later to have that revealed to be rampant Brett infections? If Brett were endemic to a region, would we then be faulted for cleaning it up in our cellar, and branded as anti-terroir winemakers?

I frequently taste wines double-blind, and play the reverse game of trying to decipher what conditions the fruit was grown under, canopy managment, region, etc. And I admit there are wines which I am totally fooled by - sometimes by vintage conditions, other times by the winemakers' choices. But in the end, I prefer the wines taste good and are sound, not that they produce some regionally identifiable character (that I think should be a secondary characteristic of a good wine). Even though many wines aren't "faithful to their terroir", not too many could be accused of being copycats of another - at least not above the $13/bottle level. Oh yes there are trends in winemaking, but there have always been trends in winemaking. These are more obvious because of our increased awareness of other wines from other areas. That "trending" is natural for humanity, and won't stop for the cries of any group.

Wines with more layers of aromas (complexity) and an evolution of experiences during the tasting are of the highest caliber - that should be the primary goal (not intensity, though that can play into the experience quite strongly).
I'm reminded of a review some years back where the report on the wine essentially was "hints of wet burned wood" and the reviewer gave it high marks based solely for its tannin structure even though the wine sounded pretty insipid otherwise.

Nicolas

January 05, 2007 8:39 AM  
Blogger St. Vini said...

"But in the end, I prefer the wines taste good and are sound, not that they produce some regionally identifiable character (that I think should be a secondary characteristic of a good wine). Even though many wines aren't "faithful to their terroir", not too many could be accused of being copycats of another - at least not above the $13/bottle level. Oh yes there are trends in winemaking, but there have always been trends in winemaking. These are more obvious because of our increased awareness of other wines from other areas. That "trending" is natural for humanity, and won't stop for the cries of any group."

Nicolas: I sincerely wish I'd written that. Brilliantly stated. I think the trend is turning for "big" wines and that's great, but lets not over-react and put all wines in a single "terroir" box.

Tom: If Alder Yarrow, for example, has not done a rigorous study of NZ wines, with decades of experience behind him, he's wasting his time reviewing them right now, no?

I think Dan Berger is a 4-star reviewer and I never miss his column, but with the decline in newspaper subscriptions, and the continuing growth of blogging (8% of adults blog yet 40% of adults read blogs) traditional wine reviewing is going to evolve significantly in the coming years. If Dan wants to hang his hat on terroir, it will be interesting to see where his career as a reviewer and judge ends up.

Lead, follow, or get out of the way!

Cheers,
V

January 05, 2007 9:13 AM  
Anonymous Al said...

I disagree.
Anyone can review a wine. No special authority is conferred by study to pronounce when a wine tastes "gud" to the taster. And so what if a wine tastes good relative to other producers in its area when in the overall it's not, say, in the top 25~30% of what's tasted.
Sounds like the same old "that's no fair!" call that you heard on the playground when someone didn't like what the other person said.

Producers put their wines into the marketplace, after that there's no guarantee that they'll be tasted against other wines from the same area, and frankly it doesn't matter that "winery A" had a very good year relative to "winery B" in the same area when "winery Z" from somewhere else kicks both their asses at the same price.
If someone is looking for a "butternut squash" regional note then great for them, but I still get to say whether it tastes good to me and my review is as valid as anyone else's.

I wants my winery Z wines, please!

January 05, 2007 9:19 AM  
Anonymous Jerry D. Murray said...

What I am hearing is that for a wine to express 'terrior' a certain winemaking recipe must be followed. I keep hearing about: less ripeness, less extraction, less wood etc. I would agree that wines made in this manner would likely be more subtle in profile but does that absolutely mean they express 'terrior' better? Perhaps the characters imparted by place do not simply vanish but change as grapes are left to hang or as ferments are made more extractive. Perhaps 'terrior' driven wines are just another facet of style.
I get the impression most of the wine community believes that a wine show it's 'terrior' because a winemaker has deliberately chosen to make it do so. As a winemaker I would postulate the opposite is true "wines will display a sense of place unless a winemaker deliberately makes them not do so".
If we believe that 'terrior' is not a relative matter but absolute and that only certain styles of wine are capable expressing it then we find ourselves on a slippery slope. At what point does a wine no longer display 'terrior'? More importantly who will be in the cartel that declares whether or not a wine is authentic?

January 05, 2007 10:30 AM  
Blogger Tom said...

"Tom: If Alder Yarrow, for example, has not done a rigorous study of NZ wines, with decades of experience behind him, he's wasting his time reviewing them right now, no?"

I'm not suggesting that if a person is incapable of distinguishing the various terroir driven characteristics in regions or vineyards their reviews are illegitamate. I'm suggesting that those who can are better qualified and more useful reviewers.
----------------------------

"I think Dan Berger is a 4-star reviewer and I never miss his column, but with the decline in newspaper subscriptions, and the continuing growth of blogging (8% of adults blog yet 40% of adults read blogs) traditional wine reviewing is going to evolve significantly in the coming years. If Dan wants to hang his hat on terroir, it will be interesting to see where his career as a reviewer and judge ends up."

First, I'd be interested to know how "wine reviewing is going to evolve significantly" as a result of blogging. Are you refering to the act of reviewing or the way reviews are consumed.

As for Dan's career, there will always be need for experts and evangelists in any discipline. Regardless of the way people consume information, the degree of laziness that infuses a discipline or how tastes change.

Hanging one's hat on the notion that wine is more interesting when issues of place, regionality and terroir are in play will certainly appeal to a small segment of wine drinkers. This is likely why Dan's newspaper columns are more...easy to read...than his newsletter articles, which are meant for a more discerning bunch.
-----------------------------

"Even though many wines aren't "faithful to their terroir", not too many could be accused of being copycats of another - at least not above the $13/bottle level."

This I need to take issue with. There are a number of winemakers and services in high demand for the production of $13 and much higher priced wines EXACTLY because they can make wines of a very particulary (copycat? Yes) style. Furthermore, when intensity and extraction are the style that consistently receive the highest scores in a marketing environment where scores are critical to the success of fine wine you find a real insentive for copy cat styles.
------------------------------

"I keep hearing about: less ripeness, less extraction, less wood etc. I would agree that wines made in this manner would likely be more subtle in profile but does that absolutely mean they express 'terrior' better?"

Yes.
----------------------------
"Perhaps the characters imparted by place do not simply vanish but change as grapes are left to hang or as ferments are made more extractive. Perhaps 'terrior' driven wines are just another facet of style."

I don't think the characteristics of the terroir are stripped out. I just think too often they are masked to the point of irrelevence. And this is an absolutely legitimate way to go about making wine. Don't get me wrong. However, when this is done you are generally tasting the the creation of the winemaker far more than the creation of the place. Again, entirely legitimate approach to winemaking: Empahsis on person, de-emphasis on place. I just find it less interesting and less intellectually stimulating.

January 06, 2007 11:32 PM  
Anonymous Al said...

The larger issue of regional character when talking of terroir will probably always show through (climate & weather), and we can look at the various vintages in the EU where summer weather has been warmer & sunnier than in other years to see this is true.

While wines from those stellar years with a bit more heat generally are much more enjoyable than those from rainier and cold-cloudy years, the "style" doesn't really change over time - or at least not as fast as it does in the New World. And that these wines still show the region they come from even though the fruit is riper indicates that the masking of terroir is most likey dependent on what the winemaker is doing to the fruit when it hits his cellar doors.

Having said that, it still doesn't appear to be much of an issue with the majority of wine drinkers, as consumer trends continue to search out wines with more fruit, and less of what we usually call terroir aspects (earthiness, minerality, herbaceous characters, etc).

Al

January 07, 2007 9:49 AM  
Blogger St. Vini said...

"First, I'd be interested to know how "wine reviewing is going to evolve significantly" as a result of blogging. Are you refering to the act of reviewing or the way reviews are consumed."

Both. As you are someone who crows about the many virtures of wine blogging, I'm frankly surprised that I need to answer this for you. I'd venture a guess that Alder has had more "growth in eyeballs/traffic" recently than Berger, WS, WE, W&S, etc. over the last 12 months. Why? He's free and he's good. Newspaper and Magazines are struggling to find eyeballs, people are increasingly turning to the web for data, news, and (IMO) wine reviews. The NYT has a blog, WS has blogs. Do I really need to go on...?

V

January 08, 2007 9:35 AM  
Anonymous johng said...

Not sure I have a dog in this fight, if that's the right expression, but I certainly agree that for me and for 99% of the people out there, "tasting gud" is the most important thing I want from a wine.

However, I do think that your music analogy tends to argue against your case. Sure, a nice piece of classical on the hi-fi can get your "soul to soar" even if you don't know a bit about music (and even if you don't believe in the soul) But I have to think that you're capable of enjoying it even more if you know a little bit about the composer and his times, and maybe know how to read music and and pick out the various instruments, motifs, harmonies, etc. Further, a piece by Bach or Mozart will appeal to most people the first time they hear it, while something by Bartok, Stravinski, or Cage might sound like noise. But if you give those works a few listens and maybe learn a little more about them, you'll start to "get" them and enjoy them. I'm not saying that there is necessarily a parallel to this in wine, though certainly many drinkers take a while to warm up to certain varietals, or they may start with whites and learn to enjoy reds, or start with sweet and learn to enjoy dry, so the bar of what tastes gud can move around a bit for each of us.

January 09, 2007 1:52 PM  
Anonymous Jerry D. Murray said...

Tom addresses my comments regarding less winemaker involvement ( less oak, less extraction, less ripeness ) as a more 'pure' expression of 'terrior'. He provides a simple one word answer...Yes.
Tom how many of the great red wines of the world are made in stainless steel, picked green and made without skin contact? If you believe less is better, in terms of 'terrior', this would be the formula for the most pure expressions.
We both know that this is not the case, winemaker use barrels ( new or used they impart character ), employ skin contact to various degrees, and of course pick 'ripe' fruit ( give me a set criteria to determine ripe...please).
What about the vineyard? No great winemaker just lets his vines do thier thing, unless they are blessed with the perfect site ( does not exist ). They employ shoot thinning, leaf pulling, crop thinning as routine vineyard practices. Are we led to believe that these activities do not effect wine style? To what extent can we employ these tools and still make wines which show 'terrior'.
I am trying to make the case that all wines show a style. The style is the result of vineyard and cellar activities. In terms of 'terrior' there is a continuum of expressions within the style spectrum, NOT AN ABSOLUTE POINT where a wine shows 'terrior' or not.
YES doesn't answer the complex set of questions that surround 'terrior'. From this stand point your postion is no different than the hedonistic 'bigger is better' crowd; it is absolute and fails to take into account the complex nature of winegrowing and winemaking.
Next time you open one of your favorite 'terrior' driven wines consider what descions the winemaker/grower made to arrive at what is in your glass. Did they make these desicions because they show 'terrior' or because they believe that this is the way to make the best wine?

January 10, 2007 10:45 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home