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Winemaking

A Deepening Hatred

corks There are certain wines you just treasure. You go to your cellar to get the bottle with a sense of pleasure and anticipation. Often these bottles are rare. You have just a few bottles, or, even more exciting, it's your last bottle.

Most wines that give me such feelings are red, but in this case it was a bottle of white wine. I was only able to get a few bottles of the current releases from Domaine Alice & Olivier De Moor's wonderful domaine in Chablis. The star of the group was the 2005 Chablis Bel Air et Clardy, of which I got only two bottles in my allocation from Chambers St Wine Merchants. The first was exceptional. Tight and firm with a delicious minerality and never-ending finish, it was everything you could hope for in a chardonnay.

Now I know I should have waited. I should have let it age a few more years, but the crab legs were just too perfect and too fresh and I could not resist. Off I went to get the bottle with the excitement I mentioned above. I pulled the cork, poured the wine and raised the glass to my nose. It was so corked I almost gagged. No little corkiness here, but a glass full of smelly, offensive junk.

I am developing a deepening hatred of corks. Enough is enough.

Spoofulated: Wine Blogging Wednesday

wbwlogo It’s Wine Blogging Wednesday and hosts Erin and Michelle of The Grape Juice Blog have chosen the letter “S”, with a tip of the hat to Sesame Street, as the topic of the day. Immediately I thought of one of today’s hottest wine topics: Spoofulation.

Alice Feiring rages against the machine. Natural wines are the only wines. The problem is, of course, is that no one agrees on what natural wines are. There are natural, organic, biodynamic and sustainable growers and winemakers, but not one definition of what is natural wine exits. Except, of course, for Alice’s and she is sure she is right. The term that has arisen to describe over-manipulated wines is spoofulation, but is spoofulation the opposite of Alice’s version of natural wines? I don’t think so. There are many wines that would not meet Alice’s requirements that are clearly not spoofulated.

spoof in spoof out What is spoofulation? That now ingrained term, to me, more than anything else, refers to wines of excess: excessive concentration, excessive oak, excessive alcohol and minimal terroir and varietal character. Spoofulated wines are wines that could come from anywhere and any variety. By my definition that does not mean that un-spoofulated wines have to be “natural” or “organic” or “biodynamic”, but without a doubt it appears to help. The reason I say they don’t have to be any of those things is because I have tasted many wines over the decades that not only did not employ these disciplines. but never heard of them. There are many wines from the 60’s that are pretty damn good and I assure you they never thought of such things. They worked with what they had and what they knew and used things in their vineyards that would cause outrage today.

Spoofulation, much like the Supreme Court’s definition of pornography, is something I know when I taste it. Spoofulated wines throw balance over the side in a headlong pursuit of points. It is an approach I can understand as wine producers have to make a living like any other farmer. Points from the Pontiffs sell wines to hoards of consumers who drink wine more often without food than with it. The point of spoofulated wines is to grab enough attention in a ten second taste to get a good review and to prevent the consumer from having any more thoughts about the wine, so they can return to their conversation. Spoofulation cannot be defined as “big wines” or “high alcohol wines” or anything other than wines that erase any individual character in pursuit of the lowest common denominator. Spoofulation is to wine what religion was to Karl Marx.

Spoofulation is so much a part of today’s wine vocabulary that a debate has begun on the etymology of the term. Joe Dressner, the importer, whose portfolio is spoofulated wine-free, recently reported on the birth of the term spoofulation on his blog, The Wine Importer, where he recounts the debate over how the word was coined by Harmon Skurnik of the extraordinary importer and distributor Michael Skurnik Wines in New York and Michael Wheeler, formerly of Michael Skurnik Wines and now of that extraordinary importer and distributor in New York, Polaner Selections. Please be prepared to keep your tongue firmly in your cheek as you read this post.

In the last few years we have welcomed a new word beginning with the letter “S” into our wine vocabulary. Now we have to work on defining it.

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Image above from Appellation America

Corks Screwed

stelvin.jpgScrewcaps are best: Decanter verdict - decanter.com

The normally conservative Decanter has jumped into the closure controversy with both feet. In an upcoming article “50 Reasons to Love Screwcaps” some of Decanter’s big guns, including Steven Spurrier have thrown their unequivocal support behind screwcaps. Spurrier says, “the Stelvin is one of the best things to have happened to wine in my lifetime.” If you follow the link above you’ll find not all Decanter readers agree.

In a recent post I commented on the new book by George Taber, Put A Cork In It, which I feel is the best research out there on the topic of wine closures. Taber’s conclusion was more-or-less it depends on the wine going into the bottle and that each of the closures currently in general use have their issues and unknowns. Everyone seems to agree that for wines destined to be consumed young and fresh that screwcaps are the best, which is a position that I fully concur with. As this category of wine probably accounts for over 95% of the wine made in the world it would seem to make this debate somewhat moot. Such wines should be in screwcaps.

However, for that five or so percent of wines from vineyards and winemakers that are made for aging the answer is not so clear. I have a feeling that eventually alternative closures will overtake this category too as industry leaders like Plumpjack prove their reliability and their capability for wines aged under screwcap to mature into wines as great as those aged under cork.

I admit I love screwcaps and have found the wines finished with them brighter and fresher than most cork finished wines. This is amplified with high acid white wines and riesling in particular seems to thrive under them. The big issue with screwcaps remains the potential of reduction developing in wines sealed with them, but winemakers have quickly dealt with this issue and should know how to prevent it. Of course, knowledge is not always used equally by all wineries, but you can apply this same argument to those using corks.

I can understand why a great Bordeaux chateau or Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon producer may want to wait before making the leap, but if you’re making Beaujolais Villages, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Albarino, California Sauvignon Blanc or any other wine likely to be consumed within a year or two of bottling it’s time to get your cork out of your neck.

Old vs. New: Is there a difference?

landing_columbus Pamela at Enobytes graciously invited me to moderate a discussion on their Enobytes Forum on New World vs. Old World Wines: is there really a difference. To help fuel the discussion, I posted this comment:

In my experience there is a significant difference between European (Old World) and New World wines. I do not believe the reason for this is a superior terroir, but a way of thinking. Europeans cannot separate wine and food. I have never met a serious European winemaker whose vision of their wine is tied not only to the table, but to their local cuisine. They also describe the wine in those terms. If you use America as an example of the New World philosophy I think you will see our wines are conceived very differently and and consumed differently and these differences cause them to be made differently.

Let's look at consumption first as consumers fuel the fire so to speak. European consumers do not drink still wines as cocktails, before dinner they enjoy a whole range of aperitifs (including a lot of sparkling wine), but they don't sit around and gulp pinot grigio or merlot. One quick look at an upscale American bar and you'll see a very different picture as a majority of the customers are drinking wine as a cocktail, not as a companion to food. Oddly enough in recent years this includes red wines and a more unlikely cocktail I cannot imagine! This means that European winemakers can make their wines knowing they will be enjoyed with food, but that American winemakers must take into account that their wines will be served with conversation instead of cuisine. The very thing that makes European wines so wonderful with food: acidity, dryness and structure makes them difficult cocktails.

So New World winemakers are met with more than one dilemma. First they must make wine that can work as a cocktail. Secondly, it is more important to their commercial success that their wines taste great when compared to other wines instead of how well they work with food. Success is tied to top ratings by critics using the 100 point scale who taste wines against each other in a context more like an endurance sport. I can't think of something more radically the opposite of what wine enjoyment should be than tasting dozens (hundreds for some tasters) of wines blind in rapid fire succession and then ranking them.

I think it is this combination of the pressure to get points and to please consumers that drink wine without food that causes the major differences you see in New World wines and Old World wines. If you go back to California wines of three decades ago they were not so different from Old World wines. Over the years the demands of the market have forced producers from those more elegant styles of years past and replaced with with the fruit bombs that seem that seem so over-the-top to those who prefer more balanced wines crafted for the table instead of those formulated for competitions.  Certainly there have been many Old World wines guilty of these excesses too as they courted the American market, but fortunately that attack is clearly in retreat.

There is no doubt that some European producers, notably in Spain and southern Italy have gone down this "International Style" of winemaking route. Considering the amount of wine they need to sell, their making what seemed like the best commercial decision at the time is understandable. One commenter noted that he was finding it hard to distinguish between a zinfandel and primitivo and I think that points out why what seems to be a good commercial decision is a bad one. If primitivo tastes more or less like zinfandel, why bother to import it? It seems to me that primitivo would be better off if it tried to have a distinct style. Sicily, a place with wonderfully distinct wines has tried to turn itself into another Australia (often using Australian trained winemakers) and has destroyed its market in the USA. Why drink a nero d' avola from Sicily when a shiraz from Australia tastes just like it for several dollars less a bottle?  Some European producers have achieved short term success using this strategy, but I think in the long term as they become just another big, fruity red wine they will lose their markets to cheaper competitors.

There are many American producers that make wines that would be difficult to identify as being New World in blind tastings, but the majority have chosen a more commercially viable direction and are making the wines that the market and the press like. There is nothing wrong with this as a winery is an agricultural business that has to make a profit. Only when consumer preferences change, either here or in Europe, will it become harder and harder to tell the difference between Old and New World wines.

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Natural Spoofulation

anfore gravner The passionate Alice Feiring and her new book, The Battle for Wine and Love, have fanned the flames of the natural winemaking debate. In particular she has bruised the feelings of the California wine industry, to which she has not been very complimentary. This has resulted in some lively back and forth on the side of the Californians in The Los Angeles Times, hardly a surprising forum for the pro-California view. I applaud Alice’s spirited attack on industrial wines and support of wines with personality and a sense of place. Her intensity has helped keep the debate a debate.

Extreme positions help sell books and it looks like Alice has done a good job in riling up the Californians and keeping her book in the headlines. I’m sure if the truth came out Alice, like me, has a long list of California wines she loves.

It’s becoming the spoofulators vs. the natural movement and the main spoofulators seem to be in California. Yet this raises the question of what’s really natural or not and at what point the line is crossed from one to the other. It’s not as clear as it may seem. At some point it is just as bad to do too little to the wine as it is to do too much. Bad wine is bad wine, natural or not.

Let’s take a look at the revered (I agree) wines of Josko Gravner in northeastern Italy on the border with Slovenia. Gravner ferments and ages his white wines on the skins and seeds for six or seven months in terra cotta amphorae coated with beeswax. This has a somewhat dramatic (to say the least) impact on the flavor and color of his wines. Is this natural winemaking or a kind of natural spoofulation? The wines of Gravner are extreme wines manipulated to that style by the hand of the winemaker. Are the techniques of Clark Smith more intrusive than this? I’m not sure this is a question that has been answered.

There are a few buzzwords out there that seem to define the natural wine forces: biodynamic, indigenous yeasts, little or no sulfur and never, never any machines.  Yet there are a whole array of interventions other than these that winemakers impose on their wines either because they dream of crafting great art like Gravner or because they are commercial winemakers that must put out a good tasting stable wine year-after-year to keep their jobs. It seems a bit preposterous to return to primitive methods of winemaking that more-often-than-not have the potential to produce faulted wines. Not all progress is inherently bad and any good winemaker will do everything needed to improve their wines. Many winemakers resolve this conflict between their desire to be part of the natural movement and the realities of putting better wine in the bottle by forgetting to talk about certain things when they talk to the press.

Great wines are made, they don’t just happen. That’s why they call them winemakers. There is an incredible array of tools and knowledge available to today’s winemakers. To not make use of any of these tools and techniques does not make any sense. However, what you do with these many new tools is all important. You can’t make wine without manipulation, but without a doubt you can’t make great wine with with over-manipulation. I believe in terroir. I have tasted it in wines way to often to have any doubt.  As long as a winemakers manipulations are designed to enhance that terroir I don’t have any problems with them.

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Take Five White Rabbit

The guy next to me kept screaming “White Rabbit!” at the top of his lungs for the better part of two hours. It was a Jefferson Airplane concert in 1971 and the band, despite a change of personnel could not escape their hits. No matter how well they played that guy would only be happy if they played White Rabbit.

Last week, while attending a performance of the Dave Brubeck Quartet, a true jazz legend and creator of West Coast Jazz, the guy in front of me screamed “Take Five!”. It seems no matter how many decades pass that fans are more interested in hearing your hits instead of your music. In Brubeck’s case he has progressed far beyond his Take Five days and created am amazingly diverse body of work. Yet, even with all he’s done since Take Five was recorded in 1959 I’m willing to bet that the majority of concert goers were there to hear Take Five, which is probably the only jazz composition most could name from memory. Of course, I’m sure few of them knew that the piece they were screaming to hear was not written by Brubeck, but by the late, great Paul Desmond, who played saxophone for The Dave Brubeck Quartet when they recorded Take Five.

Winemakers face the a similar dilemma. Once you get a big score, your big hit, you can feel locked into that style. It takes great courage to evolve your style in a way you believe in instead of just playing the same old hit over and over again. What most consumers don’t understand is that a winemaker can be relatively unhappy with a wine even though it gets a high score. As difficult as it is to believe, behind closed doors winemakers are often amazed at a high score they’ve received. What happens if you get a 93 from Robert Parker on a wine you’re not particularly pleased with? Do you keep making that wine or follow your own vision?

Brubeck seems to have resolved this dilemma perfectly as when he did finally play Take Five for the crowd, it was not the Take Five of 1959, but a piece that reflected the talents of the current Dave Brubeck Quartet. While it started with the famous chords and catchy quintuple time, it soon evolved, in the great tradition of jazz, into a distinctive exciting performance with a personality all its own.

Great winemaking should take its cue from the improvisational spirit of jazz as each vintage is a singular performance that deserves its own riffs.

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Alcohol Is Not The Demon

raisins There have been major rants and counter-rants (their words not mine) lately about high alcohol wines by Alder Yarrow at Vinography and Thor Iverson at oenoLogic, there's lots of good thinking, interesting reading and great debate in these two posts. However, I think they miss the major point on this issue.

Nobody who has tasted a lot of wine can deny that they've tasted many wines with high alcohol that worked. Wines that despite their potent alcohol were balanced, interesting to drink, complex and great with food. There is also the reality that not all varieties are created equal when it comes to gracefully carrying high alcohol levels. For example the elegant pinot noir is often overwhelmed by alcohol levels that zinfandel and syrah lightly carry.

The issue should not be the alcohol level of the wine, but if the wine tastes balanced and still reflects the 3 V's of great wine: variety, vineyard and vintage. It is here that higher alcohol wines often fail, but the reason is not the alcohol level itself.

The faults often blamed on high alcohol come not from alcohol itself, but the fact that the grapes were harvested super-ripe, which is just another word for overripe. These overripe grapes, which are the fashion as one of the routes to pointy wines, obliterate the three V's as varietal character disappears as does the personalities of vineyard and vintage. A byproduct of these overripe grapes is high alcohol, which is created by combining exaggerated sugar levels with super-efficient cultured yeasts that can keep eating sugar and excreting more alcohol no matter the alcohol level in the fermenter. In the old days all the yeasts would have died, but today's macho yeasts can handle 16%+ with no problem. The result of all this is a wine with huge fruit flavors of indeterminate origin, 4.0 pH, 15% alcohol and 90+ points. Of course, it has only a generic personality as it could come from anywhere as can easily be seen in wines from Spain, Australia and California that are totally interchangeable and indistinguishable. After all, what is an appropriate alcohol level for a stateless wine with no varietal character?

The first issue should be if the wine has any personality at all before we get to the alcohol level. Once that issue has been resolved we can think about wether the alcohol level is appropriate.  Appropriate alcohol levels also should vary by vintage and a winemaker that makes natural wines will have alcohol levels that change year-to-year. My experience is that even in hotter vintages that produce higher alcohol levels well made wines will achieve a balance that works, although it may take some time to attain equilibrium. No, wines from a hot vintage may not be the best a producer makes, but they can be excellent wines. The key issue for the winemaker is to harvest ripe, but not overripe grapes each year if they wish to produce distinctive wines. Ripe grapes produce wines with alcohol levels that will find a natural balance in the wine of that year, but wines from overripe grapes produce not only out of balance alcohol levels, but cannot achieve any kind of natural balance as every aspect of the wine becomes distorted and exaggerated.

It's overripe grapes, not demon alcohol, that are the villains in this debate.

 

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Debating Points: Spoofulation

debate I find George Will particularly irritating. The conservative columnist and television commentator is just too smart and well-spoken. All too often in face-to-face debates he shreds the argument of the liberal commentator across the table from him with his swifter wit and broader knowledge. It ticks me off no end.

In the debate about so called “natural” winemaking we have the same situation. Clark Smith, winemaker, super-consultant and king of spoofulated wines as the owner of Vinovation, is becoming as irritating to me as Will and for the same reasons. Smith, who makes his own wines besides consulting and “correcting” wines for hundreds of wineries, just has too much knowledge and experience for it to be a fair fight when it comes to debating winemaking ethics with people who have never made wines themselves. All to often these people are known as wine writers. It does surprise me how many writers who have don’t have enology degrees and whose experience working harvests is more akin to adventure vacations than real winemaking come to consider themselves winemaking experts. After all, does a trip to a dude ranch make you a cowboy?

Smith uses his superior knowledge and experience to effectively dismantle the “natural” winemaking debating team’s positions (which I mostly agree with) as he did in a recent article published on Appellation America’s website called Spoofulated or Artisanal, which is well worth reading. Spoofulated, for those unfamiliar with the term that debuted on the Wine Therapy Forum and became part of wine lingo, refers to manipulated wines, which are often made in a style that appeals to Robert Parker and The Wine Spectator. It is a word used as an insult by those seeking a more terroir-driven winemaking experience as spoofulated wines all-to-often taste more-or-less the same.

Is spoofulation always evil? I don’t think so. Commercial wines, which are produced for consumers not seeking nuance or complexity, but just a “winey” tasting beverage are better wines than ever due to these techniques. For all to long these inexpensive wines produced in huge quantities were thin and faulted. However, now those seeking nothing more can easily buy clean, fruity wines that neither require nor invite thought or contemplation. It is a fact of the market that the vast majority of consumers are perfectly satisfied with such wines and want nothing more. Clark Smith and his methods are a positive boon to such consumers.

It’s when wines pretend  to more lofty goals that Clark Smith and I part company. I’ll draw an arbitrary line at the $10 a bottle point. That’s starting to get expensive and I think the consumer has a right to expect that wines with different labels will actually be different wines. The main problem with spoofulated wines is that they all taste the same. The differences get manipulated out as the wine is more-and-more manipulated. The fact that there are so many expensive New World wines that exhibit the bright simple ripe flavors of the commercial wines mentioned above is a real problem that is starting to destroy the reputation of places like the Napa Valley. Consumers that are willing to spend a significant amount of money for these wines are starting to realize how boring they are.

On the other end of the argument are writers who are “natural” wine fundamentalists who seem to believe the high point in winemaking knowledge was achieved by the Romans and any technique or knowledge achieved after Nero are unnatural manipulations that destroy a wines terroir. Of course such extremists only display their limited winemaking knowledge and a lack of sophistication as they (instead of the wines) are manipulated by winemakers who tell them only what they want to hear. While there are many winemakers who believe in and practice minimalist, natural winemaking, there are few to none willing to let several tons of fruit in a fermenter with problems become garbage without taking actions that don’t always meet these ideals. These are stories that journalists are unlikely to hear or understand if they did. Contrary to some writers opinions, winemakers sometimes actually have to make wine.

Spoofulators like Clark Smith and biodynamic guru Nicolas Joly actually have more in common than partisans on either side of the debate understand. Both are passionate, brilliant winemakers who are driven to pursue their vision of what makes a wine great. To make a truly great wine you need to ignore the ranting of journalists and the whims of consumers and make the wine you believe in. This is something that winemakers like Smith and Joly share.

As always, those that oversimplify issues are usually blinded to the finer points of the debate. 

 

Minimal Understanding

minimalist good While minimalist has become an overused catch-word for many a winemaker, it does mean something. Many wine journalists with minimal understanding of what minimal winemaking means now ridicule winemakers who make such a claim as using a trite phrase with no meaning. However, minimalist does mean something to those who practice it even if the journalists don’t understand and over-romanticize the concept.

I guess there are two types of minimalist winemakers: one group that follows some holistic recipe and the other group that does as little to a wine as nature will allow. Too many wine journalists, with a naive understanding of what it takes to make both great and very good wine think that minimalist winemaking is only the former and that those who practice the second as hypocrites using the phrase for its marketing impact. There is often the view that those that follow their holistic winemaking recipe every year, no matter the vintage, are somehow more natural, but this not the case. The fact of the matter is these “idealists” often make faulted wines that are well reviewed by writers that can’t tell the difference between funk and terroir.

Minimalist winemaking should be defined as those that do as little as possible to a wine, but that will intervene with the most natural, unobtrusive solutions available when a wine is about to become dreck. Any minimalist graywinemaker that lets their wine become undrinkable swill because of vineyard or cellar problems is irresponsible and perhaps even incompetent. Unfortunately there are many famous names that fall into this category and get away with it.

As these two minimalist paintings demonstrate you can be either energetic or monochromatic within the idiom.  A winemaker must make the same choice, but, as in the painting above, to add color and perspective does not mean you are not a minimalist artist. You do not have to paint your canvas in only one color to be a minimalist winemaker. The wine press wants the winemaker who uses only plain gray techniques to be called minimalist, but this is an ignorant position taken by those who have learned about winemaking from books instead of in the cellar.

A winemaker should let wine make itself only when capable of doing so. When that is not the case they have to live up to their name and make the wine.

Woody

chene.jpgEach month New Jersey fine wine retailer Doug Salthouse, of SmartBuy Wines, selects an assorted case of wine and sends it out to me here on the west coast. I do this because Doug has a great palate and sends me many interesting wines I might have missed. In my latest shipment came a note from Doug, “I’m trying to stay away from the woody, manipulated wines you rail against.”

I guess he’s right, I do rail against such wines, but it’s well to remember that wood is not the enemy here. Wines like Lafon, Chateau Latour, Sottimano, Spottswoode and many others see plenty of wood and, obviously, are none the worse for it. Without a doubt many great wines would not be great without the symbiotic relationship that oak has with certain wines.

Yet the reaction of individual wines with oak is so diverse that it needs to be approached with caution. Look at the chardonnay wines from Domaine des Comte Lafon in Burgundy where the wines spend almost two years in oak and are far less oaky in flavor than many new world chardonnay wines that spend half that time in oak. What is good for the goose is not always good for the gander.

It’s not oak itself that turns my palate, but its misuse. When oak is the dominate aroma in a wine I think they’ve gone too far. A barrels main mission in maturing a wine should be that of  creating an environment of controlled oxidation, not adding wood flavors, aromas and tannins. This would have to be one of the main arguments against adding wood chips and other methods that exist only to add wood flavors and aromas to the wine. However, if it is only these things we are after chips make a lot more sense than barrels.  I think that wines made  with wood chips and such would actually be better wines if they were only aged in stainless steel with the emphasis being on freshness and fruit rather that making some soulless imitation of barrel aged wines. All to often, oak characteristics are thought of as an essential aspect of what defines great wine. Wonderful wines from Muscadet, Beaujolais and Barolo prove this not to be the case.

One of the world’s most profound wines, Giacomo Giacosa’s Barolo Monfortino, spends seven years in barrels (obviously big ones) and is not a wine dominated by wood. What makes Monfortino great is the perfectly controlled, gentle oxidation that occurs during the years in these barrels. That process is the engine that drives the myriad of reactions and changes within the wine that bring it beyond mere greatness.

It’s only an accident that we use barrels to store wine. They were the best shipping and storage containers on hand in centuries past. This was a happy accident to be sure, because barrels have proved the perfect environment for the maturation of many wonderful wines. However, we should not assume that because they can raise tasting Lafon Montrachet to a spiritural experience that they can do the same thing for every chardonnay on the planet. Lafon’s Montrachet is great because it comes from Le Montrachet, not because it comes from a barrel.

Last night with some grilled rabbit I had the lovely 2004 Roagna Dolcetto d’Alba that Doug sent me in this month’s shipment. Not a hint of oak or any other type of wood  showed in this wine and none was needed. It’s perfect just like it is.

Thanks Doug. 

 

Chips On Their Shoulders

“FRENCH AUTHORITIES TO BAN OAK CHIPS France’s National Appellations Institute (INAO) said it had proposed a law to allow the country’s Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) regions to ban or limit the use of oak wood chips in wine. Although the practice was approved by the European Commission, the INAO remains concerned that using oak chips may damage the quality of wine in higher quality appellations.The decision from INAO has left some in the French wine industry a bit apprehensive as the country continues to struggle with exports. Allowing the use of oak chips in wine was adopted by the European Commission earlier this year to help modernize and relaunch EU wines on the world market after meeting with staunch competition from New World winemakers.”

Wine & Spirits Daily: FRENCH AUTHORITIES TO BAN OAK CHIPS

Now here’s an unenlightened approach. Does the INAO really think that Lafite, Lafon, Clape and other such producers are really going to start using wood chips in their wines? This is a technique that has a legitimate use as a way to improve wines priced and created for everyday consumption. What a pain it must be to make wine in France. Such tools will be used by industrial winemakers and will be of little interest to those dedicated to terroir. No such ban is required.

 

 

Sleight of Hand

sleightofhand.jpgToday there are key words that wine writers love; gravity-flow, indigenous yeast, low-yields and on-and-on. Key words are great for writers, but have little to do with the realities of making wine. Good winemakers are quick to spot problems and deal with them in the best way possible. Often these solutions do not meet the idealistic simplicity of right and wrong that most wine journalists push. However, they can make better wine. Using the advances in winemaking knowledge in a judicious way is not always some evil sleight of hand. Like most things it’s not only what you do, but how you do it that matters. Good winemakers have to think on their feet and react quickly to what nature has dealt them otherwise they’ll have a lot of wine that has to be poured down the drain. Consumers need to taste with their own palate, if the wine is good it’s good. Like most things, modern winemaking techniques are not simple black and white issues, but provide a full menu of solutions that can be both used and misused. For example, Luca Currado, the fine winemaker at Vietti in Barolo, abandoned his experiment with roto-fermenters for obvious reasons, but he kept just one “for emergencies”. While roto-fermenters destroy the character of good vintages, in a bad vintage he can use it to help improve his wines. No, they won’t be great wines, but they’ll still be very good if Luca decides to put his label on then. Yes, even the evil roto-fermenter can have its place when used by thoughtful hands in the face of disaster. Good winemaking is never a simple recipe to be followed, but must be adapted to new situations with each vintage. Today’s best winemakers use what could be called a minimalist philosophy, in other words they do as little as possible to their wines, but that doesn’t mean they don’t do something when it needs to be done. It’s unfortunate that the wine press, whose simplicity shows their ignorance of what it takes to make great wine, has made winemakers afraid to talk about  anything that is not seen as politically correct winemaking. This makes them seem like they are using some kind of ethical sleight of hand, when, in fact, what they are doing is giving us better wines to drink.

Pleonasm

PleonasmDefinition: pleonasm: the use of more words than are necessary to express an idea

I have a new word for Webster’s – eno-pleonasm: the use of more winemaking techniques than necessary to make a wine.

Winemakers today seem to lack confidence, or perhaps it’s a personal vision. Most of all, it’s a lack of a solid tradition. Not so many years ago, winemakers didn’t have to give much thought to the style of their wine. That was determined by tradition: you knew what your wine was supposed to taste like and you made it like your father and grandfather and great-grandfather did. That was good and that was bad. A lot of bad wine was made because little thought was put into it, but a lot of good wine was made because the winemaker had a clear sense of history and time and what that meant to their wine. This confidence meant change came slowly. Of course, this meant that many beneficial changes were too slowly accepted, but it also meant that regional character was safe from the whims of the wine fashion market. No longer is this true.

Today winemaking has taken on the same emptiness as the fashion runways of Milan and Paris, where it is more important to shock than create real clothing. Today’s wines are all-to-often like the bizarrely dressed models prancing down the runway in an outfit that no one could really wear in real life – or to put it in wine terms – have with dinner.

Too many of today’s winemakers create eno-pleonasms using every intervention at their disposal instead of making real wine, because they don’t really know what they want and, as a result, are slaves to the fashion world instead of wine with food world.