My friend Donald (no relation) came through for me again with a treasure trove of Lettie Teague WSJ wine articles. He knows I'm too cheap to subscribe and bails me out periodically with stacks of his discards.
This time it's the September 29-30, 2018 edition that caught my eye. Teague is writing about the dilemma of describing bad wine. Now that's thought-provoking Pulitzer material if I ever heard of it! Only a true literary artist could go down this road!
Teague says it's easy to heap praise on examples of fine wine. It might be: "bright, lively, balanced, structured, tightly-knit, vigorous..." You get the idea.
She also says it's easy to identify cheap wine made from inferior fruit which may be described as such. Easily identified wine making mistakes can also be pegged like too much oak or flabbiness. Corkiness and age can also be easy to name. Too much alcohol can be "hot on the finish."
But what if a wine is so bad you don't know where to start. Back in the bad old days there were California wines that were all wrong. Not only were they unbalanced but the fruit flavors that dominated just couldn't have been the ones intended.
Wine industry veterans around here talk knowingly about those "bad old days" of yore when wine was shipped into the Atlanta market unprotected from the heat and then loaded onto trucks Friday evenings for Monday delivery. A whole lot of those wines had the same profile: stewed prunes!
Then there's the infamous "secondary fermentation" that resulted in a weird tasting fizziness that was impossible to get past. How about the vague chemically taste that seemed to indicate adulteration of some kind? Which brings us back to the present with the current generation of additives which have re-written the wine making textbook.
While criticizing wine that essentially tastes good may seem like nitpicking, there is still plenty of room to criticize a philosophy of wine making that allows for additives. But that's another subject. In reality, a whole lot of everyday wine is improved by what they're doing in California. It's just that some transparency would be nice. Like putting the ingredients on the back label.
But there is a wine tasting criticism to be laid out here: If your highly extracted, overblown big red wine tastes like an aberration of what it's supposed to be then what the heck is that all about anyway?
This question goes back to something fundamental that I have known for forty years: Wines can be good in themselves while at the same time being a bad example of that varietal. Prime example: current examples of Pinot Noir that sure taste good, but they sure as heck don't taste like Pinot Noir.
David Klepinger represents several wines from Kermit Lynch of Berkeley, California. Kermit Lynch is an impeccable importer of European wines. Please join us this Thursday after 5pm as Dave sets out a tasting of these and some fine California examples.