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In Pursuit of Balance...or, Pissing off Parker


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In a NY Times article entitled The Wrath of Grapes, Bruce Schoenfeld discusses a group of pinot-noir winemakers, who have formed a loosely based coalition called In Pursuit of Balance.

 

Until a few years ago, if you wanted to drink a wine with a European sense of proportion, you bought a European wine. In 2011, in reaction to an American marketplace that they perceived to be dismissive of California wines made in anything but the superripe style, Parr and Jasmine Hirsch of Hirsch Vineyards in Sonoma County began soliciting members for a loose confederation of pinot-­noir producers called In Pursuit of Balance. The group, which charges a $900 annual fee, conducts what amounts to a political campaign on behalf of viticultural restraint. Most of its 33 members — located from Anderson Valley, about 100 miles north of San Francisco, to Santa Barbara — make modest amounts of wine, somewhere between 40,000 and 60,000 bottles a year. That’s too small, typically, to have much of a marketing budget. But by joining the group, which stages tastings around the country (and sometimes abroad), they’re able to reach the consumers who are most likely to appreciate their wines.

Since I tend to like this style of wine over the big, jammy wines that score highly, the article was pretty interesting to me. Maybe it will be to you too.

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Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

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I tend to like the Euro approach to wine.  Jammy is not tasty to me. In fact, I don't understand the appeal.

 

Uber-pricey California wine is fine, but the stuff I'll buy is usually best if French/spanish/Italian.

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This trend in California wines has been going on for some time, at least 10 years by my count. But I guess when a group organizes and publishes a manifesto, the world takes notice. My long-time wine vendor attended the IPOB meeting last year, and came back much enthused about the wines. I've tried one of the Matthiasson chardonnays, one of the Flowers chardonnays, and I have some bottles from a couple other IPOB wineries in my wine closet (Failla, Liquid Farm). But I really haven't focused on these wines.

 

Still, I don't know what Parker is so upset about. I don't think the prototypical California fruit bomb is going out of style. People like the taste of these big fruity wines, and they match Californian food. If this trend continues, you might see less oak, less alcohol, and less ripeness in the wines. With restraint comes more complexity. That all sounds good to me. But I think they'll still be big wines, fruit forward, with a level of ripeness (I call it sunniness) that is identifiably Californian. Not really Burgundian as I think of Burgundian--leaner and more complex, sometimes with funky flavors that (face it) many Americans don't like.

 

Of all the winemakers in IPOB, I like to keep my eye on Steve Matthiasson. He strikes me as very experimental. He pushes the edge, I think, and sometimes goes over it. I tried the 2013 Matthiasson Chardonnay, Linda Vista Vineyard, Oak Knoll, Napa--neutral oak, little malolactic fermentation--and I came away realizing that more malolactic fermentation in chardonnay is a good thing.  Well, you never know unless you try something different, right? :laugh:

 

I wrote about the Flowers chardonnay on the EGullet "What Wine Are You Drinking Today?" thread. KD1191 writes about Littorai wines on that thread, also. Littorai is another IPOB member.
http://forums.egullet.org/topic/147119-what-wine-are-you-drinking-today/page-2

 

Really, the only way out of this controversy is to drink some wines yourself and compare.

 

 

Edited by djyee100 (log)
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I've long held a theory that the trend toward 'spicier' foods becoming more common place (eta: in US chains...the rise of Chili's, Chipotle, Buffalo everything etc.) is related to an aging boomer population that is losing its sense of taste and needs bigger flavors in order to taste anything...this thread inspires me to see a corollary that suggests that as wine has become more popular among a younger demographic that they have created a market for more nuanced/restrained wines, as their more sensitive, un-dead (heh) palates don't need massive flavors to enjoy a wine.

 

Probably not the case, but my ears were burning, and I thought it was an interesting adaptation of something I've long thought might be true, but have never given any time to trying to prove...

Edited by KD1191 (log)

True rye and true bourbon wake delight like any great wine...dignify man as possessing a palate that responds to them and ennoble his soul as shimmering with the response.

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this thread inspires me to see a corollary that suggests that as wine has become more popular among a younger demographic that they have created a market for more nuanced/restrained wines, as their more sensitive, un-dead (heh) palates don't need massive flavors to enjoy a wine.

 

You remind me of my take on cellaring wine. (I don't need a lecture on the theory: some wines are made to be aged, some cellars do a better job that others.) Drinking great wines both young and "properly aged", my take is that idolizing older wines is just old gheezers trying to put a positive spin on their own mortality. With few exceptions (Brunello comes to mind) I've always preferred the same bottle young.

Per la strada incontro un passero che disse "Fratello cane, perche sei cosi triste?"

Ripose il cane: "Ho fame e non ho nulla da mangiare."

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I've long held a theory that the trend toward 'spicier' foods becoming more common place (eta: in US chains...the rise of Chili's, Chipotle, Buffalo everything etc.) is related to an aging boomer population that is losing its sense of taste and needs bigger flavors in order to taste anything...this thread inspires me to see a corollary that suggests that as wine has become more popular among a younger demographic that they have created a market for more nuanced/restrained wines, as their more sensitive, un-dead (heh) palates don't need massive flavors to enjoy a wine..

 

I'll be the contrarian here. The younger generation is not spending its money on $50 bottles of wine, even if a very small subset of them has just made a million dollars overnight from an IPO. I'll point to the affluent older generation (over 50), which has decades of experience in wine drinking, and which has done more recreational travel compared to previous generations. That older generation has the money and the sophistication to drive a market for nuanced, restrained wines. That's my theory. I haven't seen any marketing studies.

 

Also, spicier foods are more popular among the younger demographic compared to the older. Older people aren't used to that level of spice, often don't like it, and show caution in what they try. That's my observation.

 

...my take is that idolizing older wines is just old gheezers trying to put a positive spin on their own mortality. With few exceptions (Brunello comes to mind) I've always preferred the same bottle young.

 

Once the wine ages enough so that the tannins come into balance with the rest of the wine, it's really a matter of taste of how aged someone likes the wine. Those funky, even repellent, smells and flavors from aged but quality wines are not for everyone (myself included). Have you ever read Dr. Vinny in The Wine Spectator? Dr. Vinny has repeatedly said old wine is an acquired taste.

 

I get a lot of questions from folks worrying about how to age their wine, and I always ask them to stop and reflect: do they even like the taste of older wines? A wine cellar isn’t a wine hospital—older wines aren’t necessarily better or worse than younger wines, they’re just older. Fresh fruit flavors fade into the background and give way to more dried and baked notes. Spice and earth notes become more prominent.

http://www.winespectator.com/drvinny/show/id/49436

 

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Dr. Vinny has repeatedly said old wine is an acquired taste.

 

...which is an interesting way to win an argument, he suggests that those who don't understand are posers who ... uh ... don't understand.

 

I have cellared wine for decades, and have various friends far further into this than I am.  I have worked to acquire this taste. My cases of 1977 Giuseppe Quintarelli Amarone della Valpolicella were phenomenal after 20 years, though when I realized I could get $250 a bottle at auction, I stopped drinking them myself.

 

Nevertheless, I'm calling the king has no clothes on. There's so much attitude and context that gets layered on older wines, covering the fact that most of them would have been better drunk a bit earlier. Better to err on the side of too young. (This was also my dating strategy until I married age-appropriate. There are arguments both ways there too, but the reality is age just means closer to death.)

Per la strada incontro un passero che disse "Fratello cane, perche sei cosi triste?"

Ripose il cane: "Ho fame e non ho nulla da mangiare."

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...which is an interesting way to win an argument, he suggests that those who don't understand are posers who ... uh ... don't understand.

 

...Nevertheless, I'm calling the king has no clothes on. There's so much attitude and context that gets layered on older wines, covering the fact that most of them would have been better drunk a bit earlier...

 

IIRC, Dr Vinny has said beginner wine drinkers typically do not like old wines. That makes sense to me because other kinds of wine, rather than old wines, are more accessible and likeable for most beginners.

 

I don't think Dr Vinny puts a value on old wine over any other kind of wine, nor implies that someone is ignorant if they don't like old wine. Quite the contrary, if you reread my quote from one of Dr Vinny's columns.

 

There are some people, perhaps they are self-styled connoisseurs, who make a big deal about the unusual flavors in old wines. Fine for them. I'm willing to believe they are sincere if they say that's what they like. Frankly, your setting the standard as younger is as meaningless as others setting the standard as older. People like what they like.

 

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Here in Australia the widespread use of screwcaps means that many wines are lasting much longer than they previously would have. The majority are not reductive and retain their fruit characteristics much longer than similar wines under cork.

 

My problem with many aged wines is that they taste of aged characteristics (cigar box, leather, tobacco, meat) rather than their primary fruit structure. This means an old Syrah is very difficult to differentiate from an old Cabernet as most of the nose and palate is simply "old" wine.

 

Contrary to what some people may think, most wines are drunk within around an hour after they leave the bottle shop. The big jammy (and typically high alcohol) wines are easy drinking when they are young and this may go some way to explaining why they are popular.

 

Like Syzygies, I'd tend to err on the side of drinking too young but there is a lot of pleasure in a well aged bottle of wine that is drinking at its peak. Too often I've had old wines that are a shadow of their former selves and nothing but a missed opportunity best enjoyed years earlier.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"The Internet is full of false information." Plato
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My problem with many aged wines is that they taste of aged characteristics (cigar box, leather, tobacco, meat) rather than their primary fruit structure. ..

 

...Like Syzygies, I'd tend to err on the side of drinking too young but there is a lot of pleasure in a well aged bottle of wine that is drinking at its peak. Too often I've had old wines that are a shadow of their former selves and nothing but a missed opportunity best enjoyed years earlier.

 

I once attended a tasting of some fine wines, including a well-aged Hermitage from the host's cellar. The Hermitage had a strong aroma of tobacco. The person next to me complained it smelled of cigarette butts. The host's expression was priceless, as he struggled to hide his dismay at hearing his precious wine described like that.

 

But yes, your point is well-taken, that a well-aged bottle like the Hermitage can be special. I found the flavors and aromas (including the tobacco) to be intriguing, although I wouldn't exactly call it delicious. And yes, if people think aging wine is good for the sake of aging, they're going to reach the point of diminishing returns as the wine passes its peak.

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"fruity" is a difficult word for me to understand with regard to wine.  to me, it means fruit flavors that are not grape : cherry, various berries etc.

 

I used to collect zinfandels.  mostly from Ridge, Ravenswood, etc.  < 10 / bottle was the limit.  I and quite a few and aged the more complex ones.  Some

 

lasted 20 + years and were superb.  I knew some people at Ridge. an important factor in 'aging' is that the wine was 'well made'

 

this means that the process and equipment was kept very very clean.  Ridge bought Lytton Springs a  long time ago.   i had quite a few cases of Lytton Springs  ( pre-

 

Ridge ) and some after Ridge.  I chose the Zin's with < 14 % EtOH.  several bottles of pre-Ridge LS did not age well, and were lost.  none of the Ridge LS were ever lost.

 

I asked about this and Ridge said is was their attention to equipment detail which LS didn't always have.

 

I do not agree that aging red wine is related to mortality.  its related to patients.  and the only way you can be patient is you have an interesting collection of wine that

 

you can drink right now.

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I can't ever keep any wine around long enough to cellar it.

 

More of a neophyte wine drinker in my case anyway, and woefully ignorant. But, I've found that my preference lies with French and Italian varietals as they are reminiscent of the grapes and seem more balanced, smoother- not big and bold as the West Coast vintages frequently are. 

 

Wine isn't easily approachable without the help of others IMO.

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Reading rotuts' reply a number of times, I'm still not sure what is meant by the comment . Patience (sic) is possible because you also have wines to drink that makes you less likely to drink the wines you want to age? If so, well yes.

 

Wine ageing in red wines is a function of balance, length of finish, intensity, and complexity. In white wines, it is a function of fruit structure and acid (and, in the case of dessert wines, sugar content).

 

Cleanliness is one element but it is incrementally unimportant as winemaking generally becomes clean and more technical. Passion and complexity are consequentially becoming much more important.

Edited by nickrey (log)

Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"The Internet is full of false information." Plato
My eG Foodblog

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bad speller I am.

 

yes.  

 

balance, length of finish, intensity, and complexity "

 

all wine ages.  well made ages longer.  results and time to peak vary with the wine.  while you are waiting, drink something else.

 

I used to have 'everyday'  the simplest, yet tasty,  weekend, more stuff happening, and 'On Occasion'  the stuff that aged best.  

 

 now just M.R.     :huh:

 

​don't plan to be here in 20 + years.  just guessing.

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...Wine isn't easily approachable without the help of others IMO.

 

Unfortunately, I think that's true. If you can find a wine vendor you like, that would be a big help. Also, there's a mystique about wine drinking and wine jargon that can be intimidating  to almost everybody. Last year I attended a wine and cheese class at the Cheese School of SF, and one of the instructors said (to paraphrase), "Wine jargon is very intimidating to most people. If you can say what you like and why you like it, in your own words, people will know what you mean." Almost everybody in the class gave a sigh of relief, myself included. :rolleyes:

 

As for aging wines, I don't do serious cellaring. I don't have the space or inclination for it. I do try to put a few more years of age on my biggest reds and Chardonnays. But I'm careful to buy wines that are drinkable now, even if they will improve if I can hold them a few years. I never hold a wine for more than 5 years.

 

Bottles that are good for cellaring have a bigger extraction and more care in how they are made, and usually come with a higher price. There are some better-priced wines made in Spain and Italy, though, that are very good for cellaring. Around here, I perceive the extra care for age-able wines means bigger extraction and better balance to start with, and a potential for "boutique" flavors, all adding up to the ability to develop well in the bottle.

 

By "cleanliness," I wonder if they meant discontinuing the use of old funky wine barrels that (no surprise) put old funky flavors in the wine. There are stories of 1960s Napa Vly wines made in redwood barrels, that were..memorable... Napa Vly wines today are made with obsessive care for barrel selection, as you can imagine.

 

I've known few people who do extensive cellaring. They buy a case, try out a bottle as a baseline, then periodically taste a bottle over the years to test how the wine is going. When the wine says Ready to them, they drink up the supply. If the wine doesn't seem to be developing as expected, they either decide to drink it all right then, or sell it, or otherwise ditch it to free up space in the cellar. The people I've known don't seem to have much angst about deciding when the wine is at its peak, or close to it. Either they know what they're doing and feel confident, or they're trying to act cool around me. :hmmm:  :biggrin:

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  • 4 weeks later...

I must admit, I have little sympathy when it comes to either the "pro-Parker" or "anti-Parker" crowds among winemakers.  The pro-Parker crowd have changed their winemaking approach to meet the palate standard of one person (and by extension his followers) and compromised their own winemaking standards and beliefs along the way.  The anti-Parker crowd... they need organizations and movements, rather than simply making the best wine they can in a style they believe in and letting it speak for itself.  In my opinion, wineries spend way too much time trying to guess what will be popular and not enough thinking about how to make the best wine.

 

Parker is a much less frequent taster now in his old age and has even given up his beloved Bordeaux as his own personal tasting fiefdom.  Are wineries still so cowed by his existence that they can't make wines they believe in, wines that will express their terroir and find a following in the marketplace?  As a long-time wine drinker, I try to follow my own tastes, not Parkers (or Suckling's or Tanzer's or Meadows.)  I don't know anyone who just drinks what Parker likes (at least not in the last 15 years.)  Certainly tasting notes are a great way to gain knowledge about a wine before you buy it.  But only a fool believes everything they read without considering the source.

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"If the divine creator has taken pains to give us delicious and exquisite things to eat, the least we can do is prepare them well and serve them with ceremony."

~ Fernand Point

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Parker's problem isn't that the wines he likes are bad; it's that they're homogenous. He's anti-variety. 

 

I like a big, punch-you-in-the-face cabernet. Sometimes. When I'm in the mood. Usually when the wine's the meal, not an accompaniment to the meal.

 

But I also like other stuff.

 

With respect to the contributions Parker's made to American wine culture, it's time he crams a cork in his ego-hole.

Notes from the underbelly

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