The Paradox of Unwimpy Wines:Why Less is More
by Dan Berger
Reader Comments... [20]

Marilyn Sherman, Proprietor
Flying Wine Cellars, California
Less IS More, and those who are seeking harmony and grace in their wines are hand-crafting their own at Crushpad..... Marilyn Sherman Flying Wine Cellars

Brent Jensen, Sales Manager
Classic Wines, Murphys, CA
Dan, I couldn't agree with you more! I have been preaching this to my sales people and customers for years. Balance and "Bomb" cannot be used in the same sentence, finesse and character can. Over ripe, over blown can only mean one thing, Over and out!

Ricardo Santos
El Malbec de Ricardo Santos, Mendoza, Argentina
Excellent, Dan!!

More wine lovers are going to drinkable wines, that they enjoy drinking, not smelling. They look for fruit, not red berries, peaches or plums; they look for grape!

Paul, District Manager
Centerra Wine Co., New York, NY
Great article Dan. I am on your page and agree, it is all about the balance and structure!!! To clarify Ravenswood's "No Wimpy Wines"...In 1983, Ravenswood faced a turning point. After 10 years of producing only small vineyard designate Zinfandel, solvency became an issue. Reed Foster, Joel’s financial partner, knows that the winery needs additional quick revenue to survive and asks Joel to produce White Zinfandel. Joel’s response: I don’t make that wimpy crap! This is how...No Wimpy Wines was Born. Joel recommends an easy drinking Zinfandel instead. He decides to make it in a very approachable style that is easy to drink. This wine takes less time in oak, is released earlier, and therefore will be much more cost effective. Vintners Blend is now THE LEADING ZINFANDEL in the market today!

Back to "Balance & Structure", I highly recommend you try a new release from Ravenswood, '05 Sonoma Chardonnay, not Vintners Blend Chard. You will see Joel is more than just a Zinmaster...and is all about balance & structure himself.

Cheers, Paul

Diego Riley
BBWC, Edna Vally, CA
It is reasonable that as Dan likes less ripe wines, he likes more oak because no one likes veggie wines. And oak fights veg. Side points to this interesting article.

1.) Cool climate viticulture is only possible in modern times because of fungicides, organic or not.
2.) Balance has less to do with a wine writer telling us what it is than what the climate is doing.

I like 15.5% Zins from warmer climates but 15.5% Pinot Noir from Santa Rita or Russian River is nasty. Balance exists not just in every AVA, but in every site. Growing these over the top wines in cool climates can kill acidity bringing the winemaker to perform an unheavenly acid adjustment to the wine. But over the top Cab From Napa with good natural acidity is one of the best types of wines in my opinion. My point is every site has a balance point, why not try to enjoy it for what it is?

Michael Sarro, Grapemaster
St. Martin's Grapeschool, Shaker Hts, OH
We live in the Pepsi generation, and most folks base their flavor sensations on the assaults of colas. So naturally, on that night once a month when Jack and Coke don't quite make it, they'll pony up a hard earned $20 to buy a big assed wine. One with junk in the trunk, not some thin little Paris wine. These are my poorest students at the Grapeschool. They flunk French, Spanish, and Italian. German comes a little easier for them, but generally they respect the saggy pants wines of the street. The thug wines. The wines who win the gang fights of wine tastings. The wines that go by only one name, like Merlot or Cab. Wines without homes, that are born from stainless orphanages. Too ethnic are the earthy tasting wines like Cahors or Cairanne that would leave their socks firmly in place. No, they must get their Oprah Moment in Wine from somewhere other than a numerical rating or a label with a dog on it. The moment can occur at anytime where a good experience is had with wine involved, be it a love affair, a good dinner with a matched wine, or a vacation where the wine grows wild. Then maybe the flavor base of Pepsi will seem crude, and perhaps later, so will the Big Frankenwines.

Rachael Smith, Mostly pro...
St. Rose, CA
Indeed, your tirade is rather quixotic in nature but you have a good point. There is such a thankfully wide assortment of wine producers that we shall never want for what it is that delights us each individually. Personally, I think it takes that "knock you over the head” biggie to give perspective and contrast which helps us better appreciate wines with balance. That means that in the end, I think the better educated your wine brain is, the more you will wrap yourself around juicy, balanced bottles of wine.

Becky Zelinski, Chief Operating Officer
Precision Ag, Inc., Paso Robles, CA
Hi Dan,

We are a viticultural consulting company on the Central Coast and of course, avid wine drinkers. I couldn't agree MORE with everything you say and in fact, have been waving the same banner in my small circle of friends and colleagues for a long time too. I often wonder how so many people have been duped by this misguided concept for so long -- especially winemakers. Could it simply be that the masses have been waiting for someone to tell them that the emperor isn't wearing any clothes? If so, I hope that your article will help to open their eyes. I intend to forward it to everyone I know -- especially those who I know that revel in their love of the high-priced prune juice they call wine (I even have a hard time calling it wine).

I would also like to suggest that you start a ‘Bring Back Balance’ or ‘No More Fruit Bombs’ wine club (or something like that) and sign me up. And don't forget the shirt! I would wear it proudly. I get so tired of hearing people defend the marketing of fruit bombs by saying: "well, at least it's getting more people to drink wine." Quite honestly, since I don't believe it's wine they're really drinking, I say: "let them drink jug wine," or whatever else makes them mistakenly feel like they've transcended to a more sophisticated level of beverage consumption until they're truly ready to drink the nectar of the Gods formerly known as "good, low-alcohol, balanced wine!"

Lorne Mews, National Sales Manager
Benton-Lane Winery, Monroe, OR
Very nicely worded, Dan. This is an excellent article on a very timely and controversial topic!!

Adam , Wine Director
Santa Barbara, CA
Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! When will the world wake up and realize that balance, complexity, and soul sing a much more beautiful song than flashy, arrogant, and here today gone tomorrow wines? Imagine that it was a person and not a wine. Would you want to dine with someone who was loud, flashy, and arrogant? Or would you rather dine with someone of substance. When will the critics and main stream wine drinkers wake up?

Paso Robles, Winemaker
Paso Robles, CA
It is so comical to read all of this -- it really is. All you butt kissers agreeing above and the media guys love to hear yourselves pontificate about big wines. Has it ever occurred to you that it doesn't matter what YOU think??!! Last I checked; the consumers are the people who purchase and drink these wines. As a winery proprietor, you’d have to be insane to exist merely to pander to the so called wine critics than make wine for the people that actually enjoy drinking it. This article basically calls the majority of wine consumers IDIOTS for liking this style of wine. So, only those with the enlightened palates really get what a wine is supposed to be all about (i.e. balanced and thin)? Yikes. How many wines are on the shelves these days, hundreds of thousands? Consumers have an infinite choice. You guys can huff and puff all you want, but the reality of it all is that consumers are quaffing wines where you can actually taste the fruit from which is was made. It is SO possible to craft wines that are fruit forward and balanced - I know - because that is the comment we hear all the time about our wines. Every time one of our vintages tastes slightly lighter in style due to elements predicated by the particular year, our customers don't like it as much, and sales are lower. So here it is, the best wine consumers don't give a hoot what wine writers have to say about all this stuff, in the end, they end up drinking what their taste buds say is yummy. This in turn, keeps us wineries humming happily along with their patronage. Thank goodness for these swell folks, because they are true to themselves and DON'T buy their wines predicated on what Mr. Berger or the ‘Speculator’ pontificate away!

Mike, Blogger
San Diego, CA
Dan Berger wrote -- "The bigger the wine, the more alcohol it typically contains. And the more alcohol a wine has, the less acidity it usually has. High-alcohol wines need more, not less, acid and a lower pH to balance the sweet taste of the alcohol. But with high-alcohol wines, we almost always get a higher pH, not a lower one." Unfortunately I don’t have large amounts of data to truly question the above assertion; mainly because it’s difficult to get alcohol, pH and total acidity (TA) numbers on most wines. But I’ve just done an analysis on the alcohol, pH and TA of three wines: Penfolds Grange (Shiraz) from 1955 to 2002; Penfolds St Henri Shiraz from 1993 to 2003; and Carlisle Dry Creek Zinfandel from 1998 to 2005. Grange and St Henri have yet to pass 14.5% alcohol, OTOH the Carlisle Zin has not been below 15.4%. Graphing alcohol and TA reveals significant positive correlation for both Grange and the Carlisle. St Henri shows a non-significant correlation, although higher alcohol tends to indicate lower TA values. Graphing alcohol and pH reveal a significant negative correlation for Grange; that is the higher the alcohol the more acidity (lower pH), a positive correlation for St Henri (alcohol and pH values both increase) and no significant correlation for the Carlisle although the acidity tends to increase with increasing alcohol. So if Dan Berger is correct then poor old St Henri, one of Australia’s most refined, elegant Shiraz wines might have some problems. Or might it be that the balance of a wine is just a little more complex than pH and alcohol?

Marcelo Sola, Director
Cataciegas (wine magazine), Argentina
I must confess I don't agree with the article. A few points to consider:

1.) Do a majority of consumers seek for "soil" or "regionality" (whatever that is) in a bottle of wine?

2.) "Minerality" comes from the soil? Says who? All recent research on the matter tends to prove otherwise, I'm afraid. Wine should get rid of tradition, snobbery and consumer unfriendly concepts like terroir and become more science- and consumer-oriented. Maybe then will the wine industry stop delivering the unacceptably high level of wine faults it usually does, many times disguised as "goût de terroir" (whatever THAT is).

3.) Don't get me wrong. I too prefer balanced wines. In fact, I'm not a fan of the most extreme "full throttle, pedal to the metal" wines. However, many so called "fruit bombs" are delicious balanced wines. And many so called "balanced delicate wines" are plain insipid rather than subtle. The right variables ought to be studied. Assessing wine quality based on alcoholic strength and concentration is like assessing beauty based on hair colour. Let's put it this way: Probably, there are similar percentages of unbalanced wines with more than 15% alcohol as there are with less than 13%. Only the latter are less in overall number, at least in the US (and in Argentina).

4) The other day I read about this snotty sommelier who decided he won't have any more wines above 14.5% alcohol on his wine list. Is that a smart, consumer oriented decision, or is it plain snobbery? Knowing a wine is high in alcohol only tells us the wine is high in alcohol. Balance should be assessed by studying balance. In other words, let's not nag about concentrated or high alcohol wines, but rather, about UNBALANCED wines. With all due respect, I feel Mr. Berger's article is a little like that sommelier.

5) I sometimes find it hard to believe that the wine media worries on matters such as these while topics like bottle variation, Brettanomyces and proper closures – real quality issues – remain hardly addressed. I believe wine consumers – most of whom have little or no knowledge about wine, much less about soil, regionality, terroir and such nonsense – deserve better.

I fully agree with Paso Robles Winemaker [comment #11] and Mike Blogger’s [comment #12] observations on balance.

Morten Hallgren, Owner/winemaker
Ravines Wine Cellars, Hammondsport, New York
I'm thrilled to see balance, harmony and structure re-enter the world of wine. Working in a promising wine region, where we can only play the card of elegance, subtlety and balance, I was starting to despair. While there will always be educated wine drinkers to enjoy our style of wines, the trend towards big, bold wines reminds me of the need to add sugar to so many different foods. The difficulty lies in the fact that the wine drinker must "go out on a limb" and actually trust their palate as opposed to simply seeing a deep color, reading a high alcohol content and smelling a heavy dose of oak.

Arthur, Founder, Southern California
Mr. Berger, While I was hopeful about the results of the 2005 and 2006 vintages, I have already been disappointed by a number of producers in the area on which I cover -- the Central Coast. In complete disregard of the opportunities presented by two cool, longer vintages, a number of producers decided to let fruit go to ridiculous sugar levels, trying to achieve that ultra-ripe fruit flavor. Instead, they made huge, sugary, alcoholic wines which taste raisiny and sweet.

Arthur, Founder, Southern California
Mike (comment #12), this chart may be helpful: It is an everyday occurrence that winemakers water back and add acids to get the juice numbers in better shape.

Arthur, Founder, Southern California
Paso Robles Winemaker [comment #11]: I just came across an interesting write up of the history of Kendall-Jackson. I do not know if this is an accurate account but I find it interesting how the public went for the Chardonnay with residual sugar...

Richard Grant Peterson, Owner/Winemaker
Richard Grant Wine, Napa, CA
If those whose taste buds are so burned out that they need higher and higher alcohol, let them slug it down. For those of us who appreciate fine wines, we'll just continue to sip with Dan. Fair is fair. It does bother me, except that some with burned out taste buds have such loud voices.

Arra, wine drinker
If you look at a very tall, broad shouldered hulk of a man, the word "wimpy" might not come to mind. But if you find he is dull witted, lacking any admirable character traits or talents, you would not think him "great", just big. So it is with wine, I think. Character, finesse, balance, complexity, beauty... There are so many things more important, and to be appreciated, than brawn. A recent article I read on regarding high-alcohol put it better than I can, but I personally would rather be seduced by an interesting wine than knocked over the head by a high-alcohol brute.

Brian Abbott, wimp
Chicago, IL
I can't help but wonder if our general proclivity toward what I think you described as maxing out as much bold flavor as possible at the expense of nuance is a reflection of American culture in general. An analogy of this would be American Pizza vs. Italian (at least what I had in Rome). Pile as much cheese and sauce and ingredients on the pizza as possible and it will win a reputation -- like Chicago deep dish pizza. But in Italy the best pizza I had was a Margarita with a sparse, flavorful red sauce consisting of a simple reduction of high quality tomatoes, FRESH mozzarella and basil, all on the best brick ovened thin crust. The phenomena of wine in America is tantamount to any popularization (pop. culture) of a great thing. The greedy market kills it. Film, music, literature, whatever. Everything is telegraphed with broad strokes and spoon-fed so as not to be unappreciated by the dumbed-down herd. I am beginning to sound ridiculous, so I should say that I do love a big fruit-forward wine, but so many delicate whites are terribly under-rated and under experienced, by myself included.