The Paradox of Unwimpy Wines:
Why Less is More
''In the quest to avoid what is seen as wimpiness, winemakers race past that sublime spot where it’s possible to make distinctiveness and regionality a positive factor. Cabernet Sauvignon is thus harvested so late that the resulting wine tastes as much like over-ripe prune juice as it does Syrah.''
August 7, 2007
A key to all of this is in the fact that, on average, sugar levels were a tad lower on harvest for almost all grape varieties, leading to better balanced wines with slightly lower alcohol levels - significantly lower in some cases.
And why is all this a Good Thing? After all, some reviewers rate bigger wines higher and “smaller wines” with lower points.
Since we here at APPELLATION AMERICA care naught for points, this issue doesn’t impact us at all, and in fact, the message of today’s sermon is that less is more. For those of us who are fed up with the hugeness that masquerades as greatness in almost all our wines (not only Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon but also Viognier, Pinot Noir, and a handful of other grapes), this is a message we are perfectly happy to deliver.
I am the biggest proponent of this belief and I realize that some readers may tire of the steady drum-beat of my quest for delicacy, harmony, and balance in all wines. But, hey, that’s the way I live. And I certainly understand that some people (most, actually) do not agree with this point of view; some may even think I am some sort of out-of-left-field nutcase to suggest such an against-the-grain viewpoint, at least this forcefully.
The Big Wine SeductionI believe the Big Wine lovers are misguided, but I also know how seductive these wines can be to some people. I know that the temptresses are out there. I must have worn my anti-kryptonite suit all these years to be immune from the Circes who attempt to woo me in the same manner. But to no avail.
I have rarely been as insistent on a particular point as I am about bigness and the resulting lack of structure we
we’d all be awash in yet more of this alcoholic goo they euphemistically call table wine.
I have stated my desire for better structure in wines for more than a decade, and I see little happening to encourage me. A few Pollyannas have written to me saying, hey, cheer up!, winemakers are lightening up on the alcohol, on the oak, on the tannins, and they are making a more balanced wine, and they are seeking better harmony.
Really? I still don’t see it. Were it not for the intervention of Mother Nature (in ’05 and ’06), we’d all be awash in yet more of this alcoholic goo they euphemistically call table wine.
So I rely on vintages like 2005 and 2006 in California to deliver a bit more of the grace that has been missing from the vast majority of wines, especially pricey ones, for lo, the last decade, or even more.
A few winemakers may have tried to compromise the acidity in 2005 and 2006. Those are people who have little faith that the American consumer could ever understand a crisp wine. But then something came to mind that played right into this argument. It was a bumper sticker I saw that said “No Wimpy Wines.”
No Wimpy Wines! Depends on Your Definition of “Wimpy”This is the slogan for Ravenswood Winery, founded by fanatical Zin-o-phile Joel Peterson, who, I assume, came up with the slogan. It’s cute and fun and Peterson, a terrific winemaker, has done much to preserve the concept of old-vineyard Zinfandel by making a lot of vineyard-designated versions of the wine that have a long and loyal following.
Alas, the phrase “No wimpy wines” doesn’t apply as much to Peterson’s best wines since I now see through that phrase and believe the word “wimpy” actually describes a lot of the ungainly monsters out there that are a lot bigger than anything Peterson makes.
Let’s be clear about this: Huge wines now infect the shelves of otherwise blameless merchants because it is clear that a new subset of wine drinkers, otherwise known as the Powerhouse Wine Seekers of America, demand these sorts of wines. (The PWSA is an unofficial club of which almost all newcomers to wine seem to be de facto members.)
Numerous winemakers believe firmly in the notion that a wine without “big” flavors is somehow less desirable and thus wimpy. These are winemakers who believe it to be their life’s mission to deal with wimp-atude by delivering nothing but the max as far as flavor is concerned. The maxier the better.
Oddly, I now see that the bigger a wine is, the wimpier it is!Look at it this way: 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.
This means that the consumer has to wade through aromas and flavors of alcohol that are less complex than the more mineral-y, earth-bound, herb-laced wines that are more a reflection of their soil than they are of the hand of man, and trees. Those kinds of wines are challenging, calling for someone who consumes such a balanced wine to reflect on the earth-y notes, the acidic crispness, how it works with various foods and other elements relating to terroir and the variety.
… the less the earth plays a role.
In the quest to avoid what is seen as wimpiness, winemakers race past that sublime spot where it’s possible to make distinctiveness and regionality a positive factor. <