Groundhog day: Haven’t I had this wine before?
Reading his Bloomberg column, I almost felt I could have written it myself. John’s point — that red wines the world over are all starting to taste alike due to copycat viticulture and enology — isn’t a new one. It’s a criticism made by critics everywhere, including myself. But John’s writing is so pinpoint accurate that his column ought to be preserved like the Magna Carta.
He had tasted a Mendoza Bordeaux blend (from a winery that hired — surprise! — Michel Rolland as a consultant) that, he wrote, could just as easily have come from Mendocino or Sicily as from Argentina. Mariani quoted the winemaker’s description from the label: “Full bodied and complex, it exhibits aromas of ripe red fruits and spices with flavors of red fruit, spice, and anise and notes of vanilla and chocolate that complement the rounded tannins.”
Wow. Just yesterday, I had a friend over for dinner, and was telling her how increasingly hard for me it is to come up with varied verbiage for red wine reviews in Wine Enthusiast. How many ways can you say “ripe red fruits, spices, anise and chocolate”? Sometimes I’ll say licorice instead of anise or, if I really want to get into the tall grass, it’s black licorice or red licorice. Sometimes I’ll substitute cocoa for chocolate, or carob, or dark chocolate, or milk chocolate (there are actually subtle differences between these). Sometimes, instead of “spices,” I’ll elaborate: clove, pepper, nutmeg. Since there’s no synonym for “vanilla,” that word turns up a lot, not just in reds but in whites also, especially Chardonnay.
So if everything tastes the same these days, how does one wine get a 95 while another gets an 86? Good question. It’s about balance — the wine’s elusive, hard-to-describe qualities of fusion, integrity, mouthfeel and elegance. Or the lack thereof. It’s actually easier for me to downgrade wines due to faults than it is to upgrade them for quality. That’s why, when I blind taste a lineup of a dozen reds, I eliminate the lower-scoring ones first, leaving the best for last. That way, if wine #11 scores 91 points, and wine #12 still remains, it must score higher than 91. The question then simply becomes, how much higher?
Anyhow, the point is that John Mariani is entirely correct when he says, “There is a lot wrong with a world of wine where attempts are made to have every varietal taste more or less the same and where hugeness and over-ripeness are seen as a virtue as much as they are a marketing strategy.” The problem is, where does the world of wine go from here? I’m tempted to say that a new, younger generation of wine critics (read: bloggers) will upset the apple cart, and come down in favor of drier, more streamlined and elegant wines that more truly reflect their terroir. But you know what? I don’t think that’s going to happen. For all their revolutionary zeal, the bloggers will rave over the same wines Parker does, when and if they get the chance to taste them. M. Rolland’s job is safe.