The Oyster Ridge Lesson: don’t send wine too early
It never fails to amaze me how winemakers routinely let others make the decision when to send tasting samples out — even when it’s against their better judgment. But the fact is, too many good red wines are released too soon.
Who better than the winemaker knows when a wine is showing well? Not the marketing people. Not the sales people. Not the P.R. people. And not some CFO whose realm is more in the world of numbers than the palate.
The problems with young wines are manifold. Not being a chemist I can’t explain them that way. But a wine that’s too young can be an unintegrated, rude little thing. (I love that word, “rude.” Another one is “impertinent.”) All its parts haven’t knit, so it can taste too oaky or too smoky, or too sweet in primary fruit, which gives it a jammy simplicity, or too acidic. It can even smell sulfury. Sweetness and structure, you might say, haven’t come together. The result can be most unpleasant.
Sometimes, a critic can fathom that a young wine that’s not showing well has a future. Certainly, if the wine has a history of ageability, that can point you in the right direction. But what if you’re tasting blind? Then all you know is that you’re tasting something that’s rude and unpleasant, and your review/score must reflect that disappointing reality.
I suppose a case can be made for a palate so exquisitely discriminating, so educated and refined, that it would never confuse a wine that was rude and unpleasant and not going anywhere, with one that was rude and unpleasant because it was immature. Perhaps such folks exist among the exalted ranks of M.W.s. But I doubt if anyone has a 100% perfect batting average at this.
Several examples bring up these thoughts in my mind. One concerned a Williams Selyem Pinot Noir, submitted to Wine Enthusiast years ago in response to a tasting feature deadline. It did not do well in the blind tasting. Months later, when the results were known to all, the winemaker, Bob Cabral, confessed to me that he had not wanted to send the wine out at that time. He’d wanted to hold onto it for (as i recall) another 6 months, but had been overruled by his marketing people, who told him, “We must make the Enthusiast’s deadline if we are to appear in their Pinot Noir issue!” Well, the wine did appear, but with a middling score. “I learned something from that,” Bob told me. “From now on, I make the decisions about when wines go out!”
More recent is the case of the Ancient Peaks 2006 Oyster Ridge red wine, a Cabernet, Petite Sirah, Syrah and Zinfandel blend from Paso Robles. When the winery sent it to me, last January, I disliked it intensely. It was all sour acidity and sweet jammy fruit, and tasted unbalanced, and my score reflected that impression.
Fast forward to June of this year, when I went to Paso Robles for my 106-wine blind tasting. Among the wines in a paper bag was this very one. I gave it a high score, and was, of course, surprised and upset to find out, later on back home, that it was the same wine I’d despised six months previously.
I called the winery. They sent me two new bottles, which I tasted over the course of the next several days. I liked the wine better and better each time. I called the winemaker, Mike Sinor. Had he experienced bottle variation with this wine? No, he said; he’d heard of none from his accounts. It puzzled me. How could my January tasting have been so different from my June and July experiences?
Well, Mike said, after all, the wine had just been bottled in December — a month before it was sent to me. He hadn’t wanted to send it out at that time, but had been overruled, again by others whose motives were different from Mike’s.
Even for a dim bulb like me, I saw the light. In the bottle less than a month! Then undergoing a long, bumpy delivery by truck. I shared with Mike my philosophy: never let the business and finance people make these sending decisions. They should be made by the winemaker! Mike listened deeply, then said that I’d given him the “ammunition” — his word — to insist on making sending decisions himself.
So, memo to winemakers: Don’t let them tell you when to send wines to critics. If you think a few more months will improve the wine, insist on it. Consider it the Oyster Ridge Lesson: send no wine before its time.
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Dept. of What were they thinking?
Alabama is among the leaders of all U.S. states in obesity.
It’s the 5th dumbest state.
Like other southern states, a huge percentage of Alabama’s adult population has less than 9 years of education.
Alabama ranks #4 among states for greatest percentage of its population living in poverty.
Alabama has one of the U.S.’s highest crime rates.
Last year, Republicans introduced legislation in the state Legislature to allow the teaching of creationism and intelligent design “as though they represent accepted scientific principles.” (The bill did not pass.)
Few American states have less to be proud of when it comes to, well, anything, but Alabama lawmakers now have earned extra bragging rights for stupidity. Last week, the state’s Liquor Control Board banned the label on a bottle of Hahn’s Cycles Gladiator wine as being too racy.
She is a hot little strumpet, isn’t she?
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My cousin, Loretta Weinberg, was just tapped by N.J. Gov. Corzine to run for Lieutenant-Governor in the next election. Way to go, Loretta! We’re proud of you!
The Guv and the Cuz