On the road again
I leave today for a week on the road. First it’s to Shell Beach, on the beautiful San Luis Obispo Central Coast, for the World of Pinot Noir event, which Wine Enthusiast co-sponsors, and to which I’ve I’ve gone every year since the start, except for once when I was sick. To me, WOPN represents how to do a wine event at a high level of quality and efficiency. Granted, it’s not for everyone: it’s expensive and rather small; in other words, it’s not a ZAP tasting at Fort Mason! But for a working writer like me, it’s manna from heaven. You get to go to incredibly informative seminars, led by brilliant people who know what they’re talking about. You taste as much wine as you could possibly want. You meet old friends, make new ones, and catch up on all the latest news and gossip. Best of all, once the valet at The Cliffs Resort takes your car upon arrival, there’s no more driving until you go home, three days later! Yay! As someone who absolutely, positively does not drink and drive, that’s a godsend.
After WOPN, I continue south, to Santa Barbara County and specifically to the lovely little town of Santa Ynez. I’ll be there for a few days, working through a big, blind Chardonnay tasting. I love big blind tastings, but only when they’ve been very carefully planned out in advance, and include related wines about which something is known (variety or type and region being most important). This is called tasting in context. Only when you are comparing apples to apples can you truly determine a wine’s qualities. Only then, also, can you hope to make terroir generalizations. I’ll be tasting through the Chardonnays from all Santa Barbara’s regions (Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Rita Hills, Santa Maria Valley, Happy Canyon [if there are any Chardonnays from there, which I don't think there are] and the non-appellated areas), and hopefully regional distinctions will appear. But this isn’t as easy as it might once have been. Winemaking styles are so similar (malolactic fermentation, ripe grapes, new oak, acidification, sur lies aging and battonage) that terroir nuances tend to disappear under all that intervention. I’ve never been entirely comfortable making sweeping pronouncements about different AVAs anyway, the way some critics do. There are too many variables that prove the opposite. Still, reaching regional conclusions has its place and is valid, up to a point. The consumer likes reading about regional character, and it makes for interesting, everlasting thinking and conversation. But even if I don’t find clear regional distinctions in Santa Barbara, I’ll be happy, because I love Chardonnay, and they have many fine ones down there.
One item worth mentioning: I have been getting lots and lots of wines sent to me for review that I previously reviewed, in some cases more than a year ago. At Wine Enthusiast, we don’t re-review previously reviewed wines, except under very limited circumstances. So why are so many people resending previously sent wines? The fact that they are shows me that they’ve been unable to sell those wines. If you have to resend the same wine a year after it was first released, you must have piles of it gathering dust. More proof of this is offered by the fact that, in many instances, the wines sent the second time around are priced 10%-30% lower than the first time around. There’s a bloodbath out there, and I don’t see it getting better before this summer, at least.