When wine goes bad: a critic’s take on low scores
Most of the time we talk about high-scoring wines and why they got those numbers. Today I want to talk about the poops in the room, because I’ve been tasting a lot of them lately. Don’t know why August is turning out to be such a Monthus Horribilis, but it is.
Not everything, of course. Since the first of the month, I’ve had awesome wines from Chateau St. Jean, Etude, Gainey, Rusack, Justin, Cakebread and others, and the new sparklers from Schramsberg were, well, schwonderful, schmarvelous.
But there have been an awful lot of 80s, 81s and 82s, which under Wine Enthusiast’s system means “acceptable…simple with discussable deficiencies,” and with some of those low 80s, I was tempted to use our coup de grâce, 22, put them out of their misery and bury them.
What makes for an 80, 81 or 82? Most of them bore a California appellation. That tells me (a) the wines contained a lot of Central Valley grapes or juice, seldom a good thing, or (b) the wines were bulked out from producers who didn’t want to bottle the stuff on their own. That’s not a good thing, either.
The low scorers included Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon, but there were as many Chardonnays as all the rest put together. My most common complaint: too fruit juicy. One of my favorite breakfast drinks is an orange-pineapple-mango juice blend I get at Whole Foods. I love it as fruit juice, but as wine, it doesn’t work. Too simple and sweet, and that’s the problem with too many Chardonnays these days. (I could say the same about some Sauvignon Blancs.)
With the reds, it was a different story. They were so thin, there was nothing going on, except alcohol, tannins and acidity. Not a good recipe for a wine. I figure this was due to overcropping in inferior vineyards, where the vines are stretched to give so much fruit, the berries just can’t develop much flavor. This also is suggested when you look at the high production numbers on some of these wines.
At average costs for all these wines at $7-$12, I guess the wine companies that put them out make their profit at this tier; and that profit, I suppose, helps defray the cost of producing higher-quality wine. But it’s dreary to have to review these dullards, and it’s always a challenge trying to figure out how to frame my text, without causing anyone undue discomfort. Sometimes I want to write, “Run! Get away quickly! Flee from this monstrosity!” but of course I can’t say that. So I’ve developed code words: “everyday,” “easy,” “useful,” and so on. Another thing I’ve been tempted to say is, “This is the kind of wine you drink in a paper cup at somebody’s party.” Would that be an insult? Probably the producer would consider it so, but I’ve had wines in paper cups at parties and didn’t feel at all insulted or lessened as a human being or a wine lover. If I had a great time at the party, I didn’t care what the wine was, and if I had a lousy time, it wouldn’t have mattered if the wine were ‘47 Cheval Blanc, served from Marie Antoinette’s slipper.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about sommeliers, because last week I went to that big TopSomm 2010 thing in San Francisco, and then somebody sent me the book on sommeliers I blogged about yesterday. Somms and I both have the same job, on the surface: we both taste a lot of wine, and then make judgments about them. But on closer examination, our jobs are very different. I suspect I taste a lot more common and bad wine than most somms. The way I see it, part of my job is to find the silk purses among the sows’ ears that I can happily recommend to readers, who don’t want to have to spend $40, $50 or more for a decent bottle of wine. That’s what makes going through a month like August worth it.