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Structure, or lack thereof: California’s bogeyman

42 comments

My old friend David was complaining about wine yesterday. He doesn’t know much about it, despite my mentoring him for all these years, but he does know he’s looking for, and missing, “tannins.”

What does David mean when he talks about “tannins”?

He said he wants to feel something solid in his mouth when he sips a wine. Something grippy, structural. I told him that, if he didn’t mind spending $60 or $80 a bottle, there were some Barolos and Barbarescos I could recommend which would fulfill his tannin quotient. He replied that he buys Super-Tuscans, but even they seem too soft for him.

This set me to thinking. I probably use the word “soft” in my wine reviews more than any other adjective, except, possibly, for “dry.” (Maybe “fruity,” also.) Sometimes when I call a wine soft, it’s a compliment. But most of the time, it’s not. For example, I called an Esser 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon soft, but then I explained it “lacks structure, which makes it taste too sweet.” Sometimes, a wine without firm tannins and at least some decent acidity will taste sweet even it it’s technically dry.

This is the problem with so many California red wines. They’re too soft. That makes many of them taste alike, even when they’re made from varieties as different as Petite Sirah, Mourvedre, Syrah, Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel. We inherited from Old Europe the concept that different grape varieties should and do taste differently from each other. They’re grown in distinctive places to which they’re adapted their dna to thrive, and they express distinct qualities. I don’t suppose it has been easy, all these centuries, to mistake a Beaune Pinot Noir with a Saint-Estephe Cabernet Sauvignon (despite Harry Waugh’s wry “not since lunch” reply when asked if he’d ever confused Burgundy and Bordeaux).

But here in California it is very easy to confuse virtually any red variety for any other, with the possible exception of Pinot Noir. You’d think Sangiovese, that other “transparent” red wine, would show its telltale signature, but it doesn’t. Not when it’s made everywhere from Howell Mountain to Temecula, and the prevailing style is as I described an Andretti 2007: “Firm, chewy tannins and jammy black cherry flavors mark this dry red wine. It has nuances of currants and anise.” That could be almost anything, couldn’t it, even Pinot Noir.

Yet I must taste and review all the California wines that come my way and try to provide some help to readers. If so many things taste so similar, how do I distinguish between an 85 and a 92? My initial response would be “structure,” but that brings me back to David’s complaint about tannins. There are very few California wines that possess great structure. Even when I praise a wine’s structure, it must be seen as being relative: compared to most other wines, such and such a wine has a good structure. An example: of a J. Lohr 2006 Hilltop Cabernet Sauvignon, I wrote: “rich in tannic structure, with deep, complex flavors…” etc. Did I mean, then, to suggest it had the same tannin-acid structure that my colleague, Monica Larner, praised in Luciano Sandrone’s 2005 Cannubi Boschis, a Nebbiolo from Barolo? Of course not. But for a California Cabernet, and particularly one from Paso Robles, it showed good structure. This is what I mean when I stress that wine reviewing has to be done in context. Not “Is this a wine that can stand next to anything in the world” but “Is this a good example of its variety, region and winery?”

California grapegrowers and winemakers are aware of this problem of lack of structure, but some of them don’t seem to give a damn. They keep churning out soft wines that taste like melted dessert pastries, and I keep giving them low scores and wondering who in heaven’s name is buying this stuff. But check out this article from the current issue of Western Farm Press, which caters to the grower community. Researchers at Fresno State are tinkering with ways “to extract more anthocyanins, total phenols, tannins and color to improve wine quality,” which is to say, they’re developing “smaller berries [that] produce a higher skin-to-pulp ratio,” which in turn increases tannins, leading to better structure (as well as deeper flavors). Which giant wine company is Fresno State working with? Bronco. Good for Fred Franzia. He could probably sell anything he makes no matter what it is, so he deserves credit for trying to boost quality.

  1. Thanks for raising the need to consider context and peer groups when writing or interpreting reviews. Agreed on the redundancy of adjectives working across a wide span of varietals. and it bugs me when I notice it in my writing or when I read them in others… sometimes it haunts review relevance, but tucking it back into the context of the varietal under discussion makes things feel better.

    Also, the light you are shining on a sea of interchangeable jammy California varietals is something I thought about when I tasted a newly released Loomis Family Vineyards serious Rhone fruit Rose and a clean but exotic Grenache Blanc this weekend. While both reflect a house style of gripping acidity that eliminates any easy perception of soft roundness on the palate, I thought to myself that most jam fans would not like these well structured and balanced wines even though I, and probably your buddy David, would knock people over to get another glass. Maybe it is good to be weaned on so many soft wines so we can understand a more interesting winemaking approach when it presents itself.

  2. Monica Larner says:

    Steve, I’m in California now and am absolutely loving the full-bodied, velvety, soft wines from my great home state. The irony is that I’m also writing wine notes from my recent 2007 Barbaresco and 2006 Barolo tastings and am reminded of the raw, sometimes gritty tannins on those young wines. On this beautiful, sunny Californian morning, I’m not missing those tannins that much.

  3. Carlos Toledo says:

    Hi Steve, I may be wrong, but then again I’ll sleep tight tonight if so
    .
    In my beautiful mind one overlooked issue is that Americans and America tends to pasteurize food, juice, fruit, vegetables, etc etc etc AND WINE. By pasteurizing I mean to make everything equal….it means “to franchise” gastro-products.

    It’s cultural all of this happening. From Tijuana to Niagara Falls everything has the same flavor, the same smell. You people level to the ground things including taste and smell. Cheese up to the ear, sauces with huge amount of salt, and wines with the characteristics you talk about on a daily basis.

    Of course I say this taking the word AVERAGE as my standard. There are thousands of great bistro restaurants, boutique wineries, organic supermarkets and so on in your country, but they’re out of the mainstream or flying too low on the radar….

  4. I’ve got a wine for your friend – Tannat. Ours is pretty much all structure. Flavor profile so far seems to be defined by what it is not: not Pinot, not Cab, not Zin, not Syrah – and so on.

    But I know what you mean re: wines tasting alike. I was having a conversation about this with my tasting salon manager (he’s tasting a lot these days; studying for some certification or another). He rattled off a series of high-end wineries he’s tasted at recently where every red wine in the lineup tasted the same. Small differences to be sure but you could drop a hankie over the spread.

    To a degree I think this could be due to the stamp of the winemaker, house style, call it what you will. But I will open myself to charges of heresy by stating that perhaps our wines don’t have much sense of place because in general the places we have grapes planted just aren’t that special.

  5. Steve,

    I think you have potentially hit upon the “catch 22″ situation in California wine – as you and many others have discussed in the past – California wines are not the least expensive on the market but they are some of the best (and some of the worst, admittedly). But many, if not most, California wines are produced for almost immediate consumption – red wines that might develop a structure with tannins are (fill in the blank with) “picked too early/picked too late”, not left in barrel long enough (some red wines are not aged more than six months, but one would/could speculate that the average in California red wine is 12 months), nor “nurtured” to develop anything but a “softness.”

    And why is this? to sell, sell, sell. Most, not all, wineries must turn a profit and so wines need to be sold and out the door quickly – they can’t keep that Cabernet, Syrah, or certainly the Zin, in the barrel – and in many cases won’t even rack the wines more than once to achieve the structure, balance, tannin, etc. that might be desired in a “non-soft” wine…

    Obviously, hang time, barrel time, and need to sell, are not the complete answer, but certainly, part of the answer to your question. And, I believe, but may be incorrect, that part of it is consumer demand for these soft, “taste alike” wines.

    Richard.

    PS: As a disclaimer, I make a small amount of wine myself and can tell you that California can produce “wines of place” that are not “taste alikes.” My 2005 Cabernet is just now beginning to “calm down” on the tannin front and really show it’s structure; my 2006 Zin is just now “coming into it’s own” and won’t peak until 2012. And my wines do show place – i.e., when you taste the Cabernet, it is definitely “Napa” and most wine people will be able to narrow down the place… Then again, I can afford to let my wines age because I’m broke!

  6. I’ve been ranting about that “glopular” style for years. I just can’t wrap my head around drinking more than one glass of structureless, gooey wine anymore than I can squirting glass after glass of chocolate syrup on my tongue….eventually I’m going to need some water to whisk away the goo and with wine the tannin or acidity give me that freshness that leaves me wanting another glass. I might be able to deal with big opulent fruit if the acid or tannin were equally big…sadly almost never happens. We sell a domestic Dornfelder that is inky, almost black it so purple and when you spin the glass the wine lugs up the sides like a fat kid at track practice (and I am and was that fat kid so no snarls) slow, thick, laboring…then it falls down upon itself with a thud. The first thing everyone says about this wine is, “That is a massive wine”….um, not even close, glopular not massive because the wine has absolutely no tannin or acidity, just cannot drink things like that.

  7. David Sharp says:

    Having been a winemaker during the pre-ultraripe era, I have a hard time with the soft, lush fruit, slight alcohol burn and monolithic sameness of character that is the style in many California wines today. I keep talling some of my former winemaking colleagues – who are still making wine today – that I could make as good a wine as they do today from less ripe grapes, as we did in the 80’s, and they keep assuring me I could not.

    One of the best (worst?) examples of this style maxed out is Layer Cake Shiraz from Australia. I was at a barbecue recently where someone had brought a bottle of this wine. As I was responsible for what was being opened and served, I thought this should be a before dinner appetizer wine knowing what the style was like. I had a quick taste and I thought I was drinking fruit syrup of some kind. Slightly sweet and very syrupy – ack! But it was a hit among many attending the barbecue.

    Give me a good beam of acidity for the fruit to ride on and a little tannin for backbone and I’ll be a happy wine drinker.

  8. David, that’s the problem: lots of people like those syrupy wines, so there’s little incentive for producers to change the style.

  9. Carlos, I must be critical of you for using pasteurization as a synonym for processed or homogenized. A specific process designed to prevent microbial spoilage is but one technique and it’s designed to prevent spread of disease. It’s all too easy to take this for granted now that sanitation, refrigeration and other tools for preventing us from eating decaying if not waste matter are commonplace.

    Pasteurization is not the problem. It’s an industry based on low cost, low quality food with absurd levels of stability. While pasteurization certainly is used as a tool to extend shelf life and improve stability, let’s not forget that in many cases it’s important for giving some staple foods a reasonable shelf life. Milk and Velveeta or Cheese Wiz are really too different to criticize simultaneously for pasteurization, in my opinion.

    As far as wine, I suspect Steve is talking both about manipulated, processed industrial wines as well as boutique and small production wines. Jammy fruit is not necessarily a result of processing. Even if certain yeasts and stainless steel tanks are used to express jammy fruit, this is relatively hands off. Most often this is tied to fruit character, and to get very big fruit it is not so easy to do with bulk, high yield grapes.

  10. IMHO, “seriously smart farming” [1] and rigorous site selection can effectively, and significantly, improve the odds of producing naturally balanced grapes in CA.
    For that purpose, one should be looking for: cool vineyards with more water-retentive soils (which would slow the ripening process and, when possible, allow for dry farming) coupled with the right varieties; restricting irrigation & plant nutrition; limiting yields; promoting the development of plants with deep root systems, which in turn will smoothen (and at the same time, enhance the reliability of) the ripening process, making it easier for grapes to achieve mature, round tannins at adequate sugar levels, while retaining natural acids.
    [1]Grape Ripeness and Wine Alcohol; Kelly, John M.

  11. Great, Fresno State is finding new ways to over-extract wines! If there’s one thing CA wines don’t need, it’s greater extraction. Though they’re probably thinking more about how to milk more from Central Valley grapes than premium coastal ones would be my guess.

    At any rate, they just need to stop with the late harvests and quit messing in the cellar to make melted tannins on release. The hotter areas of Napa and Paso might also be considered for port-style wine production or grafted over to a late ripener like Mourvedre. Of course, they do that at their own peril as consumers generally like big fruit and milk-shake like texture in a table wine with the name Cab. If hard pressed, I would take that over a very lean, acidic and tannic wine with dilute flavor, though. Better too much than too little I suppose.

  12. Happy Heat Spell All,

    Let me add to what David wrote, with a little big picture winemaker perspective (and yes, I am starting to feel like a dino”sour” too…).

    First of all, the Tannins are there, thank you very much. The problem is the acid is not. Here is what happenned: wineries nailed down sanitation practices, and chemical companies came up with ways to sterileize wines without having to filter them. Just google Velcorin and you can find out the (interesting IMHO, details. So now winemakers can bottle HIGH PH (gives a “soapy” texture) and low acid (less interaction and synergistic effect of acid and tannins) wines without having to worry about bacterial spoilage.

    In the old days, no winemaker worth his Davis degree would dare do that, and rightly so – because you pretty much guarantee you will have vinegar in the bottle (or Brett) by the time you release the wine (we used to age wines at least a year after bottling).

    Syrupy (sp?) wines are here to stay, what can I say, it is a valid style that fits the general prevailing attitude of: ” I want everything right now” They do not bother me because I do not buy them (I have returned quite a few sample glasses in restaurants). I do think though that the consumer has a right to know what was done to the wine. If mega purple was added, it should be on the label, if Velcorin was used, it should say so. Just stirring the shit as I often do…

  13. I have a hard time with California wines (despite living on Silverado Trail for many years but there were tannins in the neighborhood then).
    Give me something that is different from the tastes I had in my milk. (I won’t get into ABV fiction).
    I am on your side on this, Steve.
    All things considered, if I can’t feel like I am somehow engaging with the red wine (tannins), I might as well have a cocktail…or a Coke. And with the excitement about pairings with food, whoa!
    I was going to say smooth is good in music and sex but decided that actually neither benefits from lack of engagement.

  14. Oded is right. I forgot acidity.

  15. Oded, I just thought Velcorin was some innocuous fining agent until you brought it up. That’s some ‘interesting’ stuff! Toxic to handle, it penetrates cell membranes to prevent yeast and bacteria from functioning. Yet it supposedly hydrolyzes into methanol and CO2 rapidly. Basically it could seriously harm a person in its initial form, and one of its byproducts is a nasty alcohol we shouldn’t consume. That doesn’t preclude its safe use, but errors in handling or in dosing would be very bad news. Do I trust Fred Franzia or Gallo or Constellation or Foster’s or Diageo with this power???

    Dr. Velcorin, Or: Or How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love The Flabby Fruit Bomb

  16. I have been cupping coffee lately, trying to learn, and am struck by similarities in the state of both the coffee industry and the wine industry.

    Classically in coffee, the acid component is critical to its flavor and is expected to be a sharp, lively, and pleasing characteristic. Tannins were important too, but only in adding to the body, but not causing harshness or bitterness. To a classically trained coffee palate, a flat, lifeless coffee is considered lacking “finesse” and the taster appreciates the distictive characteristics of the hundreds of growing regions and dozens of coffee varieties. These regional and varietal characteristic are enhanced and preserved during the roast which can easily be taken too far destroying all regional or varietal character. Bitterness usually comes from the roaster who overroasts the beans, but that doesn’t matter if you add enough sugar, milk, chocolate and vanilla.

    And so you look at the coffee industry today. Low acid, soft coffees are preferred and usually over roasted which means they have to be even more insipid. The roaster who does his blends and his job in a classical fashion is considered a dinosaur, just like the winemaker who follows out of fashion styles.

    Like coffee, in the mainstream wine world acids are now kept as low as possible, musts are heavily extracted, and alcohol used to cover harshness. (maybe they need milk and sugar) Varietal and regional differences are not important and are passed by during overripening. The new reality is seen everywhere in all price categories and in wines never tasted by critics. So it is not all Parker. But it is seen in its extreme in wines that depend on scores and critical review to sell. These are wines that are reviewed, compared side by side, scored, and sold at two years of age. A structured, acidic wine of moderate alcohol and regional taste cannot compete.

    The good news for some, we may have a short respite and fewer of those syrupy, over extracted wines to kick around from 2010. Well, given a finite capacity in R.O. services, they can’t all be concentrated.

  17. Carlos Toledo says:

    Greg, i used pasteurized as a common term some folks use for homogeneous matter (just as you said). It has nothing to do with the real meaning of the word. … i should have mentioned that english is also spoken in other parts of the world too. he he.

    Again, i meant to say american taste is (in general) so dull, … so full of artificial crap in all food, juices, drinks and now wine. It’s a reflex of your current culture. Isn’t food and drinks a huge part of our culture after all?

    Get ouside the US and A (Borat’s trademark) and grasp what i’m trying to say here. Europe, Asia, South America…

    I’m curious to know your opinion now that you know what i really meant, mate.

  18. Greg,

    What’s a little methanol for those of us who survived the 60’s…..

  19. Carlos, I agree in principle with the spirit of your statement. It’s more a question of semantics. I don’t think a revolutionary process such as Pasteurization should be used generically as you use it for processed food. It discredits the scientific revolution in terms of understanding microbial pathogens.

    I also disagree with your characterization of processed food as a solely American problem. It is a global one. I don’t think for one minute that all of those Chilean wines on my grocery store shelf are minimally processed. Nor do I think the ‘oceans of plonk’ in Languedoc that are tanked in cargo holds to Gallo’s bottling plants in the US are minimally processed. Europeans are certainly less fat than Americans, but let’s not ignore that fast food and processed food have a foothold there as well.

    I grasp what you are saying quite clearly. Frankly, I find your tone condescending and assumption that all Americans are foolish quite rude. When we can start viewing issues like this as global problems and stop attacking science, that’s when the conversation gets interesting. This requires critical thinking, not ideology.

  20. Carlos America is a very big country. There are many fat people who eat fast food and have dull tastes. But we also have an exciting locovore culture, organic foods, artisanal food, pure ingredients, a highly developed wine and food culture (especially in wine regions and cities like NYC, SF, LA) and don’t forget our very exciting ethnic mix — what other country has Tex-Mex, Caribbean, Vietnamese, French, Brazilian, Italian, Thai, Afghan, Indian, etc. etc. etc. Come visit me in San Francisco and I will show you great food!

  21. Carlos Toledo says:

    Steve, i lived in SFO and i had the best time of my life there. I fell definitely in love with wine there and i plan to retire and live there (trust me, i know a good part of the world, few places face SFO in terms of natural beauty and life quality). The same can’t be said about the mid-west where i spent a great amount of time.

    Damn, i suck with words, you guys have understood 50% of what i mean and/or think, LOL.

    The change in taste takes a long time, persuasion and a lot of work. At my little wine shop of horrors i beg my customers to try different things. Some really stick to a damn brand/grape and very likely will take that idea to the grave…. but a few dudes are receptive to changes and new tastes. They get bored of drinking the same argentinos and chilenos wines all the time (60% of the market here). And then comes europe with more real wines at decent prices, in spite of huge import and customs taxes.

    Californian wines here, good or bad are almost nil. Shame on you, producers! I’ve traveled for 45 days in 2009 and i couldn’t convince a single wine producer to talk to me.

    Gotta love this blog, 4 great topics (at least) 5 days a week.

  22. Steve,

    You make a good point about two different Americas, and I would reccommend to Carlos to keep an open mind and take you up on your offer (I assume WE will be paying…). But, keeping to the original subject, he has a point that I find very valid and supports my argument that we are still in the midst of a process here. Yes, you can find unreal artisan bread in Northern CA but try finding something other than a spongy Wonderbread in Waco Texas (staying off wine for a minute and jabbing at Texans for no reason whatsoever…). It took almost two years before I could get an expresso in Healdsburg when I first arrived here.

    IMHO, this, and the problem with wine styles is a side effect of the weird form of capitalism we practice here. Low costs rule! That is why we need Holywood to produce “Honey I shrunk The Kids for the fifth Time” before they can get to “Pulp Fiction”. It is going to take time to raise the demand for quality.

  23. Steve Waymnire says:

    I love these comments about cool weather cabernet. I own a vineyard in southern Sonoma Valley that the large producers say is too cool to ripen to the levels they want – 25.5 to 26 brix. The few buyers are wine makers working on their own projects. Seems the wine makers know what they want to drink. If they want to add color and a bit of depth in flavor, we have malbec for that. The French blend their wines for a very good reason. What’s wrong with a nice wine to drink with dinner.

  24. There are connoisseurs (2%) and then there are consumers (94%) with a segment of wine drinkers who have the palate and experience to enjoy the nuances noticed by the structuralists. But no where in this discussion do I find much if any acknowledgement of price. The former group, the enthusiasts, can usually back up their appreciation with resources. But most folks, who are watching their pennies more carefully these days, consider that a beverage to enjoy with dinner on Tuesday night, or any night, just can’t cost more than _________ (in the low teens for most). After all, it’s only wine. Just like it’s only coffee, but unlike wine prices coffee prices reflect this allowing Morton and I to try a wide variety of beans.

    I would also argue that the commentators above are too harsh on New World wines. Lower acidity and softer tannins, yes, but they are still there, though rightly more in the background. And fortuitously, these “approachable” wines, with vibrant fruit without being bombs, are priced to sell and be consumed on a regular basis.

    I tasted a fair number of wines at the Family Winemakers gathering yesterday and Sunday, and way too many were too acidic and too tannic, i.e., too structured, IMHO. I’ll stick with the Bronco emphasis on QPR.

  25. Hey Steve, I think that the Ca. winemeakers are just doing their best to make wines that their target market would like to consume.

    For example:
    More than a few local wineries have told me that nearly %70 of their business comes from Southern California. I think i read that LA is the #2 largest wine consuming city in the world.
    Tell me if you think that LA is the #2 most “sofixticated pallet” market in the world? I doubt it is anywhere near the top 10.

  26. Steve,
    I have hypothesis for you:
    1) Overripe grapes, because of the market and/or because of winemaker’s lack of knowledge when it comes to call the picks (They rather wait that pick it when green. most of the time they wait too long)=No varietal characters=raisins, ripe cherries and ripe plums.

    2) Tannin additions. People is adding it to all their wines no matter the variety an without doing bench trial before adding it.

    On the Hilltop CS from J. Lohr, I could not find the percentages for the 2006 but the 2007 has 6% Petite Sirah, 4% Malbec and 3% Petite Verdot. There it is the structure…i have not yet try it but I bet it taste like Petite Sirah.

  27. Steve,
    I have 2 hypothesis for you:
    1) Overripe grapes, because of the market and/or because of winemaker’s lack of knowledge when it comes to call the picks (They rather wait that pick it when green. most of the time they wait too long)=No varietal characters=raisins, ripe cherries and ripe plums.

    2) Tannin additions. People is adding it to all their wines no matter the variety an without doing bench trial before adding it.

    On the Hilltop CS from J. Lohr, I could not find the percentages for the 2006 but the 2007 has 6% Petite Sirah, 4% Malbec and 3% Petite Verdot. There it is the structure…i have not yet try it but I bet it taste like Petite Sirah.

  28. Steve,
    I applaud your taste for structure and balance. I know there are many other frustrated winemakers, writers and consumers who feel the same way. Unfortunately, your powerful peers, the joker on the left of you and the clown to the right, seem to have kindergarten palates for plum jam on toast. Scores not only sell wine, they also communicate a professional opinion of quality. As as long as fat, insipid, and over-ripe wines get the hype, we will be in this boat for the foreseeable future. Keep up the good fight!

  29. Tom, I guess I’m stuck in the middle with you.

  30. wow I am so sorry for you guys. The world will ship to your door and you can’t find enough wine to make you happy. I am amazed that an $8.00 bottle of Esser doesn’t have enough “structure” to keep it balanced but then maybe you didn’t buy it and thought it cost more. Thanks for looking out for us, and Steve I hope you find a job you like
    ps Steve, just taste those shitty California wines drink the ones you like

  31. I am a firm believer that the consuming public should be able to get what they want. So, for the large segment of the wine drinking population that wants soft, syrupy, easy to drink wines, let California wineries fulfill their needs.

    Meanwhile, since I consume 80% of my wine with meals, I will continue to seek the few and far between California wineries that are still producing more structured wines that work well with food. This generally means fewer California wine and more reasonably priced imports.

  32. Lot’s of reductionist arguments going on here. Sure there is an ocean of cheap, soft red wine out there. There’s also the 95 point trophy wine phenomena made with uber-ripe grapes left to hang until they have no trace of acidity or tannin. Again I will point to our wines from Diamond Mtn and other neighboring mountian AVA’s…plenty of tannin and structure there. Also I help make Pinot Noirs at Marimar Estate that have plenty of backbone and are designed for cellaring.

  33. Hi Bill looking forward the the diamond mtn. tasting!

  34. Tannin compounds and structure are there, however…

    the lack of natural acid due to very overly ripe fruit and the glycirine levels in these high alc wines are covering or masking the tannin, which allows the wines to taste fat and plush for the first year or two… until the hidden tannins settle down and guess what happens next… The zins, Cabs and now Pinot Noirs TASTE sweet after three years in bottle. I’m witnessing this almost every time I open most ’04 and 05’s now a days… What a shame.

    I almost can’t believe the dismal state of many wines in todays wine world. High gycirine content from the high sugars will be the down fall of many. All we need to do is wait and see.

    Why do winemaker’s allow this? Parker, Spectator, and other corporate wine people living and working in places like NYC and other East Coast offices. People who don’t know chit about grape growing or the need for acid and on time harvesting. Yet the number moneys still come a runnin’.

  35. So, Randy, how many 95 or 97 Napa Cabs have you tasted in the last year?These wines are 13 to 15 years old and they were made from ripe grapes. Are they sweet? Are they lacking structure as a group? Are they all that different from the way the 74s and the 78s have aged?

    It would not surprise me if Pinots of 2003 were not structured wines? But it would surprise me if the Gary Farrells or Williams Selyems of 2003 were fat and sloppy and were heading over the hill.

    How many Zins ever aged much past eight or ten years? Ever?

  36. You do realize, I hope, that tannins do not have any taste but are only felt. At least, that is what the scientists say. So, the feel of a wine, the lack of tannins grabbing your taste buds, will likely be accompanied by tastes that are pushing from ripe to over-ripe to raisin or prune. Correlations will mate higher tannins adhering to the tongue, with less ripeness, less pruney, flavors. Unless of course, the wine has been manipulated after the grapes were harvested.

  37. As I read through everything, I was chewing on what Charmion hit in the last sentence.
    Of course manipulation is a difficult word. When does normal non-interventionist winemaking cross into frankenwine? Is there a “best practices” line?
    And, what ever happened to the plan (was it FDA?) to list everything (well not everything, actually) that goes into the wine?
    Even if the label laid everything bare, knowledge about a wine doesn’t automatically translate the same way for every buyer. No more than it does for anything else on the grocery shelf.

  38. Kathy, I don’t know what happened to those rumors about listing ingredients on labels. If that happens, some of these bottles are going to have humungous labels on them!

  39. We should no longer be allowed to “hydrate” at the crushpad. That’s right… Adding water at the crushpad because one wasn’t able to get the grapes to the crushpad in their timely manner is not PART of being a good grower/winemaker. Since when was adding water and acid at the crushpad part of sound, pro winemaking that should be held to a high esteem? IMHO, making hydration illegal would force growers and winemakers to better time their harvest sugar/acid/ph ratios. Although the thought of another rule or law makes me distraught, I think we’d make better wine because of it.

    Charlie, the names you mentioned are the few exceptions. I agree with you on them all, however considering the vast number of Pinot and Cab’s out there, the actual number of wines out there with any amount of real age ability wines are minuscule.

  40. I sell wine in a tasting room in a big tourist area and am torn between what I sell and what I want. I love a cool climate aromatic merlot with dusty tannin, or an Oakville Cab that has aged to where the tannin is subtle. As much as I like and promote that, my commission comes from selling smooth big cabernet which is what most weathly tourists are going for. (fortunately we have both) I think there is room for it all but with the current economy fewer wineries are risking the “edgy” wines and going for the jammy center where sales are safe. Once a customer travels across the country to come visit your winery you have to meet a minimum of their expectations. Make it as easy as possible for them to buy your wine. Maybe there should be a study of economic conditions and tannin levels in wine.

  41. I think certainly Ridge produces Cabernets with structure, year in and year out. But they are in the minority. I recently visited and wrote about on my blog about special tastings at the top Napa houses, such as Joseph Phelps and Shafer, and those wines are pleasing to the palate off the get-go, while still commanding tremendous scores, prices, and following. I posted my discussion with Elias Fernandez, the iconic winemaker from Shafer, about differences between his Hillside Select and Bordeaux, and it was interesting to hear his thoughts as to why Napa makes wines one way and Bordeaux another way – a provocative topic.

  42. One reason Zinfandel is my favorite varietal is that, to me, it can achieve great body and structure without relying on tannins to do the heavy lifting (unlike a Cab).

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