I taste a lot of common wine, vin ordinaire, plonk, call it what you will. Some of it is pretty awful stuff. I also taste a lot of very expensive wine, the kind sometimes called, for lack of a better word, “cult.” In this, I’m different from some other critics, who taste only the top stuff. Me, I taste everything in my portfolio, which includes “California” appellation wines that often contain Central Valley fruit.
There’s a school of thought in wine tasting that tasting mediocre wine long enough eventually compromises the palate to the point where it cannot recognize the elite qualities of higher-toned wines. The suggestion has a human parallel. It’s like saying that someone from the ghetto can’t appreciate fine art, because he’s been raised under vulgar circumstances and thus his capability to appreciate the finer things in life is limited.
Leaving aside the racist implications of this theory, I would argue exactly the opposite: that tasting mediocre wine makes it more possible for me to appreciate great wine.
The defects of mediocre wines are many, but the most common simply is the absence of concentration. “Concentration” is very important to wine. Its opposite is thinness, wateriness, which is often the result of overcropping the wines. Blending press juice into wine can also make it harsher and contribute to an absence of concentration.
Many, many California wines are mediocre (which means “ordinary, neither good nor bad”). There’s an ocean of mediocre Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay produced for the average drinker who doesn’t want to spend a fortune. Lately, we’re seeing more and more mediocre Pinot Noirs, as that variety spikes in popularity, and let me tell you, a mediocre Pinot Noir is even less pleasant than a mediocre Cabernet!
It can be depressing to taste mediocre wines. Even when it’s not actually a drag, it’s not a whole lot of fun. It’s work. You think the critic’s day is spent lounging around in silk pajamas sipping wine, occasionally taking time to snack on a little foie gras or smoked trout? Let me tell you, a flight of Central Valley Cabernets is tough. But I console myself considerably when I find one that’s actually pretty good. If the price is low enough to make it a Best Buy in Wine Enthusiast, that’s a happy day for me.
There’s a part of me (and of every wine aficienado, I suppose) that yearns to taste great wine. There’s a hedonistic and intellectual appeal to such adventures that’s part of the reason why we became wine fanatics in the first place. This is why tasting mediocre wine can be so valuable. It’s as if, after a long trek through the desert, you’re so parched with thirst, that when you finally come across some cool, potable water, it tastes like ambrosia–not just plain old H2O, but some nectar of the gods. You can appreciate the highs all the more, for having gone through the lows.
I wrote last week about score inflation, and how a number crunch of our database at Wine Enthusiast suggests that, in recent years, my very high scores have been inching up–not by a lot, but ever so steadily. I wrote that this could be due to the fact that California wine is simply getting better, which I happen to believe is true. But it also could be true because I’m tasting more mediocre wine than ever, and I think I’m also more acute to discerning mediocrity in a wine than I used to be. That discernment for recognizing problems in wine has a counterpoint in an equal discernment for recognizing superlative quality.
One final phenomenon occurs to me, and it’s something I’ve thought of often over the years but never fully worked out in my mind. What exactly is the difference between a 100-point wine and an 85-point wine of the same type? Are they so completely different that they may as well be thought of as different species–not just apples and oranges, but apples and zebras?
Well, no. An 85 (or 84, or 86, or 88) point wine often isn’t all that different from a 100 point wine. That’s the truth that amateurs often pick up on, but are ashamed to admit, because they think it makes them look stupid. An 86 point Cabernet from Napa Valley is pretty much the same as a 100 point Cabernet from Napa Valley, except for that “concentration” I spoke earlier about. There are other rather abstract qualities that go along with concentration, such as balance, elegance and the finish, but these do require discernment of a type it takes many years to acquire. So, while a discerning palate can appreciate those higher-toned qualities, the mind that rules that palate also understands that we’re talking about shades of difference, not evolutionary paradigm shifts.
Anyway, I’ve wandered a bit from my original premise that tasting plonk can make the palate appreciate great wine even more, so let me reprise with it. Part of me wishes it didn’t have to taste mediocre wine, but my better angels recognize that it’s an important and educational part of my job.
Let’s all wish our friends and loved ones in the path of the eastern storms good luck!
Continued thanks to all of you who have taken the time to fill out my reader survey. I’m up to 205 responses, which is incredible. If you’d like to participate (it’s completely anonymous), you can click here to access it. I hope you will.
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Can a Pinot Noir that’s blended from different vineyards be as good as or better than one from a single vineyard?
I asked that question years ago in my first book, A Wine Journey along the Russian River, and I never did get around to answering it, for a good reason: there is no right answer. Several famous Pinot Noir winemakers told me the same thing. We all know that the most expensive Pinot Noirs do bear vineyard designations, but there’s no reason, in theory, why you couldn’t blend barrel samples from Anderson Valley, the Russian River Valley and the Santa, err, Sta. Rita Hills and come up with something amazing.
Thought experiment: carefully make such a blend and then serve it, under blind tasting circumstances, to the proponents of terroir who insist they can tell a Sta. Rita Hills from a Russian River Valley with both hands tied behind their backs. Wouldn’t it be something if some great palate sniffed it and declaimed, “Aha! A blend of the North and Central Coasts!” But that’s the stuff of fiction.
At any rate, as I said, you could make such a blend, but then it would have to have the lowly “California” appellation on the label, and you know what that means: nobody would want it. Oh, there’s be a few sommeliers and critics here and there who raved about it, but most consumers would shy away, believing that a despised “California” origin on a wine means it probably comes from the Central Valley and isn’t any good.
This is why folks with access to grapes from up and down the coast, like Siduri, Loring and Patz & Hall, generally don’t make California-appellated Pinot Noirs, preferring the single-vineyard approach. (There are exceptions: Testarossa has a Cuvée Niclaire that’s a blend of their best vineyards and it’s also their most expensive Pinot. But Testarossa is decidedly the outlier here.) This is, of course, the Burgundian approach: your most expensive and theoretically “best” wines are your vineyard designates or blocks within vineyards. The communal wine is your next, less expensive tier, while your regional bottling (“Burgundy”) is your least expensive.
It’s not strange that the Californians borrowed from the Burgundian model, which itself is the product of that region’s particular history, culture and law. But it is worth considering that 12 different single vineyard Pinot Noirs, good as they may be, might not be quite as good as a wine made from blending them all together, which could even out some of the divots.
But these are angels-dancing-on-pinhead musings, and we can put them aside for the moment and consider just how interesting it can be when a talented winemaker gets his hands on fabulous grapes from different vineyards and, with hardly any care about how much money it takes, crafts Pinot Noirs from each of them of the highest quality. Who do you think of when reading these words? I think of Bob Cabral, at Williams Selyem, whose Fall releases I tasted yesterday.
My full reviews will appear in upcoming issues of Wine Enthusiast, so I won’t talk about them here today, except to say that there were 13 of them, and they were all 2010s. Most of the vineyards are ones that Bob has bought fruit from for a very long time (Allen, Rochioli Riverblock, Weir, etc.). Now, the 2010 vintage for Pinot Noir was heralded at the time (much as the 2012s are now being touted) because it was cool, and pundits predicted the grapes would get mature without the high alcohol that plagued earlier, warmer years. I’ve now tasted through many 2010 Pinot Noirs and can say that, while the cool weather did indeed result in relatively modestly alcoholic Pinot Noirs, some of them were marred by mold. I assume this was a case in which the winery didn’t do adequate sorting (which is very costly), so that moldy grapes passed into the fermenting tanks. The smell of a moldy wine (not TCA from corks, but more likely botrytis from dampness) is awful.
However, the best wineries have rigorous sorting regimes (which simply means they hire a lot of people to hand-sort through the grapes on a slow assembly line, picking out individual berries that look bad). And Williams Selyem certainly is one of the best wineries. In all thirteen wines there wasn’t a hint of mold. To the contrary, these are splendid Pinot Noirs. Some are more tannic than others, and will require aging. Some are so delicious, you can hardly keep your hands off them, but even the most delicious will age. (Bob and I went through 20-plus years of Allen last year and, while some vintages were weaker than others, it was clear that Allen is a wine for the cellar. But most of Bob’s vineyard designates are.)
Could Bob blend all 13 wines together and come out with something wonderful? Of course he could. He already does something like this with his “Westside Road” and “Eastside Road” Neighbors blends. These both are wines that can stand proudly beside their single vineyard (and more expensive) brethren (or sistren, as the case may be). Tasted blind, it would not surprise me if a seasoned critic preferred one of the Neighbors wines to one of the vineyard designates. I sat with Bob years ago when he was in his little office at the old Williams Selyem winery conducting trials to put together the first Westside Road Neighbors. It was a very informal process, taking little glass vials of the different barrel samples and blending them into a glass beaker. Had he tinkered with the blend on the day before or the next day, it undoubtedly would have been different. There’s an element of serendipity (or random chance) in such things.
But Bob Cabral has many compelling reasons for producing single-vineyard Pinot Noirs. They appeal to the intellect, especially of those with long association with the winery. The growers from whom he buys like seeing their vineyards’ names on a bottle of Williams Selyem wine. There also is, we must not forget, the commercial aspect, referred to above, whereby a winery can change more for a vineyard designate than for a wine with a regional or statewide appellation.
Of Bob’s 2010s, my nod goes to his Far Sonoma Coast Pinots: Hirsch and Precious Mountain. What exciting wines they are. I’ll be up in that neck of the woods next month, on an extended visit, my first in a few years. Can’t wait.
First, huge thanks to all of you who took the time to fill out my reader survey yesterday. It had an unbelievable 117 responses the first day! If you still haven’t done it, you can click here to access it. I sure would appreciate it. In a few weeks, this information will help me figure out what to do with steveheimoff.com to make it better.
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I’m often asked which California wine type do I think has made the best improvement over the years. All of them, I usually say, because I think it’s true: California wine is better than I ever remember it, and I’ve been drinking it seriously (I mean studiously) for nigh on 35 years. (Does anyone under the age of 50 say “nigh on”? It means “almost,” of course, and comes from the old German word “Nahe” for “near.” Nahe” is also the name of the German wine region. Can anyone explain this connection? If you can, you get a free subscription to my blog.)
The problem with comparing wines separated by decades of time is that the comparison can only be done in memory, which is fallible. Did I really think David Arthur 2009 Elevation 1147 (99 points, $150), which I reviewed this summer, was better than a 1978 Clos du Val Cabernet (price and alcohol level unrecorded), which I had when it was a few years old? I didn’t rate the latter wine; why would I, years before I became a wine critic? But, to judge by my notes in my Tasting Diary, I thought it was superb (“Gorgeous, beautiful, tannic, but opulent, full of fruit and glycerine. Wish I had waited another 4-5 years [to open]”).
That I found both of these wines superlative, separated by nearly 30 years, is evident, so how can I say that one was better than the other? After all, if the Clos du Val actually was better–and had I been scoring it–I would have had to give it 100 points! So this illustrates some of the pitfalls in saying “California wines are getting better.”
This question of “Are California wines getting better” also arises during discussions of “score inflation” that pop up from time to time. If my scores are higher than they used to be (and they are a little, as Wine Enthusiast’s database shows), a rational explanation is that the wines have improved. However, an equally rational explanation is that my “palate” has changed in some way that prompts me to rate the wines higher. Or perhaps something in my mind has changed, which then influences my palate. It’s hard to say. To further confuse things, there are plenty of people (the anti-high alcohol crowd) who argue that California wines actually are worse than they used to be. They might accuse my palate (and those of critics like me) of having become jaded by these ultra-rich wines, so that anything with finesse or subtlety doesn’t get noticed.
Let’s take a step back. Strictly objectively, you’d have to say that California wines are better than they used to be because they’re less flawed. Fewer bad corks, cleaner wines due to cleaner wineries, healthier rootstocks and plant material, more grapes organically or sustainably grown, and so on.
So you can see that the simple statement “California wine are better than they used to be” is not so simple after all. It’s rather like asking, “Is America better than it used to be?” People of different ages and backgrounds will have all sorts of opinions, but nothing is provable, the way a mathematical equation (2+2=4) is provable to everyone’s satisfaction.
Still, I’d say California wines are better than they used to be. Can’t prove it. Just my opinion. Sue me if you disagree.
Having said that, it got me thinking about what wine type has improved (or seems to have improved) the most over the years. The answer, obviously, is Pinot Noir, but we all know that. Is there another type that’s less obvious? Yes: white Rhône-style blends. I’ve given more high scores to them in the last several years than ever before. Why this should be so, I think, is due to grapegrowers’ ability to better farm these often difficult varietals, and to winemakers’ increasing understanding of how to properly blend this family of grapes, which includes Roussanne, Marsanne, Picpoul Blanc, Grenache Blanc and Viognier.
A California white Rhône blend should be rich, fruity and balanced, although it will seldom equal the opulence of a great barrel-fermented Chardonnay. But the best of them are able to support some oak. Firmer than Chardonnay, nuttier and more floral, with more backbone, they pair well with a wider range of food than does Chardonnay. Some of the better ones I’ve had lately have been Krupp Brothers 2008 Black Bart’s Bride Marsanne-Viognier, Tablas Creek’s 2010 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc and 2011 Patelin de Tablas Blanc (a nice value), Adelaida 2010 The Glenrose Vineyard “Version,” Calcareous 2009 Viognier-Marsanne, Demetria 2009 Cuvée Papou and Kiamie 2009 White Kuvée. Interesting that so many of them come from Paso Robles. Could a cool vintage in a hot climate be just what a white Rhône blend wants?
There still aren’t many of these wines produced. Statewide acreage of Viognier, the most widely-planted white Rhône variety, in 2011 was only 3,020, barely one-thirtieth that of Chardonnay, so the wines must necessarily be rare. Nor do they command particularly high prices, except for cult examples like Alban and Sanguis.
Still, the winemakers committed to making these wines are passionate. White Rhône-style wines haven’t made much of a dent on the national radar, yet; but sommeliers are well aware of them, and so are critics. They could be the Next Big Thing in white wine.
The conversation of whether California Chardonnays or Rieslings age or don’t age rarely happens, and for good reason: few do, and most people don’t care about aging white wines the way they do with reds. Of course, it all depends on what you mean by “age.” Most any wine will last for a while before becoming utterly undrinkable, whatever that means. By “aging” we mean to indicate several qualities about a wine: that it becomes better (again, whatever that means) – that it becomes more interesting (but this is in the eye of the beholder) – that the connoisseur will appreciate it whereas a novice might not (but we have to be careful with such descriptors) – that it is worthy of respect to still be clean and drinkable at a great age – that it has transcended its fruity origins (primary) and achieved secondary or tertiary characteristics.
That long opening paragraph is meant to indicate some of the problems or issues involving older wines. Tasting an old wine that is, by some sort of common critical consensus, “properly aged” is not a simple matter, cut-and-dried, like determining whether or not milk is fresh or spoiled.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, I can tell you about a tasting yesterday at RN74 in San Francisco of some wines from the famous Stony Hill Vineyard. In case you don’t know, Stony Hill is one of California’s and certainly one of Napa Valley’s oldest, continually-operated wineries, run by the founding family–in this case, the McCreas. Fred and Eleanor bought their property high up on Spring Mountain in 1943, and nine years later, in 1952, they produced their first vintage of Chardonnay. Riesling subsequently followed, and, in 2009, they made their first-ever Cabernet Sauvignon, released just a month or so ago.
(Trivia segue: Only three wineries in Napa Valley that were in business in 1952 are still owned and operated by the same families today: Stony Hill, Charles Krug [by the Peter Mondavi family] and–who’s the third? Guess. The answer is at the end of this post. First to get it right gets a free lifetime subscription to steveheimoff.com.)
Anyway, here are my notes. I’m not scoring the wines because in my judgment it’s harder to rate old white wines like these than younger ones since the perception of them is so varied. Besides, I obviously tasted them openly and that is not my usual tasting procedure.
2010 Chardonnay: Classic Stony Hill style, dry, minerally and citrusy, with little apparent oak. (The alcohol on all the Chardonnays is in the 13% range, give or take a little.)
2006 Chardonnay: Shy at first, then lemon verbena and mineral notes. Drying out a little. Somewhere between fresh and aged, indeterminate. Something mushroomy suggests wild mushroom risotto.
2001 Chardonnay: Spectacular. Roasted honey, dried lime, minerals, salt. Fruit fading into the background. Interesting and nuanced.
1997 Chardonnay: So clean and inviting. Really stands out. Honey, sweet cream, Meyer lemons, vanilla. Obviously no longer young, but fresh, tangy, vibrant.
1994 Chardonnay: Clearly an old Chard, but no trace of corruption. Nuts, sherry-like oxidation, dried fruits and honey. So dry, with mouthwatering acidity.
1982 Chardonnay: Botrytis shows in the sweetness. Impressive for 30 years in the bottle, but for me the sweetness is off-putting.
1978 Chardonnay: A touch of corkiness? Or just getting old? Whatever, it’s dry, creamy and nutty, with Meyer lemons, minerals and pears. Perfectly fine and complex. 38 years old and still kicking!
1992 White Riesling: At 20 years, such a wonderful wine. Off-dry, honeyed, brilliantly crisp, offering ripe orange blossom, green apple and mango flavors. Has at least 10 more years ahead.
1988 White Riesling: Has picked up an old gold color. Very pure aromas. Old, filled with tertiary notes, not for everyone. Dry, delicate, brittle, sweet toffee, grapefruit, lemon zest, salty. Some oxidation, like a manzanilla sherry.
2009 Cabernet Sauvignon: Their first Cab ever. Made in an old style: 13.5% alcohol, tight, tannic, bone dry, earthy, with sour red cherry and red currant fruit. Fans of ripe, opulent, high alcohol Cabs might not like it. Will age for many decades. I would love to taste this wine in 2029 and maybe I will.
Answer to trivia segue: Nichelini.
Yesterday I wrote about Best Buy wines on the market now. Best Buys are defined rather strictly by Wine Enthusiast according to a price-score relationship. For example, if a wine scores 87 points and costs no more than $12, it automatically gets a Best Buy designation. The editor (in this case, me) has no discretion in the matter. It’s all in the numbers.
We also have another class of special designation called Editor’s Choice. This is where we editors can apply our discernment and judgment. The guidelines for Editor’s Choice are “wines that represent excellent quality at a price above our Best Buy range, or wines that merit special attention whether for quality or uniqueness regardless of price.”
This obviously opens up a whole world of possibilities. It would be easy, I suppose, to overdo the Editor’s Choice selections, since the parameters are so loose as to be almost subjective. But I’ve found, over the years, that I’m pretty selective about it. I don’t want my Editor’s Choices to seem promiscuously chosen, or selected for any reason other than that the wine really impresses me for something.
It’s hard to say, in the abstract, why I choose Editor’s Choices. A better approach is to use specific wines I gave the designation to and explain my thinking.
Often, even expensive wines can earn an Editor’s Choice:
Failla’s 2010 Chardonnay, from Ehren Jordan’s estate vineyard way up at Fort Ross, on the far Sonoma Coast, isn’t cheap. At $44, it’s pricier than most people I know would spend on a bottle of wine, except for a special occasion. But then, not every Chardonnay I review gets 99 points, which makes $44 seem bargainesque, which makes the wine an Editor’s Choice.
Ditto Von Strasser’s 2009 Estate Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, from up on Diamond Mountain. It’s not the only Napa Cab I gave 98 points to. But, at $70, it’s a helluva lot less expensive than its peers, not to mention dozens of triple-digit Cabs that aren’t even as good. That makes in unique.
Then there’s the De Loach 2009 Pennacchio Vineyard Pinot Noir, from the Russian River Valley, which I gave 96 points. Seriously good Pinot, and the price–$45–makes it a must buy. An easy winner for Editor’s Choice.
There’s another category that’s not super expensive, but not cheap either. Let’s say, from $18-$30. If these wines are outstanding or unique in some other way, I’ll give them an Editor’s Choice. For instance:
Arrowood 2009 Saralee’s Vineyard Viognier, from the Russian River Valley, got one for its 95 point score and (almost everyday) price of $30. It also earned the designation because good Viognier is rare in California, and this is a really good one.
This was a no brainer: Joseph Carr Dijon Clone Chardonnay, from the Sonoma Coast. 94 points for eighteen bucks? You have got to be kidding.
Another Duh! Editor’s Choice was the Tangent 2011 Paragon Vineyard Viognier, from Edna Valley. 92 points, $17. Can’t beat it. In the same everyday price/high quality realm is Gainey’s 2010 Limited Selection Sauvignon Blanc, from down in the Santa Ynez Valley. 92 points at $19 is a steal.
Sometimes I give an Editors Choice just because the wine is offbeat and different, or I get the feeling it will be great with a vast array of food. Some of the Pinots and Cabs I rate very highly are highly specialized wines that, good as they are, are necessarily limited in what foods to drink them with. I mean, Harlan and Colgin and Verité demand foods with a high degree of sophistication and specificity geared to the wine’s flavors and textures. On the other hand is a wine like Vina Robles’ 2010 Red4, from Paso Robles (90 points, $17). A Syrah-Petite Sirah blend, it’s so versatile and elegant, if I were a sommelier I’d buy it. Production was nearly 12,000 cases–ease of finding in the marketplace can also weigh in on the Editor’s Choice designation.
One of the least expensive wines I gave an Editor’s Choice this past year was the Sterling 2009 Vintner’s Collection Syrah, with a Central Coast appellation. Thirteen bucks, 87 points. Hey, at that price, it would be one of my house reds (if I had one). High case production, too. It’s a pleasure for me to be able to use my judgment and recommend a wine as an Editor’s Choice because I know a lot of people will be able to use that information and benefit from it.
It’s not a statement of hubris, just of fact, to say that I often meet people who tell me they’re honored to meet me. They call me an expert on this or that, and sometimes they say they’re actually embarrassed or shy to be talking to me.
I’m used to it and can understand it. I’m fairly well-known, a big fish in the small pond of California wine reviewers. However, this reaction on people’s part always embarrasses me and causes me no little discomfort. It’s not just that I don’t want people to feel awkward around me, it’s because a little voice inside my head is going, You don’t understand, I’m not who you think I am.
When people impute to you positive qualities you’re not certain you possess, there are different ways of dealing with it. How you do so, I think, depends on the way you were raised, and your moral underpinnings. You can smile indulgently, accept the praise and even act in such a way as to acknowledge that, yes, you know you’re pretty special, but you have the grace not to revel in it.
That’s not how I react. Rather, I try to let the other person know that, in my own eyes, I’m not as smart as they think I am, and that who I really am is probably someplace midway between who they think I am and simply a guy who’s been writing about wine for a long time and may have learned a thing or two.
Mind you, I don’t dismiss what I’ve learned since the late 1970s when I took up the study of wine. I realize it’s a lot more than 99% of people will ever know. What I do dismiss is this notion that I’m somehow a high priest of wine wisdom, and the reason I dismiss it is because it’s simply not true.
This arose yesterday when I was with an executive at a high end San Francisco restaurant. I’m sure he was just being gracious in welcoming me so profusely, but he did use the word “honored” more than once and said similar things that made me think he thought I’m one of these people who can tell the difference between Williams Selyem’s Allen Vineyard and Estate Vineyard Pinot Noirs three blocks away and explain in the minutest detail how I know.
Believe me, I can’t.
I did remind him of the old Harry Waugh remark concerning Burgundy and Bordeaux and explained that ole Har–one of the greatest palates and writers of his generation–gave permission to all who came after him to stumble, sometimes badly, and feel no shame.
I like to think my attitude toward myself is one of common, garden variety humility, but there is another, more pathological explanation. The Imposter Syndrome is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to recognize their own accomplishments. (Here’s Wikipedia’s entry on it.)
The key sentences are “Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.”
Lots of creative people have Imposter Syndorome. It can happen to anyone who’s oohed and aahed by the public. Sally Field, the actress, displayed a touch of Imposter Syndrome when, in 1984, accepting her second Oscar for Places in the Heart, gasped, “….you like me, right now, you like me!”, in a way that showed how amazed she was that anyone could like her because, in her own mind, she was, somehow, unlikeable.
I know all the major famous wine critics and writers in California and have seen them all onstage, conducting tastings before groups of people who paid good money, and who obviously respected and admired them as rock stars. I’ve watched closely how many of these critics wing it before their audiences. They say things that aren’t true, or are unverifiable, and they depend on the fact that they’re one step ahead of most of their audience members to get away unchallenged. Critics like these ought to worry about not being as good as people think they are, and maybe they do: I hope so. It should inspire them to work harder to be better.
Myself, I’m too aware of how much I don’t know to try and be Mr. Font of Wisdom, and I think it’s only appropriate to let audiences I speak to know that. A lot of the truisms about wine that experts put out there aren’t true at all. They’re conventional wisdom, but with many exceptions to the rule. I think it’s important to let people know that, at least in California, things are much more complicated than simply saying, for instance, “You can always tell a Gold Ridge Pinot Noir because [fill in the blank].” If you know it’s a Gold Ridge Pinot Noir then sure, you can always tell. Some experts will stand up in front of audiences and explain all about Gold Ridge and then accept the accolades for being so smart. For myself, who was a journalist long before I was a wine writer, it’s important to explain Gold Ridge (or anything else) this way: “Many people say a Pinot Noir grown in Gold Ridge soil will exhibit [whatever]. I don’t always find that, but maybe it’s because my palate isn’t as finely tuned as theirs.”
Is that Imposter Syndrome, humility, or simply a recognition of the fact that wine is a lot more complicated than conventional wisdom implies? You tell me.