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Monday Manifestos
The Latest Wine Buzz Word: AUTHENTICITY
     --It’s déjà vu all over again

By Charles Olken

If one looks up the phrase, “We’ve seen this movie before”, it turns out to be used hundreds of times just in the last few years to dismiss everything from global warming to trickle-down economics. It says, in one breath, “your idea is not new so we don’t need it”. Yogi Berra, that great American philosopher, said it this way, “It’s déjà vu all over again.”

We have just seen “déjà vu” in the world of wine words. Perhaps it has always been thus. The latest creation is “Authenticity”, a concept that it as old as wine but has surfaced as the “explanation” as the driving force in the wine world over the last several decades. It is a concept propounded by none other than Matt Kramer, author of several very good wine books and columnist in the Wine Spectator. And for his sins in making such a proclamation, Mr. Kramer has started a fire storm of debate about what is and what is not authentic and a second fire storm about whether he is even correct in what he says.

Connoisseurs’ Guide is going to explore the several sides of this debate in the coming days and weeks. It is not an idea that can be either accepted or dismissed with a simple wave of the hand—the way we sometimes do with other buzz words like Biodynamics or Parkerization or The Sideways Effect. Those notions, some more difficult to understand than others, seem to inspire immediate admiration or immediate disdain. AUTHENTICITY has a larger place in our universe because it is neither right nor wrong but plays on both sides of the fence.

When Mr. Kramer says, “In the past 20 years—and especially in the past decade—what has really driven the changes in wines is the issue of authenticity”, he winds up trying to sum up complexity with simplicity. Steve Heimoff in his eponymous blog, to which I am addicted by the way, takes total issue with Kramer and says “if you were to ask me what the change has been in the last forty years, I would say it’s been in the direction of richer and riper wines” and “can anyone seriously question the fact that that trend accelerated hugely throughout the 1980s and 1990s, and that Parker and the Wine Spectator fueled it?” Of course, Heimoff is essentially arguing that the 100-point system is really the deus ex machina in this play.

Kramer’s column in the Spectator has led to a discussion lasting almost a week now and covering some fifty comments. The Siduri winery’s Adam Lee has led the charge with his questions about where “authenticity” begins and ends.

Heimoff’s column, appearing at the end of last week, has generated an additional forty comments, although, truth be told, it was Heimoff’s reference to the 100-point system that was at the heart of the debate. Questions about authenticity soon got lost.

But now they are back, and I would refer you to a column in the English-based blog, ( for yet another view of the world of authenticity.

For today, I would like to leave you with several key thoughts—and the promise to be back with more on this topic tomorrow.


  • Whenever anyone tries to put a simple tag on a complex and changing situation—as the world of fine wine is now and has been forever, they are bound to miss the whole point. Matt Kramer is not wrong; Steve Heimoff is not wrong. They just are trying to simplify the complex, and that makes them only partly correct.
  • We have seen this movie before. In past years, significant change on the wine world stage has been ascribed to geographic codification (AOC, AVA etc), global warming, creeping Peynaudism, terroir and several dozen other concepts that have come and gone. Some have had more impact than others, and some have been nothing more than notions that have cropped up without a scintilla of usefulness (does anyone remember the “food wine” movement of the early 1980s, because if not, we are destined to repeat it in the future under some silly guise or other including “authenticity”). No matter that Yogi was right about déjà vu, the search for answers to dark and disturbing questions will continue. And Connoisseurs’ Guide will be back tomorrow with the flashlight.



by Steve Heimoff
Posted on:10/25/2010 9:39:43 AM

"Authenticity" is to wine writers what "biodynamic" is to marketers. Do you need an explanation?

by Charlie Olken
Posted on:10/25/2010 10:08:29 AM

Steve, I love this discussion because it allows us all to explore what it is that drives our complex world. Along the way, Connoisseurs' Guide is going to discuss notions of terroir, varietal identity, California "palates", "plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose", Peynaudism, Peynaudism vs. Parkerization. global warming, the concept that you and I share of coastal cooling in CA as the result of global warming and many other parts of the change equation.

There is also the other question, which you have dispatched in one sentence above, of the validity of the concept of authenticity and its place in wine appreciation. I know you better than that, and I do not need to read (but did and agree with you) that Corison Cabernets do a terrific job of respecting, indeed, honoring the place where they are grown. Whether we need authenticity as a concept to discuss respect for place is a different question--one of nuance and the need for yet another term or not. However, we do agree on the concept that place is not irrelevant in the discussion of wine quality. In that, Matt Kramer, Steve Heimoff and Charlie Olken stand together.

Thanks for stopping by.


by Christian Miller
Posted on:10/25/2010 8:53:20 PM

The term has spread well beyond wine, in fact I'll bet the art world and maybe even micro-brewers copped it before us winos. It certainly isn't much help when choosing a wine. Two completely different wines can be authentic representations of the winemakers and their grapes. Van Williamson and Doug Nalle? Dujac and Leroy?

It's only words.
by ThomasPellechia
Posted on:10/26/2010 6:01:57 AM

I have an idea: anytime someone either coins or uses one word or phrase to make a sweeping statement about wine that person must prove him or herself through replication.

I have another idea: such a stringent proving ground might shut up a lot of people.

For me, these debates are truly becoming tiring. But then, I'm almost as old as Charlie, so maybe fatigue is my future from now on...

by Charlie Olken
Posted on:10/26/2010 6:54:57 AM
  • We're so old, we remember when "crossing the Delaware" meant something.
  • We're so old, we remember crystal radios
  • We're so old, we remember ink wells
  • We're so old, we remember milk fed veal

Let's fact it, Tom, we're so old, we've seen this movie before.

and may I add...
by ThomasPellechia
Posted on:10/26/2010 8:21:30 AM

vacuum tubes

35 mm film for both still slides and motion


the clutch that gave our left foot something to do while driving

the joy that once came with receiving mail

social interaction--in person

an education system

oh, soooo much more!


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