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Thursday Thorns: The Report Card
My Running Argument With Dan Berger

By Charles Olken

Dan Berger is a winewriter on a mission. He wants us to listen—to him. And he offers opinions, often pointed, on almost anything in the wineworld. Dan is greatly admired by some; amusing to others; and, the source of much controversy when he speaks. I like Dan. We are great buddies. We argue every time we see each other; then we hug and go our separate ways with no rancor. But that does not change the fact that I often find Dan a little over the top in his opinions.

Let’s be clear. Dan is not always wrong anymore than I am always right, and we do agree with each other from time to time. One of his latest essays is a good case in point. It is entitled “The Blanding of American Wine”.

Dan reaches the titular conclusion because he came across a Tweet (surely a source of respected thought about wine) in which the “tweeter” criticized Syrah for having a peppery character. OK, so far Dan and I agree. Any supposed taster who complains about Syrah with a peppery note to its personality does not understand the grape. Plain and simple.

So far, so good. But then Mr. Berger creates a house of cards without the least bit of foundation, for his conclusions. Let’s start with the first conclusion. Berger states in no uncertain terms, with not so much as a bit of equivocation or eye to the larger world that “ the comment . . . . led me to conclude that the blanding of American wine was nearly complete”.

OK, Dan, hold on. You have pretty much laughed out loud at the “pepper” comment by the tweeter. You have held him in contempt (‘mindless commentary”) in an article in an important newspaper. And now you want us to believe that this know-nothing, this uneducated amateur of a tweeter is proof of anything? Sorry, old buddy, but that does not wash for me. You know better. I know better. The makers of scores of good California Syrahs know better. Certainly there are too many Syrahs that do not measure up just as there are tasters whose palates are not ready for the big time, but nothing in that tweet remotely suggests that American wine has turned into pablum. If anything, the tweetster was upset because his Syrah was not pablum.

But, there is more. Dan is involved in many of the public “county fair” judgings and events of that ilk. He is respected widely for being organized, smart, fun to be around most of the time. In case it was not clear the first time I said it, I like Dan Berger. We always find a way to have a laugh in the midst of our debates and to part ways with a hug and smile.

Well, in his essay in question, Dan then goes on to describe tasting some thirty “expensive” Syrahs and concludes, based on those wines and without naming them, that “U.S. winemakers are happiest when they can make massive wines with high alcohols and damn the torpedoes”. This is a familiar complaint from my friend, Berger, who is also the man who called Napa Valley Cabernets “a parody of themselves”. OK, I get it, Dan, you do not like big wines. I can have no complaint with that idea. It’s your palate. Like what you like. Don’t like what you do not like.

But here is the kicker. Based on those thirty unidentified wines, Dan wants us to know that most of them don’t taste like Syrah. Or to be more accurate, they do not taste like Syrah according to what he wants Syrah to taste like. Dan and I rarely agree about California wine, and while Connoisseurs’ Guide has long championed balance and depth in wines, we also appreciate that our wines do not need to, indeed, cannot imitate European wine. They are ours and they can be in balance at higher ripeness levels.

Still, I could live with the Berger conclusions had he not gone too far. What these wines lack, Berger contends, is varietal aromas. Now, admittedly, I was not there, and Dan has not told us which wines he tasted.

But, I will say this without reservation. The pages of Connoisseurs’ Guide are full of great Syrahs that are high in varietal content—black pepper, leather, game, specifically varietal fruit. They come from wineries like Failla, JC Cellars, DuMol, The Ojai Vineyard, Stolpman, Beckmen, Adelaida, Lewis, Ridge, Rockblock, Red Car, Big Basin, Krupp Brothers, Paul Hobbs, Eric Kent, Baileyana, Morgan, Cadaretta, Qupe, Neyers, MacRostie, Joseph Phelps—and those are just the first two dozen names that come to mind.

Dan is right. The tweetster has offered us mindless commentary. How that creates a case for concluding that Syrah is nearly universally boring and personality deficient is beyond my ken however.


by Mark J. Frost
Posted on:1/20/2011 11:42:52 AM

Charles, thanks for the updated list of great Syrah makers. While a decades long subscriber I have not tried wines from half these producers. I'd better get on it.

Also, I continue to argue that high alcohol or big, extracted wines aren't necessarily bad if they are in balance. My french bias friends still think anything over 14% alcohol is a sin. I'll keep trying.

No Subject
by Randy
Posted on:1/20/2011 3:12:28 PM

Dan Berger is on of the remaining wine reviewers who offers consistant praise to winemaker's striving for wines made in yesteryear, i.e. balanced wines that age very well, pair uneblievably with nightly dinner and have enough real acid to carry the day.

Dan Berger gets my respect... and no I do not submit my wines to him other than one time in 2004. I just like his perspective.

No Subject
by Charles E. Olken
Posted on:1/20/2011 3:29:13 PM

Mark--Thanks for the comment. CA wine is not monolithic. Nor does it have to be. I can accept almost any statement of preference because it is not my place to tell anyone what he or she should like. It is my strong opinion, however, that the Berger model is far too limited for most people and is offered in terms that all too frequently condemn the wines Dan does not like. That is why we argue, but the reason we can walk away happy is that we understand that there is no right position on the subject.

Randy--Thanks for stopping by. Dan would seem the ideal critic for your wines in that he likes/prefers wines in the style you make. He would agree with you that wines in the high acid style do age well, and in that, you and Dan get no disagreement from me.

Well, except for this. I have enough experience tasting CA wines over several decades and routinely do vertical tastings both for publication and for education. And it is my absolute belief, based on those tastings, that riper wines with decent balance also age very well.

And as my very first wine and food mentor demonstrated so clearly in her pairing classes, there are dishes of the some foods that want acid and dishes of the same food that prefer richness in their partnerships.

No Subject
by Martin Silva
Posted on:1/21/2011 12:38:43 AM

I think Dan has a point that you've forgotten to talk about. I took a class from Dan and his big issue isn't so much with high alcohol wines, but the high pH that's goes hand-in-hand with those wines. Produce a wine with a pH of 4.0 and you got a flabby wine (read: lush) and it will fall apart in less than 10 years.

I work for a Pinot noir producer and there's outside pressure to make big and bold Pinots, but they all taste the same after a while...boring, bland as Dan would put it. Winemakers should be praised for showing restraint when making wines. More isn't always better.

Bland is as bland does
by Charmion
Posted on:1/21/2011 8:51:40 AM

I am in Dan's camp regarding the notion that too many Calif. brands are mild, inoffensive, relatively bland.  And that blandness corresponds to high alcohol, and approaching 4 x 4 on the acid and pH.  I sell in a retial setting.  I discuss this daily with ordinary customers, not wine geeks.  I drive home this point:  if you want to drink and enjoy wine MORE FREQUENTLY, then buy and drink with alcohol in the 13s, not the 14s and 15s.  And measure your satisfaction after 30 or 45 minutes, not 5 minutes, after opening the bottle.  I contend that wineries will find a higher annuity stream from wines in the 13s, while the high scores are NOT creating an annuity.  The high alc. & high points game requires the brand to always look for new markets, new growth to replace FAST FALLOFF RATES, and so forth.   Weak customer loyalty.  How strong are the automatic re-order rates year after year for those wines?  Not very strong.   Now, this does not apply to the 500 case cults.  But for the 10,000 to 100,000 case production, the mid and larger size brands, the road is littered with dead brands with cute trendy or faddish labels, a few high scores, and then no market staying power.  In a different vein, the sweetening of supposedly dry wine, look at how Yellow Tail has killed off the reputation of Australia.  Where are the sales figures for the rest of Oz?  Between the boring 1.5% residual sugar "dry", and the high alc. bombs, the success of Oz is long gone.  Oh well.  I will continue to drink my 10 & 15 yr old Euro and in the 13s Calif. wines that sold for less than $20 way back, and still sell for less than $20.

High pH
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:1/21/2011 10:57:24 AM

Martin and Charmion--

You will have to look long and hard to find anyone advocating Pinot Noirs with pHs of 4.00 and TAs of 0.40. You will have to look long and hard to find well-received PNs coming from the wineries with numbers like those. It serves no useful purpose to waive numbers like that around when hundreds of great PNs go nowhere near those numbers.

Dan Berger did not discover the high pH concern. It was there in the early 1970s when I was taking winemaking classes at UC Davis extension and from the Wine Labratory in the Napa Valley.

And while Connoisseurs' Guide has always championed balance in wines, it is not that particular issue that was the reason for this column. I objected to Dan's apoplectic claim that "the blanding of American wine is nearly complete".

I don't much care whether Dan likes or dislikes the Syrahs that I have called out as having character. That is his business.  But when a major critic starts throwing around death knell notices, and I see shelves full of tasty wines in retail stores and find them cropping up in my tastings, then I am going to object.

I have said, and will say again, that there is plenty of uninteresting wine as well. But the existence of Yellow Tail tells me nothing about moderately priced wine with plenty of value.

Producers like Bogle, Bonterra, Castle Rock and Chateau Ste. Michelle make successful, priceworthy wine after wine after wine in fairly large lot sizes. These are not soft, dull, sweetened fruit bombs. They are the balanced wines that people drink everyday.

Yes and no
by Randy Caparoso
Posted on:1/21/2011 11:16:43 AM

Charles, it would be a bad thing if all wine writers agreed, although I'd have to cast my lot more with you on this issue re the "blanding" of California wine.  Those big, yet bright and effusive, blockbuster California Syrahs often cited by Mr. Berger and others?  You could describe them in those ways and much more -- but "bland?"  They seem like the opposite of bland -- more like wild, crazy, fun and compelling rides.

As always, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  I think these powerful wines (re the examples -- Syrahs from Santa Barbara, the Foothills, even Napa Valley, etc.) set their own standards, and reflect their own terroir, even if it's not exactly Cote-Rotie-like.  When you think of it, Cornas is invariably bigger, rougher, more boisterous than Cote-Rotie.  Does that mean Cornas is "bland," and not the ideal place to grow Syrah?  Why in the world perfectly intelligent people can appreciate different styles of wines from European appellations and not be able to make the same leap when it comes to  American wines, it's way beyond me. 

The ideal world of wine journalism:  writers who can love the intense yet comparatively more finesseful wines from, say, the extreme Sonoma Coast and Petaluma Gap, and then turn around and lavish just as much praise on the much more rambunctious, rough and ready wines from, say, El Dorado or Ballard Canyon. 

But back to the original question:  is California wine getting "bland?"  No question, there are more big producers who drop distinctive wines into oversized vats than ever before.  The Gallo and Woodbridges of yesteryear have more company than ever.  At the same time, there are more -- far, far more -- small, artisanal wine producers working the entire West Coast than ever before (don't forget the explosive proliferation in Washington, Southern Oregon, Lodi, Paso Robles, etc.).  The scene today doesn't come close to what it was just twenty, thirty years ago.  The work these newer producers is more than exciting than ever, and in many cases, anything but "bland."

So where's the prob?

Randy Caparoso, Sommelier Journal


High pH
by Martin Silva
Posted on:1/21/2011 11:24:01 AM

Let the old man rant, it's all just opinion.

High pH
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:1/21/2011 11:40:28 AM

Hi Martin--

Who is the "old man" in this scenario. Neither Dan nor I are exactly spring chickens. And, Martin, the secret to my longstanding friendship with Dan is that neither of us just lets the other rant. We debate with enthusiasm, and always part as friends. We do really understand that it is all opinion.

In fact, long before I ran this column, I told Dan that I would occasionally produce blog entries entitled "My Running Argument With Dan Berger". He perfectly well understands that we have different views, that we are highly opinionated and outspoken and that it is not personal. It is part of the fabric of wine discussion. Thanks for joining in. It is much appreciated.

Randy--thanks. Spot on. I decided not to address the Cornas issue in my comments, but it certainly is instructive.


who said Pinot niors
by Charmion
Posted on:1/21/2011 12:23:46 PM

Hey Charles:  I did not mention Pinot noir, but I don't have to look hard to find P noir in the high 14s and into 15 on the abv.  Just try J Lohr Fog's Reach and R Mondavi.  Or many from the various single vineyard Santa Lucia wines.  How about the 96 point Kosta Browne wines?  Merry Edwards is not down in the 13s anymore.  Miura Syrah in the 15.5 % abv.  Well respected people involved, but no acid in sight.   Talbot Sleepy Hollow Chard. pushing 15% abv.  I don't measure the TA and pH, but I can't measure what I can't taste.   And while few or none openly advocate by the numbers, the numbers on many (most, all, overwhelming majority???) of Jim Laube and R. Parker big score wines speak for themselves.  I love Bonterra, and I don't paint ALL of anything as bad.  But too much goo, not enough complexity and earth, in my humble opine.   And I do wonder, how many of you spend time working the sales floor, actually selling wine a bottle or 2 at a time, face to face with hundreds of consumers every day, people who shop every week, who rely on me for good advice day in and day out?  Where the rubber meets the road.  Not too many consumers carry their review newsletter or WS with them.  But they talk to me every day, every week, for months and years at a time.  Actual consumers vs. subscribers is a pretty scary ratio.  Writing is fun.  Selling wine is more fun.

13% Is Not A Magic Elixir
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:1/21/2011 8:35:01 PM

There is nothing magical about 13%. It is an arbitrary measure that has been learned through the structure of wines that do exist.

The magic number for this kind of argument was 12% back three decades ago when CA Cabs kicked the slats out of their Bordeaux peers in the Paris tasting.

I tasted today some 90 Grand Cru Bordeaux from the 2008 vintage. Care to speculate on the alcohols they exhibit?

Balance is the key. On that point, my friend Berger and I are in absolute agreement. Merry Edward's wines run just over 14%. Care to estimate their TAs and pHs? Not 4 by 4 by a long shot.



Pardon Me
by Martin Silva
Posted on:1/21/2011 9:53:38 PM

The "old man" I was referring to was Dan Berger. I've met him, and I can guess his age. I use the term with the highest amount of respect. :)

I'm a Davis trained enologist, so I'm not going to play the numbers game - I crank out enough of those in the lab. In my original post, I threw out the number 4.0 because it was an easy round number to spew out and I wasn't referring soley to Pinots.

Actually, Pinots are not the problem where I work. It's the high octane Zins pushing 15 % with RS to boot. I don't drink Syrah, so I can't speak about their alcohol levels.

Old Dan
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:1/21/2011 10:41:18 PM

Hi Martin--

Thanks for your further comments. I wish we could judge wines by numbers, but I taste plenty of 15% alc Zins that are also in balance. Balance is ultimately determined by all of the elements, not just pH, TA and RS.

That is part of my long-standing bitch with those who spout numbers and not analysis of the way the wine tastes as a whole. Even old Dan would agree with that. And, by the way, I am not bragging, but I am older than Dan chronologically.


by mark bunter
Posted on:1/23/2011 12:05:12 AM

Mr. Olken

    Yeah, maybe Dan over-reached.  The point was, too many CA Syrahs are banal.  There is a reason why it never became the next great red wine in CA.  It is as fussy as merlot.  In most places with most winemakers it makes totally acceptable, banal wine.  They can make syrah huge, but they can't make it Cote Rotie.  We can make merlot plenty good enough, but we can't make Petrus.  And the rest of the point was that over-ripe, fat, manipulated wines are just boring and virtually indistinguishable from one another.  I agree with Dan.  I don't know how you can mention Qupe, a balanced, varietal wine, in the same sentence with so many overblown monstrosities.  I'm with Dan. And you left out Edmunds St. John, if you wanted to list benchmark varietal Syrahs. You could be demented.  But I'll buy you a beer anytime.  Sincerely, Mark


Monstrosities ??
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:1/23/2011 9:26:04 AM


Thanks for commenting. What Dan said was that the blanding of American wine was complete. My objection to that sentiment was the basis for my writings--not the lifetime body of Dan's work.

"May have overreached" is simply too kind on this point. He is wrong on the face in my opinion. This was not about Syrah; this was about "American wine". I cannot for the life of me see how the millions of cases of well-made CA, OR and WA wine have become boring and banal unless Dan is also saying that all of us who like them, and that is millions of people, have dead, uneducated, horribly unsophisticate palates.

If he or anyone else wants to make that case, then say so.

Now, as to what Syrahs you like and what Syrahs I like, we really do not need to spend a great deal of time debating that. Neither Qupe nor Edmonds St. John have a lock on balanced Syrahs. If Failla is not balanced; if MacRostie is not balanced; if Morgan is not balanced to your palate, then you will not buy them, but to brand all flavorful, varietal focused Syrahs as monstrosities is also overreaching from my perspective, and we will just have to disagree.

No harm in that as I see it.


No Subject
by mark bunter
Posted on:1/24/2011 2:19:01 AM


   Well, you caught me.  I have a lot of respect for Morgan's pinots- I'll have to try the syrah. I am sure I've had the lower level version. Since I don't recall it clearly it must not have been annoying; probably I didn't feel it was worth note, based on price versus memorability. MacRostie- I applied for a job there in the warehouse winery they have years ago and  thought the chard a little heavy-handed. I just figured the Syrah was the same.  Failla I don't know.  If it costs more than twenty five bucks that's why.  If I'm gonna splash forty bucks for a bottle of fermented grape juice, it's gonna be French.  Syrah varietal character to me must evoke the French model.  Jammy plummy flavor, sheer size, and white pepper are not the story. Amazing balance, violets and meat, an indescribable subtle stinkiness, restrained strength, complexity and deep structural stamina, now you're talking.  Never ever lots of alcohol.  Leave that for CdP. In terms of the original premise, I'm with Dan. You totally fail to refute his premise when you equate popularity with quality.  He says American wine is bland.  You say lots of people like it, therefore it's not.  Huh? Millions of people do have a limited ability to appreciate subtlety and quality.  Witness the huge success of all kinds of banal American food and drink.  I don't mind saying it. That doesn't mean they are stupid or don't have taste buds and a nose.  It just doesn't take much to make them happy. The industry is happy to meet their low expectation and pocket the profit. I don't know why Dan is upset about this.  It can be no surprise.  He's probably just a hopeless romantic about the beauty and importance of wine, and the brutal truths surrounding its recent popularity as a commodity beverage hurt his soul.  That's why I've got his back.  It bothers me, too.  On the bright side, I've been surprised by the number of people who come to my tastings who can appreciate wines much more complicated and less appealing than the ones they are accustomed to.  I don't blame the big wineries for making sweet oaky crap that sells.  I don't blame people for enjoying banal wines.  They are fortunate to be so easily gratified.  But I do blame small supposedly "art-is-anal" wineries that chase the zeitgeist of overripe manipulated undistinquished  wines that get you drunk fast, don't help the taste of food, and have nothing to say about their place of origin.  Dan's right, sorta.  Actually American wine isn't so much bland; it's monotonously simple-minded.  Yeah, your and my own particular preferences in Syrah are not worth discussing. ( I will anyway!?) I have enjoyed the Stolpman on several occasions; it's just not the kind of Syrah I want to make.  Hell, MY syrah isn't the kind of Syrah I wish I made.  The only "monstrosity" that I literally couldn't drink was by that guy in Bolinas.  I'm not saying those wines are bad, just that they are not to my taste and I don't find them to demostrate the variety's potential. I always yearn to get some insight into wine growing and wine making from a bottle of wine, and I'm disappointed when a wine doesn't interest me enough to want to know where and how it was grown and made.  Thanks for your patience. It must be hard having a blog, sorta like having a bus stop in your kitchen.  Total strangers tell you how to cook and constantly want to use your bathroom.  Gotta go- I hear the bus now.  Sincerely, Mark

Nice Note
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:1/24/2011 10:38:23 AM


Thanks for the thoughtful response. We will obviously disagree at some level if Syrah MUST taste French. I never mind disagreements, however--witness my continuing friendship with Dan Berger. :-}

by Thomas Pellechia
Posted on:1/25/2011 10:34:50 AM

To Mark Bunter,

While i generally agree witht he notion that an overabundance of simplicity--not to mention hype--sells far better than the thoughtful, balanced approach, I must point out that since the beginning of its origins wine has been and continues to be a commodity.

If you don't believe it, just check the ridiculous auctions that flourish alongside the general retail market.

Banal -- try the sixties and seventies...
by Randy Caparoso
Posted on:1/26/2011 11:19:20 AM

Out of curiosity, here on the eve of another ZAP, I thought I'd circle back and look at recent posts tackling this subject. 

Re Mr. Bunter's indictments.  Gee whiz.  I'm not really that old (54), but it seems to me if you want banal, or if you want monotony, you should find yourself the nearest time machine and go back to living in the sixties, seventies and eighties.  Now *that's* banal and monotonous.  Not only were American wines with exhilarating aromas, flavors, and expressions of grape and terroir extremely rare, there was comparatively very little for consumers to choose from.

I'm not saying that that I've overly thrilled by wines crafted for sheer size and ability to accumulate high points (my professional wine experience pre-dates scoring systems, as it were, so I'm old fashioned in this respect), but for Pete's sake, anyone has to be thrilled by how far along the American wine industry has come.  So much exciting, fun, delicious stuff.  

This is why it makes absolutely no sense to say that there's been a "blanding" of American wine.  "Bland" was when Gallo Hearty Burgundy, Glen Ellen "Proprietor's Reserve" Chardonnay and Sutter Home White Zinfandel defined American palate.  We should be thankful that there's all these little guys coming out with soaring Syrahs, explosive Pinot Noirs, acid driven Chardonnays, pedal-to-the-metal red zins and petites -- not to mention bright, shiny, new Albarinos, Verdelhos, Vermentinos, Tempranillos, Tannats, Cabernet Francs, Petit Verdots, Alicante Bouschets... good god... if you're still bored with today's scene, then you're just not getting out of the house!

Finally, it's called "transition":  the West Coast wine industry is as young as it was forty years ago.  Meaning, the proliferation going on when Mondavi first announced the "Golden Age of California Wine" hasn't just gone on unabated, it's continued to pick up in speed and newness, even through the periodic economic setbacks.  The number of people into grapegrowing and winemaking (big production and handcrafted) makes Mondavi's early quote sound like an utterance from a cave.

Cutting-edge viticulture and winemaking is out there, and it's all changing the way Americans appreciate and judge quality of wine AS WE SPEAK.  You see it on the face of wine store shelves, and you see it in the wine lists of our growing number of wine conscious restaurants.  It doesn't take a genius to note that tastes and skill levels are transitioning commensurately.  But "blanding?"  I'm sorry, but if that's what you think, you must be living in a cave...

Randy Caparoso, Sommelier Journal


by Charlie Olken
Posted on:1/26/2011 11:57:55 AM

Thanks, Randy. Well said.

by Thomas Pellechia
Posted on:1/26/2011 1:52:12 PM

I second what Randy posted about "blanding" but with this caveat: I've been consuming wine for quite some time, and I remember terrific wines from California in the mid and late 70s alongside the volumes of plonk.

Even as far back as the 30a dn 40s, there always were oustanding producers that received little attention in the general pipeline. That had little to do with California wine quality and more to do with American wine consumer savvy, or lack thereof.

Having said all that, the proliferation of "vinted and bottled by" wines with venerable brand names does not put the best face on the California wine industry.

by Steven Mirassou
Posted on:1/27/2011 7:55:24 AM

By definition, the number of "great" wines is going to be substantially smaller than the total number of wines available. It was that way with Inglenook in the '40s; it is that way now. 

I agree with Randy, there is a plethora of really interesting, delicious wines being grown in appellations large and small, famous and unknown in California today. There is also a lot of wine that only serves its utilitarian purpose...absolutely nothing wrong with that. In fact, for America to become a true wine drinking culture this has to happen to much greater degree.

My only gripe with Dan's comments on this subject is his seeming conflation of opinion with fact. If you like the high-acid, low-alcohol style, and condemn the "overblown" examples...bully for you. Just are not RIGHT, you have an opinion. 

by mark bunter
Posted on:1/28/2011 11:04:00 PM

Mr. Mirassou

   Well said.  But what kind of Syrah do YOU like? I think it's just too politic to post without asserting your sincere opinion.  Stick your neck out.  You sound like the principal in a large winery, with sales at stake.  What kind of Syrah do you wish you could make?  Jammy and ripe, or complex and restrained?  Or just whatever sells well?  You can't afford an honest answer, can you?  That is why small independent wineries are essential to the continued attraction of wine.  Idiots like me keep you in business.   Nothing personal- I know you are an intelligent person with opinions and convictions, but their public expression are discouraged in the world of big business.  I struggle, just like you, to scrape a dollar out of my vocation, so I am empathetic.  There is room for all of us, I dare to hope.  Sincerely, Mark

by mark bunter
Posted on:1/28/2011 11:21:53 PM


  I have never worked for Gallo, and never would, nor would they ever offer. Back in the 70's Gallo Dry Burgundy was a better Zinfandel than most of what's out there today at an affordable price. I know you wrote 'Hearty Burgundy", which was sweeter.  Obviously, you are in over your head, dealing with an inveterate drinker of affordable wine- no doubt below your notice. I like good wine, but I also appreciate a decent wine at a great price,  Although it is not that now, maybe it doesn't exist, I don't know, at the time to which you refer, Gallo Dry Burgundy was a very good quality wine for the price.   I would choose it over many of the cheap syrahs on the market today.Especially Green Bridge.  Yech!  Sincerely, mark

Mark...probably smaller than you
by Steven Mirassou
Posted on:1/29/2011 8:55:17 AM


Same family, but no connection to the Mirassou brand now owned by Gallo. I have a small operation called the Steven Kent Winery in the Livermore Valley...~8,000 case production. So I am one of those "idiots" too.

My comment was perhaps tangential to Syrah preferences specifically, but was made in response to the maddening idea that an opinion is the same as a fact. Hate it in political pundit-speak, hate it on wine boards.

That being said, my preference in Syrah is Cabernet...or Pinot Noir. I'm a fan of well-made and serious wine...but don't generally choose to drink Syrah.

Dan Berger wrote a column a few months ago lamenting the passing of Cabernet...the new "style" bearing little resemblance to the wines of a couple of decades ago that he loved. I definitely prefer Cabernet made in a style that accentuates its mouthfeel and dark-fruit aromatics to that which highlights its herbaceous, leaner aspect. In most cases, the Cabs I like most correspond to 14-14.5 alc.

So, there you go. I don't know if that is "sticking my neck out," but there's my honest preference in Cab, at least. Was Dan Berger wrong for disdaining a style of Cab that I enjoy? Of course not. He wasn't right either.


-Steven Mirassou 


being right
by mark bunter
Posted on:1/30/2011 10:52:20 AM


   I don't believe I wrote that anyone was wrong, or that I was right.  If anyone was "right" how could they possibly prove it?  I do agree with Dan Berger on many issues, and wanted to publicly say so. I can't prove him 'right".  I view the blog medium as a forum for discussion.  The statement of my opinion is only that.  I like to hope that it might get someone to thinking, as I know I have been made to think as a result of reading some well-written posts- like yours.  Or maybe they lose their self-control after a coupla glasses of 15.8% Alc. Napa Cab and start foaming at the keyboard like insane people- also fun.  Thank you for describing your wine preferences.  I also enjoy the sort of Cabernet you describe, but unlike you I bemoan the disappearance of old-style Napa Cab, as Dan wrote about.  As a Syrah maker, I am perturbed that you, who obviously appreciate good wine, avoid it.  There is a general failure of California winemakers to make Syrahs as interesting as their Cabs and Pinots are. Of course there are notable exceptions. I think Syrah can do it, based on the French models.  I hope so, and I am trying to get there. If anyone knows of a good example of French-style Syrah from California, please post.

I know it's only my opinion.  But I like it.

Mark Bunter

15.8% Cabs?
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:1/30/2011 11:54:12 AM


I hope you don't drink Port because the thought of you foaming at the mouth is disturbing--and clearly, alcohol has a very unhealthy effect on you. :-}

I myself never drink 15.8% alcohol Cabs because I worry about falling asleep in my plate during the middle of dinner. The problem, of course, is that 15.8% alc wines are at least twice as alcoholic as 13.8% wines. I know this because everyone who mentions that problem of high alc wines implies exactly that.

13.8% is moderation in reds. Drink all you like, but 15.8% or even 14.9% if you listen to many commentators, will make one foam at the mouth, lose self-control and drop-off into alcohol induced stupor.

But, Mark, perhaps there is another truth. The difference in amount of alcohol ingested for a given volume of wine between 13.8% and 15.8% is not all that much. Or to put it another way. If you are an average sized person, having your Cab with food, and who drinks 15.8% Cab as an aperitif, then the change in blood alcohol between the two wines, at half a bottle, is the difference in blood alcohol of in the range of 0.06% versus 0.069%.

That amounts to about one to one and a half ounces of wine extra after half a bottle.

Now, I am not going to tell you or anyone that these numbers should change your preferences. That is up to your palate to determine. But the often heard suggestions that higher alc wines mean that one cannot drink plenty of wine at dinner is simply not true when one looks at the science as opposed to the rhetoric.

Oh, and one more point. There are plenty of Napa Cabs, Paso and Dry Creek Zins, Syrahs of all stripes that reach over 15% in alcohol, but they are far from the majority. And that is especially true of Napa Cabs.

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