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Thursday Thorns: The Report Card
More Phony Baloney--Please Think Before You Accuse

By Charles Olken

Wines that go with food, that are in balanced, focused, etc., are why we here at CGCW got our start in journalism in the first place. We were foodies who discovered wine and became "caught" by it.

But the term "Food Wines" as used in my recent writings refers back to the period around 1980 when too many wines went astray and lost their "essentials" in a rush to meet a theoretical construct of CA wine that could not be produced. It was that rush to satisfy the eastern press that now looks set to repeat and is the basis for the concerns raised in my original post. "Someone Is Killing California Wine".

Tom Ferrell, whose note above chronicles what happened with one producer, was there and saw it first hand. His wines today, from Spring Mountain Vineyards, are not soulless, empty, thin versions and neither are they over the top, overripe, overoaked or sweet.

Mr. Donohue and Ms. McCloud repeat the drumbeat of those who want less from CA wine, but they do so by damning the whole category. Throwing around phrases like "16% is more like it" and "the major culprit is residual sugar" suggests that because a few wines go in that direction, that somehow all CA wine does.

Simply wrong by light years. Most of the thousands of wines reviewed in Connoisseurs' Guide are not 16% and do not contain residual sugar. Winery owner/winemakers like Tom Ferrell and Bill Hanna have told you that their wines do not go where you accuse CA wines of going. I and every other critic, whether we are full-time California writers like CGCW and Steve Heimoff or even Jon Bonne who writes for the San Francisco Chronicle but covers the world and worries constantly about where California wine is going, know better.

Whether you drink CA wines or not is your business, but you owe it to the wines, the broad majority of wines above the lowest price points, and to your own arguments to be more accurate in your commentary.


Alcohol Levels in Wine Reviews
by Chuck Hayward
Posted on:6/16/2011 10:33:21 AM

I know this may be a bit off-point and not to the issue but after reading another article going on about how the SF Chronicle and Decanter have broken the mold by putting alcohol levels in their wine reviews, I had to bring this up for public consumption.

The California Grapevine is a wine newsletter with a 35 year publishing history, about as long as Charlie's Connoisseurs' Guide. For as long as I can remember, they have always published alcohol levels in the stats section of their wine reviews. I have lost all my old copies and don't have access to those early issues (Charlie or Berger can probably check their copies to see if they did this back in the 70s) but a quick check shows alcohols printed as far back as 2002. As you might expect, I don't see anyone applauding them for doing this supposedly bold act!!

Just another example of not knowing our wine history.....

Alcohol Levels In Wine Reviews
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:6/16/2011 11:06:14 AM

The California Grapevine, published by rocket scientist (no lie) Nick Ponamareff, has published all of the first line wine statistics forever as far as I know. I only go back to 1986 with the issues on hand and they all reflect the precision with which Nick likes to run his publication.

Stastistics are helpful but they are not determinant. I spent yesterday up in Sonoma, and, in a discussion of styles with a winemaker who generally exercises a fair bit of restraint, he told the story of his days as a researcher and how Ch. Petrus was tested for acidity and pH. He said the pH of the wines he tested from that property ran from 3.9 to 4.2.

No number, whether ABV or pH or TA or tannin count or you name it, is determinant. Tasting is the only way to judge wine--and everyone who prejudges based on numbers is simply showing a bias that will almost inevitably be refuted by the wines themselves--and not simply as the exception to the rule.

Just ask the SF Chron. It's writer professes a preference for wines of a given style and then choose a Rock Wall Cab out of a blind tasting to recommend. It has a stated ABV of 14.9% and a pH of 3.9 . It shouild have been unacceptable to the critic based on its numbers, but it was not unacceptable based on its taste.

And that is the point. Taste the wine. Don't read the numbers. Your palate is the only final arbiter.

by David Vergari
Posted on:6/16/2011 11:33:55 AM

I think the following story is in order to make my point that this Alcohol-fixation has gone on for waaaay too long.  Several years ago, I accompanied one of my reps to call on accounts.  He asked me if it was alright to bring a Syrah from another producer.  I had no objection--hell, we were only showing my Pinot Noir--so I was not worried about fratricide or anything.  At any rate, he opened all the wines before the first appointment and we tasted through them, including the Syrah.  I paid scant attention to its label, but focused on the wine itself and thought that it had good integration, varietal typicite and balance.  Several calls later, a buyer proclaimed: "I will NOT taste this has 16.2% alcohol on the label!"  That alone disqualified the wine from being considered.  It didn't matter that it had all the merits of a well-made wine, the fact that ONE [BLEEPING] NUMBER torpedoed its chances with this particular decision-maker.  I look forward to the day when such nonsense is behind us.   However, it's more probable that I'll get knocked over by a flying pig before this happens. 

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