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Tuesday Tributes
The “Euro-palate”, “California Apologists” and the “Anti-flavor Elite”

By Stephen Eliot

I have always thought that one of the great joys to be found in fine wine is its amazing diversity of character and its ability to involve on so many levels. I have similarly always been baffled by the seeming need of so many to proclaim one style or another as being inherently right or wrong and to create derisive, myopic, value-laden little titles by which to dismiss those who do not see the truth in their views. Whatever the reasons, the clash of values and visions as to what good wine should be seems to have reached a crescendo of late.

I suppose, however, that I am less bothered by those who clearly draw lines in the sand and make their positions clear than by those who take on a catholic mantle and claim no allegiance to one style or another, but then immediately go on the attack. I am not at all annoyed that everyone has an opinion, it is that too many has the "right" one, and they just cannot wait to tell you that yours is wrong.

More and more, it seems, that accolades for one wine or style comes complete with nasty little asides that diminish another. It is not enough that a wine is fresh and nuanced, it must be praised for what it is not...too ripe, overly oaked or, god forbid, above 14% alcohol! While rich and fruity are traits to be applauded, I do not need to be told in the same breath what the wine in not.

When I read reports and wine commentary, I look for descriptions of what a wine is rather than what it is not, and I have grown increasingly weary and annoyed with those that take a contrary tack. Despite the hollow claims of a good many writers that they are merely articulating what they do and do not like, that they subscribe to no hard-and-fast agenda, many have become downright monotonous in their unsubtle messages.

Most often, it seems, Californian wines are those in the critical crosshairs, and, for many, the best Californian wines are those that do not taste Californian! Other than Robert Parker's defensive and somewhat notorious attack on the "anti-flavor elite", the brunt of naysaying has focused on California and its so-called "apologists", and, if the criticism is clear and direct, that wines of high-extract and richness are not to someone's taste, I will simply beg to differ and accept that beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. If, however, damning by faint praise is the game, that pointing out a few preferred bottlings while relegating the rest to being ill-conceived, poorly made and utterly unworthwhile, then I do get annoyed and feel the need to speak out.

The San Francisco Chronicle recently suggested that it was time to abandon at least one of the tidy and misleading titles that introduce today's posting, but in doing so it employed another. It is time, I think, to abandon them all and the narrow thinking that they perpetuate. It is time to get back to the business of enjoying wine.


this article
by jason carey
Posted on:8/2/2011 8:00:55 PM
I really wonder who you are to decide what "Californian" tastes like. I think that there are many "tastes of Cali" and you are as bad as what you rail against when you try to tell people what that means. I like wines with restrained fruit and to me that is just as Californian as and big fat oak and fruit bomb.
California palate?
by Sondra
Posted on:8/3/2011 9:15:21 AM

How can there be one palate for all of California?  Though recently I was out with an East coast wine writer who told me, not meaning it as a compliment, that I had a California palate because I didn't like the wines he did. Its our diversity that makes the wine industry so exciting and complex.


Re: The Article
by Stephen Eliot
Posted on:8/3/2011 3:02:08 PM

Jason and Sondra. while there are a good many folks who would characterize California wine as being riper, fatter and more fruit-forward than their Old World counterparts, I did not say nor did I mean to imply that was always they case. In fact, my message was that such stereotypes and the "labels" they foster are next to useless. They encourage and perpetuate simplistic and narrow-minded thinking. It would be nice, as I said, to abandon them all and consider each wine on its own merits, period. I am glad that you are aware that California does indeed offer a marvelous range of styles, and, Jason, many of our favorites here at CGCW are precisely those wines of restraint and balance that you admire.

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