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Thursday Thorns
My Way or The Highway

By Charles Olken

It may be true that there can be no disputes in matters of taste, but you would not know it lately as first one point of view and then another get tossed out as the “truth” to the exclusion of everything else.

Both Dan Berger and Matt Kramer have written of this phenomenon in just the past few days. Berger was told in no uncertain terms that there were no good Aussie wines—all too big, too fat, too heavy. Aside from the fact that Mr. Berger dislikes wines of that style but likes Aussie wines, it is simply absurd to toss every Aussie wine in one big cesspool. Yet, that is the very thing that someone said to Mr. Berger and to which Mr. Berger took exception.

Matt Kramer had a similar experience with a different topic—this time California Pinot Noir. Matt lives up north of us in Oregon, or little California as the newly arrived from our state call it. He was having a conversation with a local wine person and was told in convinced language t too closely paralleling the Berger experience that California Pinot suffered all the defects of excess. Mr. Kramer managed to find a wine on the list that he says convinced his dining partner of the error of his ways.

Only last week, we had the spectacle of the Score Revolutionists, or, as I like to call them, the Score Destructionists, telling us that anyone who uses scores in writing wine reviews and anyone who reads them is out of touch with the times. Never mind that millions of people subscribe to wine review publications all over the globe and that those reviews virtually all use some sort of grading hierarchy. Everyone who disagreed with the Destructionists was wrong. Just look back at the comments here and over on Tom Wark’s blog to see how very emotionally those folks take their position.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I do believe that there are no disputes in matters of taste. If you tell me that you have tasted a particular wine and you did not like it, then that is the truth for you as regards that wine. But if you don’t like the AVA system in this country or don’t like the fruit in many California wines and thus think that those of us who do are not only wrong but are dupes, dunces and palate-deficient, then you have taken the argument too far. Wine is first about individual bottles, and broad-brush generalizations of the type hurled around recently are too easily proved wrong.

Let’s go back to Australia for a moment. It has a wide variety of growing conditions from hot and flat to hilly and cool. It can produce rich, viscous Syrah (Shiraz to them) and it can produce balanced Syrah, but it can also produce tight, cool-climate Syrah as well. There is no “one size fits all” in Australia any more than there is in California. Maybe there are stronger similarities in the way varieties are expressed in France, but please tell me how much Pinot Noir is grown outside of a narrow stretch of land in Burgundy or how much Cabernet Sauvignon is planted outside of Bordeaux.

It is easy enough to disprove the claims of the narrow-minded when it comes to wine. That is really not the issue that Dan or Matt or CGCW has been tackling for some time now. This blog has periodically asked for civility and humility on the parts of folks in the wine community. But what do we get? Comments on this blog from someone complaining about California Rosé because he tasted one and it was 16.1% in alcohol and he thinks it was a blend of white and red rather than a lightly colored wine from red grapes. His conclusion: California Rosé is to be ignored. Did he come back and read Steve Eliot’s excellent piece yesterday about Rosé? No, that would take patience and an open mind.

There is nothing wrong with personal preference built up over time. I am not fond of and do not care to drink a lot of Gruner Veltliner, but I don’t put down those who like it. Yet, somehow, in today’s world, the debates have grown more strident—and thus more silly. Like what you like, but let’s stop the practice of denigrating entire classes of wines because of personal preference. If you try that silly trick, someone is going to prove you wrong.


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