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Thursday Thorns
The Real Truth About The Wine News

By Charles Olken

I was awoken this morning at 5:30 by yet another small but sharp earthquake. And it has made me grumpy. So, I am going to tell you the real truth about the wine news. And then take an antacid.

You see, the wine news is almost sunny, rosy and reads like a series of public relations releases. And, to our discredit, the writers too often believe what they hear. We are, after all, not shown those parts of the vineyards where the grapes have turned to moldy mush or have simply failed to ripen or were left so long in the hope that they would ripen that they no longer have any acidity but they do have high pHs. We don’t often get those bits of truth from the wineries.

Well, it turns out that 2011 is so bad that some winemakers have begun to tell the truth. “Half my crop is gone and half of the other half is moldy”. “Carneros was very bad. It was a petrie dish for rot”. There is more, of course, but it is not the bad news that is being shared that interests me. It is the bad news that is being papered over as if bad news never happens that is the focus of today’s dyspepsia. To wit:

ITEM 1: “Our cool-climate Syrah offers the most flavor intensity”
Now, don’t get me wrong. I like cool-climate Syrah when it is done right. And by “done right”, I mean that the grapes got ripe enough to have that distinctive Syrah blackberry fruit aligned with the variety’s equal distinctive seasonings of pepper and roasted meats. But when a winery touts its underripe grapes as a virtue, and, in fact has made wine lemonade because the acidities are simply tooth-tinglingly screechy, then it is time to blow the whistle. The truth is that underripe is underripe, and no amount of “papering over” changes that fact.

ITEM 2: “The Sale and Use of Cork Closures Continues To Surge”
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am a big fan of true cork closures when they are done right. And by “done right”, I mean that the manufacturers take the time and care in their production to reduce the incidences of “cork taint”, that moldy smell that once invaded somewhere between three and five per cent of all corks. Now, it is our experience at CGCW that true cork problems are happen perhaps one per cent of the time. But, because true corks were so much of a problem, parts of the wine world turned to the use of other closures some of which actually work and some of which are problematic in their own rights. But credit must be given to the cork industry for not only cleaning up its act but for also bombarding us with the flimsiest nonsense by way of argument for their products.

The latest is the claim that the use of cork closures is surging. Their evidence is this. Sixty of the top one-hundred domestic wine brands are closed with cork. Never mind that the number used to be closer to one hundred out of one hundred. I like cork, but these guys should “put a cork in it”.

ITEM 3: “Alcohol Tax Threatens Cook County Hospitality Industry”
Now, don’t get me wrong. I like Chicago—most of the time. I like Lakeside Drive. I like the Cubs. I like the city’s great restaurants and its world-class museums. But, folks, this nonsense floated by the locals that increasing taxes on alcohol consumption will kill of the whiskey and wine sales is just a little far-fetched.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t like taxes any more than the next guy. And I don’t like “sin taxes” much either. But, the existing taxes have not killed off liquor sales and a small increase in those taxes will not either. In point of fact, most alcohol taxes have not risen much even as the cost of our favorite tipples have. Has anyone ever toted up the cost to us consumers of the all the public relations that are done in the name of wine and whiskey? It isn’t cheap. Mark me down as not worrying that the folks who live in Chicago and the folks who visit there are going to stop drinking just because of small increase in taxes.

ITEM 4: “Wine Riot Comes to DC”
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not one of those folks camped out just a couple of miles away in downtown Oakland and getting into nightly confrontations with the police. But, with the public and the peacekeepers brawling with each other in places from east to west, I find this headline to be a bit disturbing. “Wine Riot” sounds to close to “occupy Wall Street” and “Raves” for my taste. Besides, I drove out of my suburban enclave to Oakland yesterday for lunch, and as we emerged from the tunnel that connects Alameda island to Oakland, we were hit by the unmistakable leftovers from the previous night’s tear gas. Stinging eyes and nasal passages twelve hours later reinforce my notion that riots are not fun.

ITEM 5: My Antidote
Now, don’t get me wrong. I never drink for solace. Just not in my makeup. But, today, I will take at least a little solace in the fact that my work task this afternoon is taste a bunch of Champagne. Perhaps that is a feel-good message for us all. Never drink for solace, but if you do, try a little bubbly for what ails you.


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(Most) Growers Always Tell The Truth
by Thomson Vineyards
Posted on:10/27/2011 12:17:40 PM

If wine writers would start talking to Growers earlier in the season and sidestep the Winemakers you'd be sure to get the truth.

Often given a bad rap for being Negative Nancys and Dismal Dons - the Growers are the ones who live day and night in their vineyards, where the first and crucial 12 months of the wine process begins.

I have been pointing to the fungus, maturity, and market condition issues, since July. While industry spin doctors have basically attacked/disparaged/and discounted critical issues for the 2011 vintage via Social Media. Even sending out emails to their membership encouraging "positive" comments to combat the truth.

It's 60 days too late to make up for their butterflies and rainbows commentary, in my opinion. But go ahead, let them march to a different tune.

The vintage will be fine. The wine will be fine. But the process to get there is/was ugly.

by Joanna Breslin
Posted on:10/29/2011 11:06:48 AM

That's Lake Shore Drive. Never mind about the Cubs.

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