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Thursday Thorns
Keep Your “Vulgar” Wine To Yourself

By Charles Olken

The other day, Tom Wark, the father of the wine blogging movement (at least as far as I am concerned), examined, with utter respect, the use of the term “vulgar” in a respected wine blog.

You can find the initial blog at, and you can find Wark’s analysis of that blog and further comments from a number of folks including yours truly at

I have taken great exception both to the use of the word itself, and to its specific use to damn, without examination, an entire class of wines that are simply not to the taste of the critic, a Mr. Fred Koeppel, who is, and deserves to be, a respected wine journalist.

Here then, my responses on the Wark blog. If you are interested in the discussion, I would encourage you to explore both of the links above for the complete context of my remarks. By the way, Mr. Koeppel and I (and Connoisseurs’ Guide) are not in great disagreement in our preferences. It is in the ways in which we express our differences and wines that we dislike that have caused me a certain degree of dyspepsia.

This in response to the Koeppel and Wark blogs.

There is an inherent anti-ripeness bias in Koeppel's argument that renders it useless. The existence of alcohol in the 15+ range is casually but unmistakenly conflated with soft and gooey, raisiny, baked wines. It reminds me of the same "guilt by association" that is suffered by Lodi.

Wines are not judged individually but by class. It is a nonsense.

And one does not have to look very carefully to also understand that this criticism is rendered against CA wines uniquely. The argument itself is vulgar. It does not need references to the Kardashians or the Donald Trump.

Vulgarity the way Koeppel uses the term is not like pornography. The wines he dislikes may well be disliked by most of us, including me, but they are legitimate styles that do not bend anything beyond the bounds of expectation.

If there is one thing that we have learned about wine over the years, decades, centuries, it is that wine has more potential to move in ways that are new than we can even imagine.

The moralists, the absolutists, the holier than thou in the wine community are entitled to their opinions. I grant them that absolutely. And I grant myself the right to ignore them absolutely.

And this in response to comments from both Mr. Wark and Mr. Koeppel to me.

Tom, I am hardpressed to see how wine can be vulgar. I suppose that vulgar applies to things that are incredibly distasteful, but in thirty five years of reviewing wine, I have never called a wine vulgar.

And plenty of wines not to my taste are clean, well-made and recommendable to folks who like those styles. A wine that is pruney to the point of losing any semblance of character derived from fruit instead of raisins is very unlikely to win my praise, but otherwise balanced wines that have fixed sulfur or raging volatile acidity are far worse wines in my view because they are flawed in the winemaking sense.

Wines that are clean and are consistent with the winemaker's intent may be over the top in my view but they are not dirty and they are not dismissible as a class.

Mr. Koeppel, thank you for responding. Your bias, your preferences are your own business. Like me, you have a long history in evaluating wine, and, while it is irrelevant that our preferences sound more similar than different, we do differ very dramatically in how we would characterize wines we do not favor in general.

The ripe wines of Carlisle or Turley or Edmeades or Wilson or M + D Phillips are certainly exaggerated expressions when compared to the norm, but they are, in my view, very far from vulgar and thus do not deserve to be damned because they are part of a class that goes beyond normative expectations.

Compared to the Clarets of the 1870s, with their 9% ABV and ultra high TA and VA, today’s Bordeaux are vulgar in the way you have defined the term. Things change and potential gets extended. We can agree that wines with technical flaws are often unacceptable, but wines that are different are not vulgar. Sorry to beat on this topic, but there is too much summary judgment in what I understand to be your position and not enough judgment based on the character of individual bottlings.


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