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Monday Manifestos
Hazy Wine—No Longer A Dirty Word

By Charles Olken

An objective wine scoring system would, in almost all circumstances, turn hands down on any wine with an obvious hazy appearance. Haze in wine, has traditionally meant “bad” such as protein or failed filtration. Rarely has any so-called “objective” scoring system allowed a hazy wine to be acceptable—let alone to earn maximum points for appearance.

And because almost all tasters are influenced to some degree by the learnings of their elders, hazy wines tend to set off all kinds of alarm bells. Even if we have never heard of the UC Davis 20-point system, most everybody in the wine industry has, and that is why we so rarely encounter hazy wines. Most are filtered or made clear with the use of fining agents inserted into the aging vessel whose purpose is to drop through the wine and render it clear and clean of impurities.

But even wines that are unfined and unfiltered are usually allowed to age in storage vessels, tanks or barrels, until they “drop clear”, which means that anything in the wine that might make it hazy in appearance has dropped to the bottom of the vessel and is left there while the clear wine is removed.

There are, however, a small but increasing number of hazy wines whose appearances can be shocking but whose character is deep and rich. Wines like Chasseur Chardonnay, for example, are intentionally allowed to be hazy in order to have the wine capture all of the pulpy fruit essence that is available to the wine.

It is one thing to taste blind and not know anything about the wines one is tasting. It is quite another to come across wines that are intentionally violating the old rules. It calls for a suspension of disbelief in order to ignore their appearance as abhorrent and disqualifying and, thus, to smell and taste them without preconception. But that is exactly what is called for. Movie critics and restaurant critics clearly know what they are experiencing, who made it and what its previous incarnations have delivered. Now it is wine critics and wine lovers who must “close their eyes” and let their senses be their guides.

There is no right or wrong to this “appearance” issue. The leaders of the cause have been wineries whose success has been pre-established with clear wines, and those providers have continued to be successful with hazy wines. But, as with all new things in wine, there will be imitators and late comers, and the seeming strings of hits that taught us to avoid turning our noses up prematurely when encountering such wines have now been joined by wines whose haziness is also accompanied by the usual range of flaws that such wines have heretofore predicted.

There is no better advice in wine than to taste blind before deciding, but, in the absence of that possibility, whether with hazy wines or not, the next best thing is to create a blank slate in your mind and allow yourself to be open to the possibilities of goodness while not ascribing any character before tasting.

I would not call Connoisseurs’ Guide proponents of hazy wines. We are too damn finicky to subscribe to any theory or gambit before tasting the individual wines, but, on the whole, our experience with hazy Chardonnays (think Chasseur, Bjornstad, Fort Ross, Peay and lots of others) so far has been more rewarding than not.


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Not Just Hazy...
by TomHill
Posted on:6/4/2012 10:29:58 AM

Interesting point, Charlie. Us old-timers (including you here, buddy) were long ago taught that hazy wines were flawed wines. But, as we see more "natural" wines in the marketplace, we're seeing more & more of them. And we do have to suspend our old prejudices to find the good things in them.

   Same way w/ "orange" wines and oxidation. We were taught that any signs of oxidation in a wine (except for sherry/maderia and others who are "supposed" to be that way) was a fatal flaw...a sure sign of unattentive/sloppy winemaking. But Radikon & Gravner and others of that ilk have taught us that oxidation can not only be OK in a white...but we can also be charged big $$'s for that oxidation. It's a strange world out there, Charlie. Hard for us old-timers to change...but change we must.



by Sherman
Posted on:6/4/2012 2:08:03 PM

In a group of 16 tasters on a recent tour of southern Oregon wineries, we stopped by one of the tasting rooms to try their Marsanne/Roussane white blend and their 06 Syrah. The white blend was pleasant but the Syrah was the better of the two, partially because it had acquired some depth and complexity with the passing of time. As some bigger red wines are wont to do, this wine was shedding some tannins and thus, a bit of sediment was present in the bottoms of most of out glasses.


Some of our more novice tasters brought their glasses to me, pointing out this "defect" in the wine, as they have been told that any haze, discoloration or bits in the wine were signs of a defective wine. Even after a gentle explanation of the nature of tannins in solution and that, after some time, it was a self-resolving situation, they still weren't convinced that this wasn't a defect, as opposed to a stylistic choice.


Yes, it can be difficult to overcome our preconceptions -- but it is possible with time and experience.

Hazy Wines/Hazy Movies
by Gerald Weisl
Posted on:6/5/2012 10:39:32 AM

If I go see a movie and the film is intentionally out of focus, I should enjoy the experience, especially if the story is a good one?

Will your future Connoisseurs' Guide tastings be conducted, then, employing black wine glasses to preclude your evaluating color and clarity when rating and ranking the wines? 

And for Tom Hill:  I've still not learned that oxidation in those Gravner and Radikon wines is "okay," no matter what the price tag on the bottle.  When Merlot and Pinot Grigio have nearly the same color and appearance, I think there's a problem with the wine.

Hazy or Out of Focus
by Chafrlie Olken
Posted on:6/5/2012 11:03:45 AM


I view it more as an unwashed car. When I am in it, driving the curves on the Silverado Trail, I don't care whether the car was washed before I set out. I care how well it handles, how responsive it is to the road, how much I like driving it.

I don't much like orange cars, however.

Objectiveity in rating is directly proportionate to understanding of wine.
by suamw
Posted on:6/5/2012 3:11:12 PM

Reds can be opaque. But a hazy white? It probably was not cold and heat stabilized. People freak out about tartrates in their TBA, so haziness should not be rewarded in any white wine (maye Sherry and Vin Jaune are exceptions...). Visuals matter.

Taste Matters, Too
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:6/5/2012 4:26:36 PM


There is one part of your argument that is irrefutable. Visuals do matter to some people. And for those people, the spate of Chardonnays that are made with solids intentionally left in the wine are going to be unappeling because they perceive the haziness as negative.

It is my theses, however, that such perceptions are responses learned over time and are related to expectation, not to how the wine tastes.

Gerald Weisl asks if we at CGCW are going to start using black glasses, and the answer is no. We do not need to use black glasses because we judge wine by character, not by label or even by appearance by itself.

Purple Haze
by Gerald Weisl
Posted on:6/5/2012 5:17:22 PM

So, Charlie, would you suggest eliminating the assessment of the visual aspects of wine?

Should your readers (of which I am one) expect a change in your numerical scoring system?  You have a 100 point scoring many points have been awarded for color and clarity in the past and how do you expect to change this for future tastings?

Would not black glasses, though, allow you and the panel to be less influenced by color and clarity? 

by Charlie Olken
Posted on:6/5/2012 5:49:57 PM

My view, if it can be charitably called that, is that appearance is nothing more than a clue as to possible quality. These days, with wines coming in all kinds of variations, we get even less information from appearance than the very little we ever got.

As I may have intimated above, if someone wants to give me a new Bentley sports car to honor all the good work that I have done here at CGCW over the years, they do not have to wash it first.

by Adam Lee/Siduri Wines
Posted on:6/6/2012 6:33:59 AM

In my experience (which is greater than I would like in this area), there is a point which some haze is not problematic.  But at some point the turbidity starts to muddle the flavors of the wine and hurts its overall quality.  Where that point is depends, I think, on the wine and taster in question.

However, I do also have to wonder how consistent such hazy wines are bottle to bottle.  Do all the bottles have a similar haze or is there significant variation from bottle to bottle?  If so, is that a fault in and of itself?

Adam Lee

Siduri Wines

by Dick Minnis
Posted on:6/6/2012 8:51:08 AM

Visuals matter....your line of reasoning is valid only if the wine in question did not improve as gravity moved the haze particles to the bottom of the bottle. Then your left with the same wine and junk on the bottom. Lazy winemaking?

No Subject
Posted on:6/6/2012 12:44:42 PM

Charlie, all my assertions are correct :)

That said, what needs to be established is how much risk for deterioration (chemical-organoleptic and microbiological) there really is in wines that have not been heat stabilized....

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