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Monday Manifestos
The Simple, Unvarnished Truth: To Thine Own Palate Be True

By Stephen Eliot

The more wines I taste from 2010, the more questions I have about the vintage. The one thing for certain is that the year is one that does not lend itself to simple description, and it will be the source of plenty of conversation and contention.

I was struck last night by the Jeckyll-and-Hyde differences to be found in the vintage when trying a couple of hitherto untasted 2010 Pinots for dinner. Both were from the Russian River Valley, and the two wines headed in very different directions. One was supple and smooth and insistently fruity, while the other struck me as a scrawny underachiever.

All the same, I could not help thinking that the wine I considered to be overly stiff, a little too green and singularly lacking in reach would in some critical circles be praised for those very traits and be loudly applauded for its freshness and infinite nuance.

I get the feeling at times “quality” is defined for some by what a wine is not as much as by what it is. It should not be too ripe, not too alcoholic, not too fruity and not too oaky. Words like “restraint” and “subtlety” are bandied about but they come with no attendant sense of satisfaction and joy. They are virtues of a faintly puritanical bent.

Please, make no mistake, I am not making the claim that more is necessarily better. I am no fan of syrupy, overly ripe wines nor those that are shot through with spirituous heat, but I do not mind confident character and intensity, and I do admit to liking bottles that speak specifically to fruit. There are times and settings where wines with a lighter touch are welcome. A vibrant Chablis, a cleansing Muscadet or a racy Mosel might be the perfect match for the menu, but you will not find me waxing poetic over those wines because they are “minimal” or that they are academically precise reflections of terroir. I will do so because they happen to taste good!

I sometimes wonder if we have gotten away from that simple truth. Have we become so limited by a checklist of quantifiable responsibilities that a wine must meet, from its alcohol to its acidity to its pH and absolute “naturalness,” that we have forgotten about simple pleasure? I have never been much for staying within well-defined lines, and I get the sense lately that there are too many lines being drawn and too many voices claiming which ones are right.

To the new generation of wine drinkers, I would simply say listen to those voices that ring true to you, be wary of rigidly drawn lines and do not forget to have a little fun.

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