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Wednesday Warblings
Assessing The Role of “Place” In Wine Quality

By Stephen Eliot

I like a wine that very specifically speaks to its place, and I like a good many that do not. I know that may sound like heresy, but it is the truth. What I most assuredly do not like is being lectured to over and over that a defined “sense of place” is the first and most important priority of any wine and that without it, a wine can be no more than what one staunchly sermonic wine writer calls a “reliable supermarket pick” at best.

The argument in this particular case goes that any wine priced at $35.00 or more is “meant to represent is origins”, but the mantra of “place above everything else” is commonplace these day and has for me become a soporific catechism akin to the political sloganeering of an election year. Once heard, it triggers an immediate response to ignore anything else that might follow. I know that I could be missing something worthwhile that someone might have to say, but the fight or flight reaction is real, and I am tired of fighting.

I wonder just how much “place” a wine must exhibit to be deemed worthy by those who so passionately champion its unambiguous worth. Must a wine speak to an individual vineyard, or is appellation, county or state (gasp!) enough? For a long time I was especially amused by the fresh-faced tyros who marched into the wine wars with terroir as their cross even though I was sure that they would not know “place” if it bit them in the butt. I did and still would like to see them put to the test in identifying place when blind tasting a selection of serious wines, but I would most like to see some tempering of their absolutist missionary zeal.

The concept of place matters only if the wines of that place are constant and recognizably specific in character, and, of course, that the wines as a group are good. Last night we tasted our ways through a number of newly released Cabernets, and, among them, the Ridge Montebello and those from Diamond Creek were not hard to spot, but it is simply impossible to quantify how much of their distinctiveness was due to place and how much to winemaking style. And, as in most vintages, we have tasted many deep and thoroughly delicious Cabernets that were just as good if far less precise in their statements of place.

Now, please, do not get me wrong; there are pieces of dirt here and there that leave an indelible and remarkably positive imprint on a wine, but I believe that there are winemakers that can do the same. Some claim that the land is the sole arbiter of quality in fine wine, but I have tasted too many disappointing wines of legendary provenance, and I hold that greatness is born only when vineyard and vintner find just the right fit.

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dirt hipocracy
by John
Posted on:9/5/2012 9:47:09 AM

Next time some marketing genius starts extolling their wines' sense of place, press them on what they did to the soil before the vineyard was planted, and what they do routinely to keep it in production now. In every case, you will find that at least some part of that "place" arrived (and continues to arrive) on a truck from somewhere else.

Yup (going round and round)
by Christian Miller
Posted on:9/14/2012 6:29:30 PM

In general, a sense of place makes a wine more interesting to the mind, but not necessarily better to the taste. On the other hand, certain places make it easier to make certain wines that strongly appeal to MY taste.

Which Reminds Me
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:9/14/2012 7:06:27 PM

I feel the same way about milk.

Farms in Berkeley?

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