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Monday Manifestos
Clashes of Wine Styles—Everywhere

By Charles Olken

I occasionally find myself wondering what the San Francisco Chronicle winespeaker will come up with next. Certainly, his tastes and mine do not exactly align. One of his latest columns has struck an unusual chord with me.

Mr. Bonne, who may spend too much time looking for the next big thing and thus can miss the central point at times, pointed out quite accurately that Anderson Valley Pinot Noirs have an array of styles even as he decried the “incursion” of big wineries from the Napa Valley and then commented that too many Anderson Valley wines had hard edges and roasted flavors.

Frankly, no one is going to argue with the latter premise—although seeking to blame the lack of success that some wines from the area have experienced on the Napa Valley is a bit of a reach. Since he did not name names, I did a search of the CGCW database and came up with just a couple of Napa players. The most significant name, and certainly a label that has offered very ripe wines of the type that Mr. Bonne tends to dislike is Goldeneye, owned by Duckhorn. There may be a couple of other minor players, but that is it. Yet, the list of very ripe Anderson Valley names does not begin and end with Goldeneye.

Now one can argue about the standing of Goldeneye Pinots. CGCW has liked them in the past and has found some that were pushing the limits of ripeness. Preference is not really the issue here. Accuracy is.

And the greater inaccuracy in the article is the suggestion that a range of styles is somehow an Anderson Valley issue. Mr. Bonne says it was hard for him to get his head around Anderson Valley wines. I wonder how he does with the Russian River Valley Pinots that range in ripeness from hard and high acid to lush and rich. What about those from the Santa Rita Hills? That very cool area produces a range of wines that run from brittle to viscous.

The point is not that Mr. Bonne knows not where he speaks. He is a smart and studious observer. It is, rather, that he makes too much of the issue. There is a range of styles from virtually every producing area that has more than a handful of vintners. Rutherford Cabernets have a wider range than Anderson Valley Pinots, for example.

And perhaps more to the point, we ought to be thankful for a range of styles. There is no right answer for all wines. The very different and equally brilliant Cabernets of Corison and Staglin prove that point. The remarkable Pinots of Dehlinger and Dutton Goldfield reinforce it. The Zinfandels of Dashe and JC Cellars, winemakers and friends who make wine in the same building in Oakland, put the exclamation point on it.

Wine is not monolithic. If it were, the remarkable Dagenau Pouilly-Fumés, the powerful DRC Le Montrachet, the Frank Cornelissen and Scholium Project wines could not exist because they would be thrown out for breaking the rules. Sometimes, the way to wrap one’s head around an area is to celebrate its array of wines—not to be confused because it does.


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by TomHill
Posted on:9/24/2012 9:23:06 AM

Yup.....couldn't agree more, Charlie. To me, that diversity of styles is what makes Calif wines so exciting to me.

   It has been amusing to me (simple minds are easily amused) that the sagging Syrah market is attributed by Jon (and by PatrickComiskey and EricAsimov..probably others) to exactly this diversity in styles. That the poor/ignorant consumers don't know what kind of Syrah they're going to get when they spring for they throw up their hands in dispair and quit buying Syrah. That could be for the TJ's/low-end market...but certainly not the reasonably aware pert of the wine market.



Diversity or Confusion
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:9/24/2012 9:36:25 AM

Tom, you point out yet another example of the fear of diversity and the writers who are selling that ill-advised theory.

I have come to think that they, despite their general brilliance, have decided that they are not critics or educators but arbiters whose responsibility it is to tell us what is right and what is wrong in no uncertain terms. Diversity be damned.

To which I say: nonsense and poppycock.

arbiters indeed
by Thomas Pellechia
Posted on:9/25/2012 7:22:58 AM

"...have decided that they are not critics or educators but arbiters..."


Nice to see you coming around to my way of thinking.

My Way or The Highway
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:9/25/2012 8:36:12 AM

Mr. P--

I think we always agreed on the general principle. It is in the details where I am guessing we still disagree.

Critics must have a point of view or everything they write will be pablum. It is in how that point of view is framed, its breadth or narrowness and its application.

I made the point above about the range of enjoyable Cabernets coming out of Napa. The attempts by Bonne, Berger, Feiring to tell us that wine must be low alcohol and high acid or it is crap cross the line for me.

I much prefer the standards of Parker, Laube, Heifmoff, Olken (yes, him too) who recognize that a wider range of acceptable outcomes exists and that Napa Cabs have not become mockeries of themselves--as Dan Berger once wrote.

Now, where we draw the line on ripe vs overripe, on ripe vs. underripe, on brett, VA, amount of fruit is going to differ. But the critics I named do not run around telling the industry that it is made up of fools and tools the way some writers do.

No Subject
by Thomas Pellechia
Posted on:9/25/2012 3:03:08 PM

Well, Charlie: perhaps, but a couple of the people you name with standards often have nasty things to say about those who either disagree with them or go in another direction. Name-calling is one of their choice responses, which means that they may simultaneously see themselves as arbiters and be insecure about their place on the planet.

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