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Monday Manifestos
The Acid Test

By Charles Olken

It happened again. The local rag referred to “more friendly European wines”. The phrase has become code for lower alcohol, higher acid wines of a type that grow in some parts of Europe. It obviously does not mean Bordeaux or the southern Rhône or Cahors or even Le Montrachet and La Tache.

Now, I don’t mind if someone thinks lighter is preferable. I don’t dispute matters of taste. But I do dispute matters of name-calling because it borders on the childish. Worse than that, it borders on bullying when newspapers of record tell their readers that one style is more friendly than another.

But, I digress. Rather than complain about this continuing cupidity, I have put the matter to the acid test. Do my rather well-heeled, wine-drinking, non-geeky neighbors like bracing acidity or do they like rounder and richer flavors.

The test could not have been simpler. Put out a bunch of wines with varying degrees of briskness but with more or less similar critical ratings and see who likes what. You could call it Jon Bonne and Dan Berger meet Robert Parker and Connoisseurs’ Guide, except that the high acid California wines were as much my choices as theirs. The test was conducted with labels showing and nothing more scientific than seeing who drank what and slyly quizzing some of the more enthusiastic bibbers about what they liked and why.

I expected the rounder wines to be preferred and was surprised that they were not. But, neither did the higher acid wines dominate. What happened instead is that some people just loved the brisk bite of Roederer bubbles and some preferred the rounder, richer Gloria Ferrer. Some liked the very ripe Cotes du Rhône Villages and some preferred the brisker Qupe Syrah. And so it went across half a dozen non-scientific challenges.

Now, all of this is anecdotal and non-scientific, and clearly I did not include sweet wines like Rombauer Chardonnay or wines I consider to be overripe for my general interest. These were my wines after all. But, what I glean from this is that there is no clear preference for one style or another and that each palate is so different as to defy even generalizations within families.

All of which brings me back to the name-calling. There is a not-so-subtle put down of California wines in the local rag, and it is so far from reality as to be laughable. Apparently, the author has never heard of Peay or Bjornstad or Alma Rosa and has continued the near-libelous accusation that European wines are lighter and thus more interesting.

My neighbors would disagree and do not care for labels—only for taste. Isn’t that what wine should be about?


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Bonne is an idiot
by Terry Rooney
Posted on:10/1/2012 1:29:03 PM

It's constant and unwavering. I hope people have found out this man and ignore his terrible advice.


No Subject
by David L Price
Posted on:10/1/2012 6:29:10 PM

Whatever happened to "variety is the spice of life?"  Isn't most wine drunk with food, so to people who like different styles of wines depending on what food we pair with it, are idiots?  "Friendly" to you may be awful to me, but do I care?  As long as winemakers make different styles of wine it's all good!  Different styles of pinot work with different foods, sauces, side dishes, etc., rsight?

Ah, Charlie, the voice of reason.  You rock, dude!

Still using "Cal. Wines and Wineries for myself and friends who go wining.  Keep up the great work!

by TomHill
Posted on:10/2/2012 7:26:12 AM

Terry sez: "

Bonne is an idiot. It's constant and unwavering. I hope people have found out this man and ignore his terrible advice."

Guess I would dispute this assertion, Terry. I happen to think JonBonne is one of the more informative & educational wine writers around. I learn more from reading his articles than I get out of WineSpec or Parker. He's turned me on to a number of wineries (like ForlornHope/Massican/Matthiason/Arnot-Roberts/Ryme) of which I'm big fans now.
   To be sure, he has his likes/biases/preferences. Lower alcohol, higher acid, more restrained, many European wines are his schtick. There are times I like those wines. There are times that I like bigger wines, many that Charlie likes as well. I find Charlie much more eclectic/open-minded in his wine likes than Jon. I also think  that Jon's use of the term "more friendly European wines" hit a raw nerve w/ Charlie and he read it has a put-down of Calif wines. But I think Jon writes more about Calif wines than European. He just happens to have a bias towards a particular style of Calif wine.
   But "Bonne an idiot"?? I would beg to differ on that one.

Au Contraire X 2
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:10/2/2012 10:04:48 AM

Tom and Terry--

It is true that I have a "raw nerve" when it comes to the continuing insults to CA wine. In this instance, the offending language was in a restaurant review by Michael Bauer, and he may not have written it himself in any event since he gets wine list advice and commentary from an old friend in Dallas--nice lady by the way.

But, the term "friendly European wines" in a San Francisco newspaper, whether or not it was meant to bite, is part of the same, tired, ill-informed path that the anti-CA wines types have been flogging for years.

In fact, it is even more irrational than that because some of the criticism of CA wine is that it is too friendly, too easy to like when young, etc.

I mentioned Bonne and Berger by name because they are central to the name-calling. I don't know Jon, but I respect him as a professional. He is inconsistent, of course, engaging in the name-calling and piling on and then recommending wines like Rockwall Cabernet with its low acid, high pH (3.95), 15% alcohol or Mondavi Cab at over 15%, but at least he comes by those strange contradictions through tasting.

Dan is an honored friend. We disagree and we laugh about it. I kid Dan a lot because he is so doctrinaire and thus easy to kid. He is also easy to kid because he has a sense of humor.

But, how wrong is Terry Rooney? Well, let me put it this way. As Steve Eliot and I travel around California, we run into winemaker after winemaker who have come to have similar views of Mr. Bonne. Dan is doctrinaire. Bonne can be vitriolic, acerbic, insulting like when he described CA Chardonnay as "silly".

Jon is a smart guy, but his opinions have earned him a lot of "enemies". Jon in not stupid, is not an idiot. I agree, Tom. But his opinions can be idiotic, dismissive and arrogant. And so it does not surprise me that there is small but rising crescendo of public criticism of those opinions.

For Jon's part, I will give him this credit. So far, he has shown that he can stand the heat in the kitchen.


by 1WineDude
Posted on:10/3/2012 11:11:50 AM

Jon an idiot? No way. As for wines being more friendly, more food friendly, more complex, more whatever - seems to me there is plenty of room in the wine world for all of those styles, and more...

Hey, Dude, Don't Let Me Down
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:10/3/2012 12:03:16 PM

Joe Dude--

Welcome to the west coast where we mostly like the wines we make here and find them plenty friendly.

Yes, there is room for all kinds and types of wine, and that ought to be obvious to everyone--hence the irrationality of the name-calling.

If CA Chardonnay were "silly", it would not have shot to prominence as the most widely planted wine grape and maintained that standing. People like it. People find it friendly.

It is neither unfriendly nor silly and when wine writers in newspapers of recond say so, and thus heap scorn on the folks who love CA Chardonnay, they earn the hot words that come there way.

It would be so much better to have a position that says "this is what I like and why" than to have to assault and assail wines that do not fall within the writer's belvoed, parochially naaorw standards at every turn.

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