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Thursday Thorns
Kosta Browne: Pinot Noir For Novices

By Charles Olken

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the highly regarded, widely admired Pinot Noirs of Kosta Browne are enjoyed only by “novices”. If you like them, you don’t know diddly squat according to the Chronicle and its boyish wine judge.

He apparently has never heard that there can be no disputes in matters of taste. It is not enough that he and his admittedly euro-trained palate cannot abide Kosta Browne and most vinous things Californian. He wants you know that if you do like those wines, you are a wine idiot. You know nothing. You have not learned enough to get out of your own way.

So, let me say it out loud. It is time for these kinds of arrogant writings to be dismissed as serious comments on the wines of the West Coast. People like this have learned nothing about the reality in the wine world. Apparently, if a Pinot Noir does not follow their narrow, European-determined definitions, they feel no compunction about dismissing that wine out of hand.

These are the same people who bray on and on about terroir and authenticity. And then they tell us that the wines of California will only pass muster if they reflect the terroir and structure of France. In so doing, they turn useful concepts into intellectual garbage.

Now, believe me, I don’t begrudge them their preferences in Pinot Noir or in anything else. Each to his own taste. Everyone should like what they like and drink what they like. I believe that. Most of us who love wine do. But, these people do not.

And they have got to stop telling me and millions of fans of California wines that we are know-nothings just because we do not subscribe to their idiosyncratic views of the world. The wines of Kosta Browne, of Paul Hobbs, of DuMOL, of Tom Dehlinger are lovely, rich, deep interpretations of Pinot Noir. They smell and taste like Pinot Noir. They are not raisined or sweet or simple. They are simply different from 13% alcohol Burgundies. They are authentic, real and wholly enjoyable.

They are reflections of the land where they are grown. They are clearly not the only interpretations possible, and they do not need to appeal to every palate. But to proclaim them as wines for the unknowing is to proclaim that only they know what wine should taste like. It is an arrogant, narrow-minded view, and it is horribly misleading because it insists that every winery remake itself in the image of Burgundy.

It is sad to think that we still have that message being circulated after all these years of success with styles that range from the lighter works of Peay and Littorai to the rich offerings of Hobbs, Dehlinger, Talley and, yes, Kosta Browne. And it is time for the California wine industry to stand up for itself and to root out the cancer, the utter rubbish, that says that California is only successful when it imitates Europe.

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No Subject
by Bob Parker
Posted on:11/13/2013 12:57:53 PM

Charlie-good to see you standing up for the truth and not the cross fertilization of ignorance promoted by the highly biased so-called wine writers....who live by the motto-"repeat after me-all California wines should be high in acidity, made from under-ripe fruit,low in alcohol, and taste like my favorite Frenchies"

A wide spectrum of wine
by Doug Wilder
Posted on:11/14/2013 11:09:09 AM

Charlie, I especially agree with your last paragraph as you did a good job pointing out that there can be beautiful examples of wine produced across a wide spectrum of styles/extraction/abv, etc. To exclude any wine that can stand on its own as a balanced example simply because of a stylistic preference is a disservice to the consumer at large.

by Samantha Dugan
Posted on:11/14/2013 3:48:24 PM

Might I suggest, in the interest of giving California its rightful and due respect, that we stop using the term Burgundian? First of all I think that specific places here in California have their very own footprint and profiles, and should be proud of those. Secondly, there is also more than one style of Burgundy so saying Burgundian is just tossing a flat shade of paint, with a very wide brush, over a region that has many different styles, flavors and textures....just like California.

Appreciating vs liking
by Rusty Gaffney
Posted on:11/15/2013 8:05:32 AM

As a wine writer specifically on Pinot Noir, it is a daunting task to single out wines from the vast array of styles currently crafted in California and Oregon.  I attempt to separate my personal Pinot Noir stylistic preferences from the objective assessment of the wines.  I try to reward wines for their excellence regardless of style.  I boils down to distinguishing between appreciating and like.  Writer Jake Lorenzo said, "If the style is not one of my favorites, I hope I have the experience and generosity to appreciate what the winemaker set out to accomplish."  Charlie, I am so glad you penned this pertinent commentary.

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