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Why My View Of Balance Is Better Than That Of IPOB

By Charles Olken

Here are the full and unreconstructed contents of an actual letter to Connoisseurs’ Guide.

“Just wondering if you have read the article in the 5/28 NY Times magazine entitled The Wrath of Grapes, & if you have any comments -- does sound like what you have been saying for some time.”

Yes, it is what CGCW has been saying, but in different words. We are not a marketing organization bent of pushing a particular view of wine that we and our participating wineries believe to be the “right way” to make wine.

Thus, when we insist that there are several key criteria in wine evaluation, balance may be first among them but it is not the only element. And, our view of balance is somewhat different from that seemingly espoused by the folks featured in the NY Times article.

Their sense of balance, for the most part, is relatively high in acidity and low in alcohol. Nothing wrong with that. Lots of people like those kinds of wines. And so do we. It’s just that we have a wider view of balance than that which is praised in the article.

So, when our respondent says, “does sound like what you have been saying for some time”, he is reflecting our clearly stated opinion, going all the way back to the overripe Zinfandels of the mid- to late-1970s, which stood accused then of “bad table manners”.

Overripeness, to the point that variety character is lost and heaviness takes over, has never been a style that has pleased us for the most part. That some wines, and we still recall the joys of a 16.6% Monte Rosso Zinfandel made by Rosenblum, succeeded even when very ripe and high in alcohol was because they still had varietal character and offered both structure and vitality.

It is on that latter point where we part ways with the low-alcohol, high-acid set. There is no one way to make wine. And thus wine cannot be judged by numbers alone or by label information. It must be judged in the glass. The NY Times article, in its praise of the those who believe in their narrow righteousness, overlooked the fact that a goodly percentage of the great wines in this world are ripe, flavorful, balanced and true to type. They include the best of Burgundy, some of whose alcohols can run above 14% and have been known to reach 15%. They include the best of Bordeaux, the best of Chateauneuf du Pape, the best of the Côte Rotie, the best of Tuscany. Which is not to say that wines in that style are the only great wines in the world.

Wine can be full-bodied like Ridge Geyserville or lighter and more elegant like Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet. Chardonnay can be exceptional whether full and buttery or brisk and layered. And the real delight, the delight that puts the lie to each and every narrow attempt to define correctness, is that there is a range of character between the extremes. We have championed that view just as we have complained about excess.


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Balance in Wine
by TomHill
Posted on:6/15/2015 5:58:21 PM


Like you, I have long thought that balance was an important quality to have in a great wine. Oftentimes, I think it's the balance that can carry wines out to greatness when they are not particularly impressive upon release. Lots of folks come to Ridge/DryCreekVnyds/Dehlinger/Nalle are some that come to mind. I think both you & I have been around the block a time or two and are able to recognize balance in a wine.

   Where I part company (as I suspect you do as well) w/ the IPoB crowd is their formulaic embracing of lower alcohols and higher acidities. I've had any number of wines from card-carrying members of the IPoB crowd that I would say were anything but balanced. At least when I tasted them young. Some have been Rieslings and Semillons that have a screechingly high acidity. Yet, as we both know (think HunterVlly Semillon, ClareVlly Riesling, German Kabinetts, etc);  some of these wines are ones that make incredible old bones.

   So, the question I'd like to pose to the IPoB folks, and you as well, is do these wines get credit for being in "balance" when they're woefully out of balance when young and will/maybe (it's a bit of a gamble) eventually come into balance with age??  That's something I've not seen addressed by the IPoB folks.



Do They Age
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:6/15/2015 6:37:52 PM

Some do. Some don't. I like Riesling with some age but am less fond of Hunter Sems. But all of the high-acid wines that have aged well in my experience had a solid underpinning of attractive flavor and avoided the green, narrowness of underripeness. They may have been screechy in acidity but they had depth and focus.

Clare Rieslings are a good case in point. I was not fond of young versions, and still am not, but they were useful in their ways, and then it turned out that age gave them the roundness to balance their acidities. I have yet to see a low ripeness CA Riesling develop in the same way. So, some of the answer to your question is that we don't know till we see the proof no matter what we may think will happen.

Napa Cabs from 1970 are a perfect example. We thot they would age but no one I know predicted that the best of them would last forty years as they have. We know better now.

by David L Price
Posted on:7/3/2015 5:30:11 PM

As someone who buys and enjoys different styles of Chardonnay, I thought it interesting that I don't find any reviews in your latest Chard reviews of the wineries that profess to make wines from, say, the far west coast of sonoma, like Peay and others.  In pursuit of balance in your reviews, why do you seemingly ignore some of the "balance" advocates' wines?

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