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A Wave of Outstanding Wines Has Arrived

By Stephen Eliot

One of the steady refrains in wine commentary these days is the call for a return to more “honest” times. Wine, we are told is losing its cultural relevance and soul as science, technology and technique have spawned what amounts to a hostile take-over of the winemaking craft, and “manipulation” has become tantamount to an unforgiveable sin. Some of the most passionate angst comes with a luddite-like ring as we hear voices damning anything other than traditional, entirely “natural” wines made by pre-industrial standards and whose intricacies of instability and spoilage are praised as true terroir. Other unhappy critics of the status quo seem content to hold up the lower alcohols typically found in Europe and that once were the norm here in California as the path to real vinous worth.

Invoking the past as the way things truly should be has always struck me as opportunistic and decidedly short-sighted. Regardless of topic and time, the “good old days” were rarely as good as we remember, and our gilded memories of some golden age lose their sheens on closer examination.

I have spent the better part of this last weekend pouring over tasting notes on new Pinot Noirs as I prepare our extensive June report on the same, and I can come to no other conclusion than that things are far better with Pinot than they have ever been. Not only are there more, in fact a great many more, serious offerings than there were a mere generation back, but the extraordinary growth in the number of new Pinots is equaled by a commensurate, if not even greater, rise in overall quality. There is, in short, a stunningly large class of first-rate local Pinot Noirs that was beyond anyone’s prediction not so many years back.

It is well to remember that the swinging pendulum of fashion by its very nature must replace the old with the new, but when the need for new and different is allowed to become the governing force of inquiry, it is easy to lose sight of just how exciting the vast and varied wine world is right now.

I have been a serious student of wines and a journalist covering the same for most of my adult life, and I admit to having more than few extraordinary bottles that have defined and deepened my appreciation for wine. But, rather than living in the past or waiting with pent-up anticipation for what might be better as the vinous world churns ahead, I find myself utterly mesmerized by the seemingly limitless number of outstanding wines now being made and am baffled at the antipathy of those who spent their time pointing out what is wrong with all but a few.

I have often wondered just how many of the most negative critics of expensive and extravagant Napa Cabernet Sauvignons, for example, have actually had the chance to drink the wines they are so quick to condemn and was heartened to read Esther Mobley’s thoughtful article in the San Francisco Chronicle expressing her newly found appreciation for the deep and dramatic wines of Harlan Estate.1 Shortly thereafter, she penned an equally well-reasoned piece on the leaner, new-wave wines of restrained richness that have become the darlings of the local sommelier trade.2 In each instance, the reporting stemmed from inquisitiveness and was not at all judgmental, and Ms. Mobley’s conclusions were free of harsh judgment and shallow, starry-eyed praise. It is what good wine writing should be.

Right and wrong such as they exist are entirely in the purview of the drinker, and, whether one spends their time engaged in self-serving cheerleading or ceaselessly decrying this or that style of wine as an insidiously betrayal of all things noble and good, neither voice has any value to me and I find myself pitying those whose singularly myopic vision leaves them unable to see.




No Subject
by Rh drexel
Posted on:5/19/2016 10:43:35 AM

I, too, am very much enjoying Ms. Mobley's even-handed and inquisitive approach. It is refreshing.

by TomHill
Posted on:5/19/2016 11:31:29 AM

Awwwwww, Steve...sometimes you & Charlie sound like the ole crank hollering off his front porch at the kids "Get off my lawn". Some of the "new-wave" wines are very interesting to try. Sometimes they can be wretched...sometimes just "interesting". Had a new Pinot from one of the darlings of the IPoB crowd a few days ago. A modest 13.3%...which I suppose is what actually qualifies it as a IPoB wine. But it had such a screechy acidity to it and so out-of-balance that I could hardly choke it down. Maybe age will bring it into balance, but I have my doubts.

   But I totally agree w/ you on Esther's writings. I was skeptical of her creds at first, but she's stepped up to the plate and is doing a mighty fine job, I think.  She approaches the Calif wine scene w/o blinders on and has quite an open mind. Why....I bet we could even get her to love RibollaGialla!!!  :-)

   See you & Charlie up on MBRidge in a few weeks.



Surging Quality
by Z
Posted on:5/19/2016 11:53:01 PM

Totally agree on the dramatic uptick in quality...the variety and numbers of really good wine are far beyond anything expected even a decade ago.  Attending today's West of the West tasting confirmed this, with amazing quality at nearly every table.  Different takes on a similar terrior, which made it even more interesting.  We live in marvelous times for vino...

IPOB wines
by Bob Henry
Posted on:5/21/2016 1:26:38 AM

I attended the IPOB trade tasting in Los Angeles a few weeks ago.

My discovery was Small Vines -- run by Paul Sloan, a former wine steward.  (Note he doesn't call himself a "somm.")

I ran into Paul again this week at the Henry Wine Group (distributor) trade tasting in Beverly Hills.

Their Chard is a lovely expression of the grape variety.

Other Chards at the IPOB event tasted like Sunkist not-from-concentrate bottled lemon juice:

Like the label says:

"No sulfites"

"No artificial colors"

"No artificial flavors"


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