Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Are Wine Critics Making Themselves Obsolete?

Although many wine writers do more than critique wines and vintages, their musings, as Wikipedia puts it, "are often used by consumers in the process of deciding whether or not to buy a wine." I have long complained about not being informed of the lowest scoring wines they taste and evaluate. Awarding a wine 85 or 95 points makes little difference to me. Either one of those could be an excellent choice depending on the price and what food accompanies it. However, if a wine scores a 65 or below it may indicate some serious flaws. I need to know about those too! And these are the wines too many writers appear to be afraid to mention by name. If you don't, or won't, point out the good, the bad and the ugly then why should I pay attention to you?
I'm going to single out Steve Heimoff because his post about "the troubling 2011 vintage" prompted me to write this. Let me say that I follow Steve's blog and find him down to earth, sensible and usually a good read. I also respect his work and value his opinion. That is why I am so disappointed by this post.
He mentions that James Laube's column The Curtain is Dropping on California's 2011 Vintage, got his attention when he read of "a high presence of musty and even moldy flavors." Mr. Laube even goes so far as to call 2011 "the first vintage I can recall where there are a significant number of wines marked by a high presence..." before the statement Mr. Heimoff quotes. That is a strong statement! James Laube has been writing for Wine Spectator since 1980. Thirty-four years...the "first vintage"?!?!
Surely he continues and reveals some specific pitfalls or regions or names to benefit the subscribers and readers. Nope. So, Mr. Heimoff spots this and decides to carry the torch. Nope. In fact, he says directly, "one is loathe to say, of any given wine, that it's 'moldy' because...that loaded word can kill the wine's sales." If a wine smells of mold and/or tastes of mold, it should kill the wine's sales. Preferably before I buy a bottle.
At least Mr. Laube talked generally. Mr. Heimoff taunts us with information but doesn't reveal the culprits. "I'm not going to identify any particular bottlings, but here are some Moldy Hall of Fame 2011 wines; maybe you can figure out what they are." Really? Imagine a movie reviewer who singles out a handful of films for being completely unacceptable and then doesn't tell us their names. Or a food critic who writes of being nauseated by certain dishes scattered around the city but won't tell us where. They would be out of a job in no time flat.
At least Mr. Heimoff identifies some grapes that were most susceptible to the problems, especially pinot noir. He names a few of the producers who navigated the challenges successfully and even says that "2011 was was far from being a 'bad' vintage." Unfortunately, his avoidance of calling out any culprits by name, coupled with Mr. Laube's strong statements simply make me want to avoid the entire vintage unless I can taste specific wines first.
Wineries that permit lousy wine to be bottled and shipped with their name on it will kill their own sales, perhaps for many years to come. Reviewers that pussyfoot around concerns about wine sales for wineries releasing sub-par product will, ironically, hurt sales for all wineries because most people won't be bothered to sort it all out (including this wine geek).
Mr. Heimoff even finishes the article by telling people to, essentially, avoid the 2011s and 2010s: "Actually, the problems of 2011 (and, to an almost equal extent, 2010) underscore two important things to keep in mind: One, not every year in California is the same! And two, just wait until the 2012s start coming out. They will be superb." Talk about killing current sales...

Saturday, January 4, 2014

A bit late...or really early

Here is the link for my champagne/sparkling wine article on NOLA Propaganda. It got published there in time but I have been traveling and having fun and generally doing other things. It's never too late for sparkling wine and Valentine's Day is around the corner...read up, enjoy, maybe even learn something.
Bubbling Over