Friday, October 19, 2007

19 October 2007 - How do you grade an emotion?

I had an extremely busy day of wine tasting on Monday -- took notes on sixt-two; didn't bother noting another handfull of truly awful specimens. I tasted some terrific new stuff, purchased six of them for immediate arrival. But one wine -- Tenuta della Terre Nere Rosso '05 Guardiola, Etna, Sicily -- stood out. Guardiola is a vineyard situated between 800-900 meters up the northern slope of Mount Etna, planted with 105 year-old Nerello Mascalese vines. The estate is owned by the Italian wine importer Marc de Grazia. I was floored by this wine -- with a store full of sales reps waiting their turn, time stood still. I immediately sent the sales rep to the warehouse (fortunately only a ten minute drive away) to pick up a case so that I'd be able to take a bottle home for dinner that night.

What was it about this wine? I'm tempted to say "on any objective scale..." but what does "objective" have to do with it? Sure, it's a well-balanced, technically well-made wine, but I'm not a scientist. I'm in the business of pleasure, and this bottle (and the bottle I drank Monday night) brought me immense pleasure. It never entered my mind to give it some kind of grade. I have wondered, however, when I will have a chance to taste another wine (this was my first) from this estate. Could the next one possibly live up to the expectations created by the first?

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

2 October 2007 - Wine Without Points

We were cleaning around the shop last week, and I was asked if I wanted to keep my old copies of The Wine Advocate. I said yes because I'm a pack rat, not because I have consulted a copy of The Wine Advocate -- or Wine Spectator, or any other guide that gives scores to wine -- in the past five years or so. Not that I doubt the sincerity or character of the tasters. I do, however, doubt -- ok, I abhor -- the practice of giving a wine a score. The only thing more detestable to me is actually trying to sell a wine by a number, an arbitrary number. Or perhaps the number isn't so arbitrary after all? I have noticed, for instance, that the higher the score for a red wine, the more likely it is to be opaque in color and/or sporting an alcohol content over 16%. Red or white, a high scoring wine is likely to be aged in oak long enough to obliterate most of the character of the grape from which it is made.

How do I come to make such sweeping generalizations when I profess not to pay attention to scores? Well, those trends were developing a long time ago, and I occasionally get to taste a wine that I have been asked to get for customers who are thirsting for the wines with the biggest scores. The latest example was my first taste of a Molly Dooker wine -- the "Blue Eyed Boy" Shiraz '06, appellation South Australia, retailing for a cool $50/bottle. I'm not sure of the exact number -- I didn't ask -- but I understand all the Molly Dookers get big, big numbers. My notes are short: "16% alc. and it tastes like it." If you love big, soft, high alcohol, dark red wine without a lot of character, you'll love it. If it were readily available and you wanted me to order some for you, I'd be happy to do so. Will I carry the wine in my shop? No. Why would I turn down a $50 wine that I could sell oodles of? Perhaps because I'm slightly nuts.

How can I put this? I'm not the arbiter of taste. I'm not telling anyone that they should only like the wine that I like. In fact, my job is to find out what my customers like and get it for them, but within the context of what I've selected for my shop. I do have some big red wines with pretty high alcohol -- Amarone, Zinfandel and Chateauneuf du Pape spring to mind. -- however, I have limits. Outside of Amarone, which is after all made from raisined grapes, I tend to draw the line at around 15% alcohol for red wine. If that's not good enough for Molly Dooker lovers, then I'll try to special order the Blue Eyed Boy now that I know there is actually some available. But the fact remains that someone has to make the buying decisions in any wine shop. Some shops choose to buy wine by the numbers, and if that works for them, great. In my shop I get to pick the wine, and I do it the old-fashioned way, by tasting it. If I like it, and I have a spot for it, and I think I have a few customers who might like it, I buy it. If I'm not doing a good enough job of making customers happy I go out of business. Happily, I've survived nine years here at CWC without having to pick wine by the numbers.