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Category Archives: Wine rants

What’s wrong with California expensive wine?

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California expensive wineNothing, actually. But what happens when one of the world’s top wine writers picks only a handful of California labels as her best expensive wines in the world for 2015? If you’re a California expensive wine devotee, it’s time to panic, and many did on Twitter and elsewhere. If you have a little more perspective, Elin McCoy’s choices speak to how much great wine is made in the world, and how even those who buy pricey wine sometimes don’t understand the need to try something different.

McCoy’s list of the 50 best wines for $50 or less in 2015 had just seven wines from California. Excluding the six Champagnes on the list, that meant 7 of 44 — just 16 percent of the best expensive wine in the world — came from California. Is it any wonder so many howled so loudly? It’s one thing when I criticize California for making such ordinary, grocery-store cheap wine. But expensive wine? That’s the Napa and Sonoma reason for being, and if those regions don’t dominate lists like this, their supporters figure something must be wrong.

But as McCoy said when I asked her about it, “Those seven wines were more than from any other place but France, so I guess I don’t feel I neglected California too much.” And, she added, the list doesn’t have any wines from Chile, Argentina, and Washington state, which also make great wine.

Hence perspective, something too many American wine drinkers lack. Because it’s not enough to have 17 percent — it must be 50 or 60 percent or even more. Because, dammit, expensive California wine is the best wine in the world. Everyone knows that. And if you don’t, you don’t know anything about wine (and no, I’m not going to link to the blog posts that say that — no need to start the new year with a flame war).

Which is that lack of perspective. I’ve written many times that California makes the best wine in the world, cheap or expensive, but only when it wants to. The rest of the time, it’s content to make wine other people think it should make, be it a focus group or the Winestream Media. And if anyone complains, we get the speech in the previous paragraph.

Or, as one noted wine competition judge told me when we discussed this, “California wines have gotten boring, for the most part. Same ole, same ole, year in, year out. … I can appreciate the box they have built for themselves. Why mess with success? But no one wants to discuss it because we are all so close to those people and that industry, but the reason I love Old World wines so much is that they are interesting, with unexpected, often delightful, surprises. And every year, they are different.”

And difference brings perspective.

The 2015 Curmudgies

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2015 curmudgiesWelcome to the 2015 Curmudgies, the fourth time we’ve given the awards to the people and institutions that did their best over the previous 12 months to make sure wine remained confusing, difficult to understand, and reserved for only the haughtiest among us. This year’s winners:

Worst news release: Another banner year for releases that insulted my intelligence, committed any number of grammatical errors, and did nothing to promote the product. The winner is 24-Group PR & Marketing for a release for Three Hunters Vodka, which included this foolishness (and a hat tip to my pal Tim McNally, who sent it my way): “We live in a time when some of the most important choices we make come prepackaged and predetermined by companies who know nothing about us. The decisions we make about the things we put in our bodies are constantly manipulated by clever and misleading advertising, and misconceptions about nutrition and health.” Why would anyone write that about vodka? Also, it is a classic example of the pot calling the kettle black.

The regional wine award, or the more things change, the more they stay the same: To every restaurant in Dallas, and there are too many to list here, that doesn’t carry Texas wine. This is a disgrace given the improved quality and availability of Texas wine in the second decade of the 21st century, and speaks to the restaurant wine mentality that makes wine drinkers crazy. If Lucia can find a Texas wine to include on its otherwise all Italian list, so can the rest of you.

The three-tier system is our friend award: To the 200 Minnesota cities that, thanks to one of the oddest state liquor laws in the country, operate their own liquor stores. As the Star-Tribune newspaper reports in a solid piece of journalism, “In 2014, 34 Minnesota cities, all outstate, lost a total of $480,000 on their liquor outlets — money they had to backfill from their own coffers. Another 60 outstate cities saw sales drop from the previous year.” Given how much trouble so many cities, big and small, have doing basics like police and fire protection and garbage pickup, that some want to run liquor stores is mind boggling.

The Wine Spectator will always be the Wine Spectator: For James Laube’s February 2015 blog post, which included this: “If you want to save more and waste less [on wine], consider how much money you spend on wine that you don’t drink, and how many bottles of wine you opened last year that should have been opened sooner.” Wine that we don’t drink, huh? Wine that we let sit in the cellar too long? Wish I had those problems. That one of the Spectator’s top columnists wrote about it speaks to how little the magazine has to do with how almost all of us drink wine.

Would someone please listen to this person? The positive Curmudgie, given to someone who advances the cause of wine sensibility despite all of the obstacles in their way. The winner this year is Forbes’ Cathy Huyghe, who spent the month of November writing about the wine that most of us drink, and not what Forbes’ one percenters drink. “…[I]t has turned out to be one of the most eye-opening projects I’ve ever done. … The longer I’m a wine writer, the further away it’s possible to get from the wines that most people drink.”

For more Curmudgies
The 2014 Curmudgies
The 2013 Curmudgies
The 2012 Curmudgies

Scores, value, and the Wine Spectator top 100

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Wine Spectator top 100 The most important part of the 2015 Wine Spectator top 100 isn’t the top-ranked wine or even the wines themselves. It’s this line, buried in the fifth paragraph:

Overall, the average score and average price are the same as in 2014’s Top 100: 93 points and $47 — an excellent quality-to-price ratio

That the magazine’s editors could write this speaks to how screwed up scores are and to how little the Spectator understands about the relationship between quality and value. A few thoughts:

• A $47 wine should get 93 points, if only because it costs $47. What’s the point of buying it otherwise? I could just as easily buy a $35 wine that got 90 points, which offers a better dollar per points ratio (a concept that, as I write this, makes my stomach turn).

• If I owned a winery and spent the millions of dollars necessary to make $47 wine and I didn’t get at least 93 points, the winemaker’s job would be in jeopardy. Baseball managers who don’t win get fired; why not winemakers?

• True value is a $10 wine that gets 88 or 90 points, a dollar per points ratio of .11, vs. the .51 for the $47 wine (sorry — couldn’t help myself). These are the wines that score-driven consumers have been to taught to buy, and I hear from them all the time. “Parker gave that $12 wine 90 points. Do you know where I can find it?”

• No score can guarantee whether you’ll like the wine. No. 21 on the list, with 93 points, is the Cloudy Bay sauvignon blanc from New Zealand. It’s a nice wine, but certainly not my favorite New Zealand sauvignon blanc and certainly not the 21st best wine of 2015 if I was doing the ranking.

• And, in one of those peculiarly Spectator leaps of logic, the rankings list scores and boast about them but the wines aren’t ranked by scores. Rather, they are chosen for “quality, value, availability and excitement.” Excitement? Did Fred Sanford judge the wines this year?

 

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