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Tag Archives: winemaking

When cheap wine tastes cheap

wineadvice

cheap wine tastes cheapThe quality of cheap wine is better than ever, but that doesn’t mean that all cheap wine is worth drinking. Or, as the erudite Lew Perdue has noted: “Crappy wine holds back the wine market far more than any other factor.”

So how can you tell when cheap wine tastes cheap?

• Quality is not about style. Sweet wines should taste sweet; that’s their style, and whether they’re poorly made has nothing to do with whether they’re sweet. Dry wines that taste sweet are poorly made, no matter how many cases they sell. The Wine Curmudgeon doesn’t like alcoholic, over-the-top zinfandels, but that’s a style preference, not a reflection of quality.

• Bitterness, off-flavors, and green or unripe fruit, in both red and white wine. This is not nearly as common as it used to be, and is rarely seen in California anymore. But it still happens with imported wine.

• Missing tannins in red wine. The winemaker uses technology to remove tannins to make the wine “smooth,” because a focus group said smooth was a desirable quality without actually defining it. In this, tannins and tannic acid are perhaps the most misunderstood part of cheap wine. Quality red wine, at any price, needs tannic acid for structure and balance, and when the tannins are right you may not even notice them. But it’s usually too expensive or too much trouble to deal with tannins properly in $10 wine, which is why so much of it is astringent. So the winemaker takes the tannins out, and you get a flabby, boring wine.

• Fake oak. Again, this is not a style preference, but a winemaking decision, sometimes used to cover up poor quality grapes. If your chardonnay smells like Adams Best vanilla, then the oak is there because something else isn’t. Also, be wary of red wines that promise chocolate cherry flavors, also an oak trick. If producers could make $10 wine with those flavors, why would anyone need to buy $100 wine?

• Sweetness for sweetness’ sake. The best sweet wines have something to balance the sweetness, in the way that iced tea with lemon and sugar is balanced. They’re not supposed to taste like Coke. What made this $7 Sara Bee moscato so enjoyable was not that it was sweet, but that it had a little orange fruit and some bubbles to complement the sweetness. Sweet wine that is just sweet is as about as cynical as winemaking gets.

Image courtesy of Cheap Wine Records, using a Creative Commons license

Warren Winiarski returns to Colorado

Warren Winarski
Warren Winiarski

Yes, Warren Winiarski made wine in Colorado, and here is the label to prove it.

How incredible would it have been to talk writing with Ernest Hemingway? Or, for a painter, discuss technique with Michelangelo? Or, for a baseball player, pitching with Sandy Koufax?

I had a similar experience in Colorado this spring, when I spent a couple of days talking and judging wine with Warren Winiarski, one of the handful of people who helped transform the California wine business from its regional roots. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, California was not all that much different from what Virginia or Texas is today. Along the way, he produced the winning red at the 1976 Judgment of Paris, where California wine bested the French in a blind tasting that changed the way the world saw California wine.

That visit is the subject of a story I wrote for the on-line wine magazine Palate Press. Among the highlights:

• Winiarski made wine in Colorado for Ivancie Cellars in the late 1960s, shortly before starting Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. Ivancie, founded to bring the idea of wine to the middle of the country, was 40 years ahead of its time. Says Winiarski — and echoing how many regional winemakers over the years?: “We underestimated how difficult making wine in Colorado was going to be. The wine was good, but the idea just never caught fire.”

• The winemakers who attended a seminar with Winiarski (and where I was lucky enough to sit on the panel with him) were almost wide-eyed listening to him dissect their wines. Most importantly, he was polite, enthusiastic, and constructive in his comments, something that doesn’t happen enough often in a business that can get very snarky (and especially when the subject is regional wine).

• How can you argue with this winemaking philosophy? “Are you making a dancing slipper or a boot? What’s in your head? How do you follow through on what’s in your head? What do you want the grapes to become?”

Seminar photo courtesy of Michelle Cleveland, using a Creative Commons license; Ivancie label courtesy of Colorado Wine Press, using a Creative Commons license.

The International Style of Winemaking, and why it drives so many people crazy

 

The International Style of Winemaking, and why it drives so many people crazy

“Keep moving. We have dozens more to unload after this.”

“So tell me where this wine is from.”

My friend swished, took a sip, moved the wine around in her mouth. “Malbec from Argentina,” she said.

“That’s really good,” I said. “I couldn’t place it, but that’s exactly what it tastes like.”

The catch? That the wine was neither malbec nor from Argentina, but a $10 red blend, mostly syrah, from Château La Tour De Beraud in the southern Rhone in France. That it tasted like it was made with a different grape from the other side of the world speaks to the increasing use of winemaking tools that make wine taste the same no matter where it’s from – the insidious International Style of Winemaking.

In one respect, this has been an extraordinary advance in winemaking, because it has tremendously improved wine quality over the past decade. It’s almost impossible to find a poorly made wine these days, no matter where it comes from. I don’t miss those green, unbalanced wines that tasted like battery acid.

The cost, though, has been high – wine without terroir or personality or individuality, something that was common even for cheap wine in the 20-plus years I’ve been doing this. After the jump, what this means to consumers and how to identify these wines.

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