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May 5, 2008 06:27 PM

California wine? Down the drain

Very appropriate article in today's Los Angeles Times:

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  1. Interesting. And terribly true.

    "The Battle for Wine and Love -- Or How I Saved the World from Parkerization." - this I gotta read!

    1. Feiring perhaps makes her point a bit too strongly (not ALL California wine is bad -- there's good stuff if you look past the big producers), but she completely nails the qualities I despise in left coast wines. I'm so tired of overpriced tarted up wine that tastes as sweet and as artificial as cherry cola and is so high in alcohol that it burns going down.

      I hope people like her and (NYTimes critic) Eric Asimov keep speaking out against this awful stuff. Maybe they can help turn the tide.

      1. Thank you for this very interesting post RicRios. I found the article very thought provoking.

        When I first became very interested in wine in the early 1990s, I was an unapologetic California wine booster. I loved the big fruit, and I loved the hedonistic fruit bombs that were New World wines. Zinfandel was a real revelation for me, and I was invigorated by the Ravenswood motto "No more wimpy wines". But these wines are hard to match to a lot of food, and I've come to appreciate subtler, more complex wines that are terrain-driven.

        My purchase of California wines have dropped significantly in the last decade partially due to lack of availability (Quebec has a limited selection of California wines), but mostly due to increased prices. I used to be able to find some real treasures for $20-40. Nowadays, I am finding it harder to get a decent bottle that hasn't been over-manipulated to extract too much fruit and alcohol and oak. I haven't bought a California Cabernet Sauvignon in several years, nor a Chardonnay. I am still buying a few California Pinot Noirs, although after that evil movie, the prices jumped and the availability dropped darn darn darn. I am also still enjoying some Syrahs from certain producers. I still love my Zin, but sadly note that some of these wines are too big even for me. I recently drank the Sky Zinfandel 1995. It had aged beautifully despite Zin's reputation for not aging well. It was made in a "claret" style, and despite being 12 year's old, it still had wonderful fruit that was well balanced with the tannins. I remember thinking "such an elegant wine", and wistfully realized that it had been a while since I had said that about a California wine. I have since had a Martinelli Reserve Pinot Noir which also elicited a similar response, so I am encouraged, these wines can still be found, but apparently at a price!

        I think the author of this article and book is swinging to the other extreme. I think we need the pendulum to swing the other way a little bit, so I welcome these strongly voiced opinions, even if I personally stand somewhere in the middle.

        1. Thanks for the link. Good article.

          "Neutered" is so appropriate...

          I attended a tasting this afternoon where the 2005 Joseph Phelps Cabernet and the 1994 Hanzell Chardonnay were a few tables apart. People were lined up for the former like bears to honey. Overheard at Phelps: "Taste this fruit! It's so ripe!" To me, it tasted like every other California cabernet at the event. Overheard at Hanzell: "It's a little light for a chardonnay." Me to myself: I wonder how many California chardonnays would show this well after 14 years. The Hanzell was infinitely more full of character and distinctiveness. I'm glad this and the Benton-Lane Pinot Noir, which uses no new oak, were my two favorite domestics of the event.

          But more and more, I'm finding this problem is not isolated to just California. Anyone tasted any white Burgundy recently? Yikes.

          8 Replies
          1. re: mengathon

            Mengathon: could you expand on your inferred indictment of white Burgs? have you have a broad spectrum of bad experiences or was it an isolated few? although I am possibly done with buying them due to the euro/dollar issue and general price increases, I am still a least of ones such as Francois Jobard.

            1. re: ibstatguy

              I still like quite a few of them, and I wouldn't say it's a wide spectrum of bad experiences. It's just become more and more common to encounter wines that are flat, hollow, or lack any distinctiveness. Maybe it's always been this way and I never noticed until now. To be honest, it might have more to do with my own evolving palate with experience than anything else. (That Leeuwin Art Series Chardonnay might have screwed me up forever!)

              I'm referring to the entry level Puligny, Chassagne, Meursault, etc in the $35-50 range. My comparison was to the CA cabernets in the same price range. I still like to drink both every once in awhile, and they're enjoyable. But they're becoming harder to distinguish from each other. The values are also few and far in between.


              1. re: mengathon

                Now that you say so...

                Looking back at my list of usual suspects in the White dept:

                The Colins ( in all their various manifestations and hyphenations )

                I notice I'm buying less and less of their entry level stuff.
                Which in my book have been replaced by :

                Arbois ( white & jaune ), by Puffeney et al.
                Sancerre ( Fournier, Vacheron, Mellot,... )
                VdPs (CĂ´tes de Gascogne, Saumur, Touraine, other Loire ...)

                And if I think of a reason for my shift, it's exactly what you mention above.
                As opposed to: a lot of vibrancy, authenticity and affordability in the less well known, less pretentious but traditional lower appelations.

                Needless to say, a (non-hyphenated) Montrachet is still a Montrachet, a Corton Charlemagne is still a Corton Charlemagne. But definitely, the white Yaris / Corollas / Pintos from around Beaune seem to be in a down slope mood.

                1. re: RicRios

                  I've very always been pleased with my purchases of F Jobard and, in fact, have just bought more of the '02 en la Barre, '00 Blagny. with what has happened with dollar and burgundy price increases, don'e envision much more such purchases. Just picked up a case of Leth Gruner Veltliner as I move toward other whites. Used to buy Colin-Deleger and can't quite say why I started buying more Jobard.

                  1. re: RicRios

                    >>The Colins ( in all their various manifestations and hyphenations)<<

                    That;s hysterical!

                    And I agree with you 100% - Marc's St. Aubin White is a stunner year after year.

                    1. re: RicRios

                      I was wondering if you'd tried poulsard from arbois (puffeney). If so, your thoughts on it?

                      1. re: StephP

                        I tried one, immediately bought all inventory available ( qty 6 ...). Highly recommended, if you can get hold of ( my understanding is it's not widely available ). Retails for $23

                        My analytic prose is weak at best, so I'll borrow an excellent description from the 30 Second Wine Advisor. He meant the 2003, applies to the 2004 as well.

                        "Poulsard, which the natives sometimes confusingly call "Ploussard," is a large, thin-skinned and rather lightly colored grape. This combination lends itself to long fermenting on the skins, a process that can yield the odd but intriguing combination of light body and flavors that are intriguingly both delicate and intense at the same time. ... [ Pouffeney's Poulsard shows a ] clear cherry red, not too dark; bright crimson glints against the light. Fresh and delicate aromas of spicy red fruit, subtle herbs and fragrant white pepper mix in a subtle blend. Light-bodied but intense, tart cherries and white pepper meet crisp acidity and smooth but perceptible tannins on the palate. U.S. importer: Rosenthal Wine Merchant"


                        Some Pouffeney specifics in this link:

                  2. re: ibstatguy

                    I've run into these lately myself, though I am buying at a lower bracket and attributed that to the problem.

                2. Can we say that this writer tends a bit towards exaggeration and generalization ?

                  Probably, considering the following pearl of wisdom she offers:
                  "...But take heart, Golden State, you're not alone in making what I consider to be undrinkable wine. About 90% of the rest of mondo del vino has been similarly corrupted..."

                  Let's see.... 90% of the world's wine is no good ... hmmm...

                  She's okay, the world's &^%$# up

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Chicago Mike

                    Chicago Mike: Can we say that this writer tends a bit towards exaggeration and generalization ?