Friday, March 4, 2016

A wonderful evening spent with lessons learned

This past Wednesday, we had our second class of the semester titled "A Balancing Act", where we played to a smaller than usual class of like-minded wine geeks and found a few surprises. The class was centered around the trend back from "Parkerized wines".  This was a very popular movement 10-20 years ago where Robert Parker, along with Wine Spectator,and others ruled the wine world with their critiques and scoring of thousands of wines from around the globe.

This was, for many, their introduction to the wine world and by following along with these renowned critics, everyone could join in on the fun. The rating scale was easy to understand and there were graphs and tables set up to help guide us through a very confusing world. They tell us which vintages are best in each wine growing region and which wines and producers to look for. A seemingly perfect answer to the question. "how do I break into this exclusive wine world?".

The American fascination with wine exploded, and consumers scrambled to get the next issue in order to figure out what they should be drinking this season. Wine Spectator's annual top 100 issue was snapped up off of the news stands and the phones at local wine shops began ringing as eager wine lovers did their best to get as many of these wonderful wines as possible. So powerful was the word of people like Parker, that even wine makers were adjusting their individual style to match his/their palate(s).

Through the next decade plus, we followed blindly and listened to what we liked, or at least what we should be liking, if we were "In the know". Their scoring became so powerful that even the scale got skewed over time. What was a grading system like that of a high school math test, where a 75 was average and a 95 was very good back in the 1990's, transformed itself into what is now a scale that begins at 90 points for an average to slightly above average wine. It is almost a requirement to have a 93 or better to catch the eye of a wine buyer at the retail or consumer level.

This has actually helped the pendulum swing back the other way! Consumers have stopped looking for a tag with a score hanging on a shelf, and have gone back to talking with their shopkeepers and asking opinions about what is on the shelf. What has been discovered is that the disappointment that many of these people were feeling with a 88-91 point wine wasn't the fault of the rating system, but the critic! "Parkerized" wines are forward drinking with big alcohol and high extraction. They tire out your palate and don't work particularly well with food. While they immediately capture your attention at the first sip, it is hard to have a second glass because they are so fatiguing.

All of our eggs were in one basket.  We had been drinking the wines, that a very few people were tasting, and were being told that these wines were the "right" ones. While these over-extracted and high alcohol wines are showy on the first sip or two, they aren't particularly enjoyable over the long haul.

In class the other night, we started with a very well balanced Cheverny from the Loire region of France, that was light and crisp and very inviting. After we finished this wine, we assaulted our palates, first, with Mer Soliel Chardonnay from California that was barrel fermented and a whopping 14.8% alcohol, followed by and even bigger Molly Dooker "The Boxer" Shiraz from Australia, coming in at 15.5% alcohol.  The Shiraz stained the sides of our glasses, which were left with a thick sheet of purple black wine as we swirled and sipped. We talked about preferences in the wine world, and the idea that these big scorers were the style of particular critics and also of particular consumers. There isn't a "right" answer, just individual preference. Some of our attendees were immediately drawn to these wines and others were a bit turned off.

Good! It is your choice and your opinion. Stick with it!

Next we peeled those layers of wine from our tongues by offering some plain popcorn and a bit of sparkling wine.  Sound strange? Try it sometime. It is quite refreshing and really does put you back at a neutral place for further tasting. The rest of the evening was spent tasting wines from European producers that were lower in alcohol, 11.5-13%, with less oak and brighter acidity. These wines were less showy on the nose and in our mouths, but we found them to be more contemplative and paired very well with our cheeses.  Five more wines were tasted in all, and when we were finished, our palates were still refreshed and not fatigued. We also noticed that the lower alcohol left us more clear minded.

Interesting to note, as the students wandered around the store to make purchases, not a single bottle of the two high scorers was sold. Even the students that preferred that style going in to the evening, found themselves more interested in the old fashioned way, and selected wines with better balance.

It was a wonderful evening filled with lots of conversation and a wonderful invitation to reassess the way we thought about wine. At Harry's, we love the idea that so many of our customers engage us with questions and let us in on their personal preferences, so that we can match a selection to their individual style.

The other wines that we served that night? Glad you asked...

Domaine du Salvard 2014

Pierre Bonface Apremont 2014

Daniel Pollier Pouilly - Fuisse “ Les Perrieres” 2014

Vincent Bachelet Haute-Cotes de Beaune 2014 

Tenuta La Pergola Monferrato Rosso  2014

Brunnenhof Mazzon Lagrein 2013 


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