Friday, January 23, 2009

The Identity Question

Is it what it says? This is not a Clintonian fudge. My question is: Is this wine what it claims to be? Here are a couple of wines that, shall we say, did not represent themselves accurately.

The Princess, our friend and I took a junket to a winery that shall remain nameless. It has a spectacular setting high in the mountains, with an elaborate and fantastical villa that must have cost a great deal of money (this point is important). The other guests on this open tasting day were living the high life, with the type of beautiful view that Mad King Ludwig would have enjoyed if he were in California rather than Bavaria. I expected some of them to break out cigars as they sat on the patio, but we were spared that.

Too bad the wine did not live up to the surroundings. The various Pinot noirs, this winery's alleged specialty, were unfocused and showed no prospect of developing into anything interesting, nor of tasting like Pinot. The Cabernet sauvignon was uninspiring. Their Merlot was tasty, with enough stuffing to show it would be even better in 3-5 years. It was worth buying at 40% off, so we did so.

One worthwhile wine out of three seems to be about average these days. So is Pinot noir with no finesse or delicacy. The thing that really bugged us was the $40-50 price range on these wines. They were not worth the money to any of our party. The only possible explanation for the pricing, we felt, is the need to pay off the villa quickly. This may be a valid pricing strategy, as long as your customers are not aware of what else they could get for the money. That is ... unlikely. I have expectations of a $40 wine, and nothing we tasted here met them.

Now for the next impostor:

A well-established restaurant boasting a Wine Spec award-winning list should be a safe bet for a good glass of wine. The food was good enough, the wine list broad enough in California if not other regions.

Tonight we were didn't want a whole bottle due to the long drive home. So we looked over the token by-the-glass list. Are we not worth looking out for unless we buy a whole bottle? Apparently not.

I decided to try a Pinot since it would match our dinner best. Color: opaque and thick, not typical for Pinot. Taste ... well, it's wine of some sort. Our kind waitress goes back to the bar and verifies that, yes, the bottle is labeled "Pinot noir".

Maybe this bottle has been open too long? Our
very kind waitress brings a glass from a fresh bottle. It tastes the same. Feh. I give up and get a Louis Martini Cabernet, which is basic but tastes like Cabernet.

Back home, I research the Pinot and find it has 20% Syrah. No wonder it doesn't taste like Pinot! This is not a case of blending to achieve more complex flavors - this is blending to achieve nothingness.

Castle Rock Winery, I will avoid your wines from now on. And Unnamed Restaurant in Carmel, you should be ashamed of yourselves for trumpeting an award-winning bottle list while foisting off a mediocre glass list on us. That's disrespect to your customers.


Anonymous said...

Is the wine what it claims to be?.....Or is the traditional slipping away to be replaced by shinny new steel barrels, over processed over produced tasteless "American cheese" wine with no sense of belonging to any particular part of the world. Wine with no personality, depth, inspiration, focus, finesse, delicacy, or the lovely refined flavors of the terroir and that something else that can only be achieved though the ages.

elquetoca said...

Good points, mon ami. I have nothing against steel tanks per se; they have their uses. What I object to is wines with no personality at all, as in the examples I gave. Those wines were not true to themselves or to the intrinsic flavors of the grape, much less terroir.

You can post anonymously, ami, but drop me a line and introduce yourself! Just to satisfy my curiosity.

cheers - Joel