Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Are "showy" wines also great? or "Why can't you form your own opinion?"

I have been spending quite a bit of time recently considering the 2007 vintage in the Southern Rhone. Even if you haven't had the pleasure of tasting these wines extensively, stay with me here, I've got a larger point to make.
Many have hailed this vintage as the vintage of a lifetime. In my humble opinion, this might not only not be the best vintage of my lifetime, but in my estimation, it's maybe the 4th best of the decade. Now, I'm not going to lay out my case vintage by vintage. I will say this, I get why this got HUGE press. It's a very flashy and showy vintage. The entry level wines are great, and this is the best crop of Cotes du Rhone I have ever seen, that I will grant you. Parker goes on to say that Gigondas and Vacqueyras have never been better. This I disagree with, vehemently. These 2 appellations, in particular, show a ton of up front fruit, but that's not really what these wines are supposed to be, nor is it what makes them so appealing. I prefer these wines to be full of butcher shop, sage and leather, and only after some time in the glass or bottle, do they reveal a little mysterious fruit that emerges more with aging. The Rhone is supposed to be Robert Altman, not Jerry Bruckheimer!
Then there's Chateauneuf du Pape. 10 100-point Parker wines from this crop is crap. Granted, I haven't tasted these 100-point wines, but I have sampled a great cross section of many of the 95+ wines. They are delicious, no doubt. But that much up front fruit always dies a young death. Secondly, and certainly most importantly, Chateauneuf is a blended wine. Not just of grapes (albeit most famously), but of terroirs. These ridiculous amounts of variables make one of the most compelling and complex wines year in and year out. it's that complexity and subtlety that is noticeably absent from the 2007's. It is however, in spades in the 2006's. The most overlooked vintage of the decade. This is a nearly perfect vintage for the top appellations. With an extra year in bottle and tasted alongside the 2005 and 2007, 2006 is the vintage to beat. it's better now, it will be better in a year,and will outlast both of the most recent vintages of a lifetime.
Obviously, that's just my take on it, but doesn't that bring up a continued issue with vintage reviews? That the critics give the proverbial thumbs up or thumbs down, when we really only see maybe 1 vintage a decade that isn't good (Burgundy aside). Every vintage brings something different. What makes a great vintage? Overachieving cheap wines? Fruit bombs at the high end? Easy to drink young wines? Longevity? Complexity? For me 2006 is the best of the decade, and with good 2008's being poo poo'd awaiting the arrival of the next vintage of a lifetime, 2009, aren't we trying to be a little too savvy? If I only read the reviews, I'd agree, 2007 sounds awesome. Would it hurt to decide for yourself? If you are able to establish your own take, you might even become a better resource for your customers rather than just being another Myna bird, repeating what you read and hear.


  1. I couldn't agree more, Adam. The 2007 CdPs I've had, with the exception of the Pegau, which is delicious, have been unbalanced, overripe, and utterly lacking in the penetrating earthiness and gamy flavors that make CdP, for me, so mesmerizing. And one of the best (maybe the best) CdPs I've had in a long time was the 2004 Domaine Font du Michelle, which had just enough fruit to provide a sturdy backdrop for pepper, spice, garrigue, and black earth.

    I haven't had many '07 CdRs, Vacqueyras, or Gigondas, so I can't comment there, but I know that '05 produced many great examples of each, so even then, I can't see how '07 could have that much of a superior status.

    Just out of curiousity, are these actual Parker ratings you refer to, or are they WA "Parker" ratings? Seems to me, as Parker ages, he does what many people do when they age: he loses his taste for subtlety and develops a sweet tooth (which, for him, means going from "I like fruit bombs, so sue me" to "if it's not cherry juice concentrate, forget it." (And I'm withholding judgment on '05 CdPs, since most that I've had have been too tight for my inexperienced palate to pass judgment on.)

    Good post.

  2. You know, I can't help but feel as if the Southern Rhone has been completely commercialized in the past 4 vintages. While I myself have been guilty of falling to the "07 fever", it is certainly hard to ignore the fact that the South has had a long string of near-perfect vintages. It seems as if this super-ripe style is the stuff of Parker dreams, and while I've had quite a few magnificent '07s (Pegau, Beaucastel, Telegraphe), I just cannot buy into the fruitopia. I mean, c'mon - this just feels scripted. Right?

  3. I am not speaking from a great wealth of recent experience - I haven't been tasting many Chateauneufs in the last decade, but have had a chance to recently taste a number of older Grenache-based wines, my own in fact. What seems to be the case is that the very ripest vintages, the ones that were enormously showy in their youth have not fared nearly as well as the leaner, tighter vintages - those that had some acid and slightly greener tannin to preserve them. But ultimately the matter devolves to a question of aesthetics: Ripe, primary fruit is enormously attractive to some and the be-all, end-all. Perhaps if the wine is to be consumed within a few years of the vintage, this is a defensible position. But I would argue that real greatness in a wine can only come with time and a wine has to possess a structure that will allow it to age. You really need a fair bit of experience with a style of wine to understand what this structure might taste like in its youth; it is a real discipline not to allow oneself to become overly enamored of a wine's all too obvious charms.

  4. What a terrific spot-on post. I fell for the hype and have been drinking oceans of CdR 2007s (like I do every year) and I find myself making excuses for the lack of a finish, the overall alcohol impression, and missing "bramble and garrigue", now replaced with cooked and overheated red/black fruit. As a new wine enthusiast, circa 1989, I read Parker like religion, and when I let my subscription lapse several years later, I suddenly discovered what I had been missing: typicity, terroir, length, acid, tannin, and yes, character.

    I still respect RP very much, but I think we all know what he likes by now!