Vol. 1 No. 15 reign of ‘terroir’?

TB must apologize for being so remiss in updating the blog but have been doing a lot of reading and thinking since the last issue. Still, no excuse, but here are some of the things I have observed over that time.

1. Use and misuse of the term ‘terrior’ in blogs. Terroir is kind of like je nes se pas, as in something you detect but are unable to define. A blog recently referred to the ‘terroir’ of Lodi wines. Lodi! This is not to denegrate these wines but there is a difference between a ‘well-made’ wine and a wine of great character, thus terrior. That does not mean they aren’t good value, but it depends on what you expect in a wine. For instance, what if you tried five, or ten wines and found them all good but with no distinctive qualities. Is that what you want to buy? Hold that thought for a minute…

2. The great wines of the world have their own terrior, but through the efforts of wine critic, Robert Parker, and his friend, global wine consultant Michel Rolland, winemakers are adjusting their wines to suit the tastes of these two and other wine writers. Why? Because they can make more money with a 90 or 95 rating than an 88. There are perhaps half a dozen (or more?) wine raters now so the odds of getting a 90 or higher from one of them is improved. After all, they are not all looking for the same thing in a wine…and did it occur to you that what you, the end purchaser, likes that matters most? It is you, dear reader, that should decide what you want in a wine…that makes you go back and buy another bottle…or case. but if you just buy based on ratings you may never find that wine…your find!…that you love enough to make your ‘house wine’. This implies that unless you are blessed to be wealthy you can afford enough of the wine to serve your needs.

3. This leads to still another issue: wine snobbery. When TB first began this project, he considered something like “ending wine snobbery”, but then what is a wine snob?…or a ‘reverse’ wine snob as one fellow blogger has titled his blurb? His thrust is that you needn’t pay more than $20 for a bottle of wine (if you do, are you thus a wine snob?). He then uses a rating system that factors in taste  – and a negative price factor – to come up with an overall rating on an 8 point scale. Be it 8, 10, 20, or 100, I want to know what the rater is looking for so that if her tastes don’t match mind I can go on to another wine critic to get a rating. I actually prefer the UC Davis 20-point scale as I have tried it on wine novices and find it simplifies judging wine. But there is still a problem. It is judging a wine on quality alone not a distinctive wine. In the end, TB chose as his mot: demystifying wine, not for wine snobs. Now there is a topic that can produce hundreds of blogs, right?

4. Let’s go back to that $20 maximum price: you will get for the most part, a well-made wine but not a stand-out. Furthermore, you will eliminate most wines made by real producers. Real producers? I mean the non-corporate, family wineries who don’t produce a 100,000 cases, or whatever, giving them incredible economies of scale. Isn’t that who you would really like to support: someone making a quality product, often organically (by not using pesticides, natural yeasts, etc – note that there are reasons to not use natural yeasts in controlling fermentation, but on a smaller scale it can be done). This overlaps on sustainable and bio-dynamic production which is more expensive but often with the end result of a better product. Moving into this range means wines that are more in the $20-35 price segment. Not, to TB at least, in the realm of priced for the wine snob. No, to TB, a wine snob is someone who buys on ratings alone, and adjusts her likes to what she is told to like. Lettie Teague, who writes a weekly column in the Wall Street Journal, is an honest writer who ‘calls ’em as she sees ’em’. Her last column was on sins of people in the wine industry. Sins? How about the sommelier who pours you a glass and then describes in detail what you are tasting – isn’t that like giving you a book then reciting the story and telling you to enjoy? Another of the sins is wine shops that pepper their inventory with stickers showing the ratings of most of the wines. One of TB’s pet peeves is the server, intent on selling you more wine, pouring behind your back, or dumping the rest of the bottle in someone’s glass. I have experienced and seen friends experience, getting pie-eyed because they lost count of how much wine they drank because they didn’t see their glass refilled…again and again.

5. I know of one blogger who refers you to a wine he has rated (and often following a rating by a seller), that offers you a chance to buy direct by clicking on the link. Without accusing said blogger, how can she be independent if there is an incentive to sell the wine. TB has never, and never will, accepted anything for a favorable plug…period. But then, TB is not out go get rich, but merely provide information to fellow wine-lovers (note he did not say ‘oenophiles’ – enough of enophiles!). Instead, TB hopes you will regard his efforts at truthfulness positively and if…and when…his book is published be inclined to buy a copy, but that is up to you.

Hopefully, this has made up for the self-made ‘drought’ (sorry Californians), and given you pause on what you seek in a wine. In Jancis Robinson’s latest blog, she commented on her version of wine snobs who get on every mailing list of hard to get producers and cause more price escalation and hording. What is a bottle of wine worth? Take the word of Heidi Barrett, consultant to many of the top wineries in Napa Valley after hearing that an Imperial (six-liter bottle equal to eight 750ml bottles) of her Screaming Eagle sold at the Napa Valley Wine Auction for $500,000. As author George M. Taber writes in Judgment of Paris, that works out to $22,944 per four-ounce glass (purchased by a dot-com multimillionaire). Barrett, while obviously pleased by the price, said this, “It’s wild. you drink it, and it’s gone. My brain doesn’t get it.” Neither does TB’s, especially when there are people can’t afford their next meal. Oh, well, let them eat cake, right?

Off to get a glass of wine…

Trader Bill

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