You Don’t Have to Like Bordeaux, No Matter What the Old White Men Say

This past weekend, I celebrated my 25th college reunion and had a ball reconnecting with old friends and exploring the grounds of my alma mater. For fun, I also brought along some wines to share, including a bottle of 1996 Pontet-Canet, an excellent vintage from the well-respected 5th Growth Bordeaux estate in Pauillac. Since we were the class of 1996, I had a great time sharing the wine (and several other bottles of similar age) with some of my classmates who appreciate  such things

The wine itself was very good, full of life, with cedar and forest floor aromas, dried cherries, graphite and leather, and bright citrusy acidity.

But my experience of the wine was like most of my experiences with Bordeaux. It was tasty, but it didn’t truly move me. After a little reflection on that fact overnight, I tweeted as much.

Some people on #winetwitter called the tweet “bold.”

One suggested it was a “profound admission.”

Several others said they resembled that remark.

And the former Executive Editor of a major wine magazine said, “To me, that’s like saying ‘Bach is good but his music doesn’t move me.’ I can accept that it’s true but it makes me a bit sorry for the listener.”

I think that’s the kind of snobbish sentiment that consistently turns people off of wine.

Everyone’s preferences are only the sum total of their individual experiences.

Early on in my wine-drinking life, you could have heard me proclaim loudly to anyone within earshot that I didn’t like Champagne. Turns out, the highest quality Champagne I had tasted up until that point was Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label.

Then one day someone handed me a glass of Krug Grand Cuvee and the whole world of Champagne got an immediate reorganization in my head.

But that’s not what’s going on here.

Just because it’s a great wine, that doesn’t mean people have to like it.

For the record, I’ve tasted most of Bordeaux’s First Growths (Petrus evades me). I had a 2016 Château Mouton Rothschild a couple of weeks ago in a blind tasting (it was pretty good). I regularly attend and taste widely at the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux trade tastings when they come through town. There was a time when I regularly attended pre-auction tastings at a local auction house in San Francisco, where I would get to try top Bordeaux wines at 10, 20, 30, 40, and sometimes 50 years of age. I occasionally get samples from Cru Bourgeois producers and review them here on Vinography.

I know what Bordeaux, even great Bordeaux, tastes like, and you know, it just ain’t my bag.

And it shouldn’t have to be just because the establishment says it’s the greatest.

Some Wines are Objectively Better Than Others

To be clear, I don’t believe in subjective relativism when it comes to evaluating wines. Some wines, like some art (and I do include music there), are objectively better than others, because we have a whole historical discourse of critical evaluation that says so.

That discourse exists as part of the cultural conversation and the discipline surrounding the craft and industry of wine, and I willingly participate in it.

But that discourse is largely separate (for most people) from the individual experience of drinking wine, and those of us who are immersed in the discourse all the time are at constant danger of forgetting that.

You Don’t Have to Like Bordeaux, No Matter What the Old White Men Say
Paul Gauguin’s Nave Nave Moe c. 1894, in the collection of the Hermitage Museum

Gauguin is inarguably one of the great painters. But that doesn’t mean I have to like his paintings. In fact, I don’t. Especially not his Tahitian and Marquesan ones. I don’t respond to them visually, and they give me this icky-white-male-colonialist-gaze vibe that I don’t really care for. I wouldn’t want one hanging on my wall at home.

I can recognize his genius without loving him. Ditto for Jackson Pollack.

Ready for another bombshell? I don’t like Port, either.

I get why people love Port the same way I get that people love Bordeaux. I have experienced the organoleptic qualities of fine aged port, and yes, even marveled at minutes-long finishes and ethereal expressions of vanilla and coffee.

It might be ambrosia to some people, but I can’t get past the raisiny thing.

You Like What You Like

Preference is not the same as critical judgment, and more importantly, it is possible to have your preferences and critical judgment diverge.

Just ask half of the Napa winemakers who make massive 15.2% Cabernets by day and go home to drink Gevrey-Chambertin and Chinon.

Should we feel sorry for them, the same way the aforementioned editor feels sorry for me?

Everyone is allowed to like what they like. They are just not allowed to confuse that preference for a universal truth.

If you’re someone ready to explore the world of wine, remember that while some people might know a sh*t-ton more about wine than you, that doesn’t mean they can decide for you what you like, or judge you for that preference.

And likewise, we critics shouldn’t be allowed to confuse our critical consensus for an imperative of appreciation on the part of others.

Those of us ‘in the business’ should never, ever tell people what they should like when it comes to wine, nor should we condescend to pity them for their preferences, however mundane. Today’s Veuve Clicquot lover is, after all, often tomorrow’s rabid Krug fan.

Our job is to show people the amazing landscape of wine to be explored, and give them whatever help they want along their path of discovery. Where they choose to go, and what parts of the adventure they end up loving should be up to them, not us.

And if you’re someone ready to explore the world of wine, remember that while some people might know a sh*t-ton more about wine than you, that doesn’t mean they can decide for you what you like, or judge you for that preference.

Photo up top by Jean-Luc Benazet on Unsplash

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Wine News: What I’m Reading the Week of 7/4/21

Welcome to my weekly roundup of the wine stories that I find of interest on the web. I post them to my magazine on Flipboard, but for those of you who aren’t Flipboard inclined, here’s everything I’ve strained out of the wine-related muck for the week.

The Decameron: Tuscany’s tale of wine and woe echoes the present day
Lovely ruminations.

The Way We Buy Wine Now
Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes.

What Does ‘Bitter’ Mean in Wine?
An astringent primer.

It’s Nearly Impossible to Get Canadian Wine in the U.S. Here’s Why.
And vice versa, apart from a few brands.

Moët Hennessy lures out fake Dom Perignon online in China
Surprised? Me either.

Why do bottles of Rioja have gold mesh – Ask Decanter
Great question!

Laura Catena on the Storytelling Power of Wine Labels
A fun way to recommend wines.

Terroirs: the wine bar that changed how we drink and dine
A nice remembrance and origin story.

These LGBTQ+ Wine Pros Are Shaking Up an Age-Old Industry
Diversify the voices!

Slowing Down Grape Ripening May Help Wine Survive Climate Change
Interesting study.

The Power in a Glass of Volcanic Wine
John Szabo does his thing, so well.

The Drop’s Wine Horoscopes for July 2021
Prescriptions for some pretty wild wines.

By the Bottle: Christy Canterbury, MW
Alfonso asks, Christy answers.

Wines from Lesser-Known Regions That Over-Deliver
Fun picks.

Sommeliers at Work Under Pressure
More stories of sparkling disasters.

Supreme Court Petitioned on Wine Shipping
Whack-a-mole indeed.

Plans Afoot for Postal Wine Delivery
Not holding my breath on this one. They can barely deliver my mail properly.

Heat the Burning Issue for Oregon Winemakers
Let’s talk shrivel.

The Burning Question for California Wine Country
Lots of burning questions.

Arizona’s Growing Wine Scene
There’s some good stuff in them thar hills.

How to Make Wine Travel More Sustainable
A smattering of ideas.

Meet the Black Winemakers Who Are Diversifying Oregon’s Wine Scene
More names to know!

20 Minutes With: Former NBA Player and Wine Entrepreneur Channing Frye
A deeper look at one of those names.

Georgian Qvevri Granted Protected Geographical Indication (PGI)
This is pretty cool.

A Cambodian village ripped apart by a bad batch of rice wine
Don’t drink methanol.

Croatia and Italy renew feud over prošek and prosecco wines
Tough one. We know what happened to Tocai Friulano.

Changing the Rules for Chianti Classico
Specificity. Nothing wrong with that.

French champagne industry group fumes over new Russian champagne law
How to piss off the Champenois – call it Sparkling Wine.

Priyanka French Is Changing Napa’s Wine Industry for BIPOC Women
Profile of one of Napa’s young stars.

The Paradox of Chenin Blanc
Tastes sweet, but isn’t.

North Coast grape harvest nears with smaller crop amid challenges of drought, wildfires
Tough year coming.

Madeira, America’s Revolutionary Wine
Drink more Madiera.

How Small Label Changes Can Spike or Sink Wine Sales
What’s the difference between “dry Gewürztraminer” and “Gewürztraminer? Answer: $$$$$

Wines That Sing To Themselves
A lovely piece.

The Provable Theory of Terroir
More discussion of the Catena project.

Wine for the rich and/or famous
And sometimes, for the rest of us.

Okanagan Valley frazzles
Brutal heat.

Re-wild at Heart
Cool story. We need more bees.

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Wine News: What I’m Reading the Week of 6/13/21

Welcome to my weekly roundup of the wine stories that I find of interest on the web. I post them to my magazine on Flipboard, but for those of you who aren’t Flipboard inclined, here’s everything I’ve strained out of the wine-related muck for the week.

Chenin Blanc Finds Its Feet in South Africa
Amanda Barns goes prospecting.

Cold Fall and Arid Winter Conditions Wreak Spring Havoc in Some Vineyards
Climate change rears its head again…

Turning the Tables on Alder Yarrow
So, uh, I got interviewed.

By the Bottle: Alder Yarrow
Um, twice.

This Summer, Make It Chianti Classico
Chianti really has never been better.

Lush or Lean? Wine Pros on What their Favorite Tasting Terms Really Mean
Words, words, words.

Are We Entering the Post-Natural Wine Era?
Sigh.

Calling Mr. Natural — A Battle Cry
The riposte.

Tolerance v intolerance
REALLY interesting dustup on the topic of Biogenic Amines. Seriously. Read this.

The Wine Mavericks of California’s Central Coast
Some great picks in there.

Wine Lightens Up as Heavy Bottles Fall Out of Favor
But how many wineries have really made the change?

‘Turns out you can’t get away from it anywhere’: Inside the sexism that runs rife in the drinks industry
Need to keep talking about it until it’s gone.

Creating Change in California’s Food and Wine Scene
A profile of Maryam Ahmed.

New exhibit tracks the once unlikely rise of Oregon’s wine industry
Would be cool to see this.

The New Generation of Vintners Reviving Los Angeles’ Wine Heritage
Matt Kettmann profiles a few good names.

The Message in a Reusable Wine Bottle: Combat Climate Change
Every little bit helps! Eric Asimov goes deep into the subject.

Wineries Clash in Battle of the Cults
What’s in a name? Everything, apparently.

A Legend of the Vineyard
Many happy returns, Dr. Walker.

Meet the Millennial woman modernizing one of Napa’s most exclusive wineries
A profile of Maya Dalla Valle. Love the last line.

A Guide to the Wines of Languedoc and Roussillon
The 101 for a big place.

Winemakers Collaborate With Weed Growers on New Cannabis Appellation Systems
Terroir is everywhere.

Wine Label Text: How Much is Too Much–and Too Little
Consumer opinions vs. professional

It’s Time to Stop Laughing Off Wines With Funny Names
Elin McCoy drinks for fun.

Why the Wine Industry Is Betting on Jermaine Stone
Nice profile from Dorothy Gaiter.

How Château Lafite Changed the World of Wine
One night in Hong Kong….

Inside Blaufränkisch’s Global Comeback
Please sir, can I have some more?

Rioja’s power struggle
Tough times to be a little producer

Why Etna wine is so hot right now
Hotter than Hansel.

Police Seize Grange In “Sting Of The Century”
224 people charged. Seriosly, this is like Spectre for wine

Will Chemical Damage Kill the Texas Wine Industry?
Brutal.

Hot Brands And Instagram Are Fueling Rosé Wine’s Phenomenal Growth Rate In The U.S. Market
And to think, once we used to have a rosé advocacy organization.

Why Bay Area wineries may eventually struggle to sell wine – even with a rise in tourism
Fire season has begun, says Esther Mobley.

Are Napa Valley Grape Prices Sustainable?
Limited supply suggests: yes.

Why New England wines are starting to get some serious attention
Terroir isn’t limited to the West Coast.

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Wine News: What I’m Reading the Week of 6/6/21

Welcome to my weekly roundup of the wine stories that I find of interest on the web. I post them to my magazine on Flipboard, but for those of you who aren’t Flipboard inclined, here’s everything I’ve strained out of the wine-related muck for the week.

Post-Pandemic, Wine Writers Prepare for a More Diverse and Delicious Future
Wine writers talking to wine writers.

What They’re Drinking in Paris
Yes, it’s natural. But wait, there’s more.

After Tragedy, Italy’s Taurasi Wines Rise Again
Taurus ascending?

Why Wine Lovers Are Flocking to Portuguese Wines
Catnip. Mmmmmm.

The Original Rock Star Rosé Makes a Comeback
One of my first loves, when it comes to wine.

Perfume and Wine
Luca Turin writes amazing tasting notes.

Climate Challenge for German Riesling
But which will fail first? German Riesling or California Cabernet?

Italy’s Winemakers Barrel Ahead With Chestnut
Super cool story about a super cool guy.

Debunking the Myth of Wine Travel Shock
I need a bit more evidence before I’m willing to say it’s debunked.

Is That Wine Sweet or Dry?
The oft-confused terms, defined.

I Used To Steal Verdicchio, Then It Stole Me
How wine really works in life. Lovely tale.

By the Bottle: Ian D’Agata
Alfonso asks D’Agata answers.

How A Nearly Extinct Portuguese Wine Grape Was Rescued By A Soccer Player
Interesting story.

What does ‘vin vivant’ mean when referring to wine-making?
Oh lord, let this not become a thing.

What’s the deal with NFTs and wine?
You won’t understand them any more after reading.

Thinking Wholistically About Pizza, T-Rex, and Wine
Robert Joseph writes a guest post for Jeff Slater

Please Do Not Let “Wine Racism” (over a grape!) Become a Thing
Amber skewers a ridiculous article attacking Lettie Teague.

Phil Mickelson, wine influencer? This $450 Napa Cab is selling out after golfer drinks it from trophy
Beware the power of instagram.

Why Australia’s Latest Wines Are Making Waves
The LoFi reverb continues.

Rioja Emerges as an Affordable Substitute for High-End Bordeaux
But people don’t want just the taste, they actually want the price tag.

The evolving language of wine
It needs to evolve.

10 Wines that Forever Changed the How the World Sees Italian Wine
Alfonso remembers.

Idaho wine: fresh, fruit-forward and great value
If only they’d start using less oak.

Kylie wines: Andrew Jefford meets the star and tastes the range
Another celebrity wine brand. But if Andrew Jefford likes them…

An Arkansas agriculture mogul just bought his sixth name-brand Napa winery
The buying spree continues.

Budapest’s Natural Wine Scene Embraces Hungary’s Roots
Yes, but will the government even let them sell it?

One Of The Greatest Wine Producers In Spain Has Set Firm Roots In Tokaj, Hungary
The story of Oremus.

Catastrophic Tank Collapse Destroys 250,000 Liters of South African Wine
Ouch. A tragedy. Thank heavens no one was hurt.

The Ancient Origins of Beer Geeks and Wine Snobs
Blame Pliny.

Elizabeth Banks, Houseguest From Hell, Stars in New Ad for Luxe Canned Wine Brand
It’s pretty rare to see brilliant advertising about wine. Savor this.

Winemakers to pour $4 million into Smithsonian’s popular American Food History Project
Warren Winiarski is the dude.

We Asked Wine Pros: What Are the Best Trends in Wine Right Now?
Quotes from various pros.

The Surprising Story of Oregon’s Other Pinot
Getting more popular by degrees.

Why You Should Be Drinking Wine Made on Volcanoes
Because it’s booming.

The Funky, Floral Rise of Orange Wine in Texas
Because it goes with BBQ.

Asylum-seekers help produce Italy’s famous Brunello wine
“Immigrants. We get the job done.”

Jura’s Pelican Takes Flight
Now making 11 different wines.

Rare bottles of wine crafted by Holocaust victims to be put on auction
If you don’t know the Jewish roots of Tokaj, you should.

A Tasting Tour of the Greek Islands’ Best Natural Wineries
Yes, please.

Monks of France’s first papal vineyard sell wine to help local community
Wine for the people.

This LA Wine Woman Knows Nostalgia and Daring Go a Long Way — How Caitlin Cutler Makes Ronan Sing
Sing, Cutler, sing!

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Wine News: What I’m Reading the Week of 5/9/21

Welcome to my weekly roundup of the wine stories that I find of interest on the web. I post them to my magazine on Flipboard, but for those of you who aren’t Flipboard inclined, here’s everything I’ve strained out of the wine-related muck for the week.

Wine Retail’s Great Awakening
An evolution continues.

Instagram’s wine influencers started thriving during the pandemic. Their rise has prompted sexist backlash
Esther talks influencers.

It’s time to change a racially insensitive Italian grape name.
Interesting suggestion.

Voor-Paardeberg: The Birth of the Revolution
It’s not “Swartland Lite”

Wine Country Fights Back in Weed Wars
The battles are only just beginning.

Why Super-Tuscans have fallen from fashion
Cuz the world don’t need another Cab blend, dude.

Why Natural Wine Isn’t Always the Healthiest (or Tastiest) Option
In moderation, please.

Umami and rancio
A discussion of aroma.

The Way Wine Is Served at Restaurants Is Changing
The pivot continues.

Vineyard Explosion Creates River of Red Wine
Oops. Not a metaphor.

Space Aged: Bottle of Wine From Space Station Could Sell for $1 Million
Or you could just fake it: Step 1: Buy a bottle of Petrus. Step 2: Shake like hell. Step 3: Profit.

Old Friends Split over Napa Cab
If there’s dirty laundry (and a court filing) Blake Gray will find it.

A new Napa vintner just made an ambitious $10M Rutherford winery purchase, with plans for $275 Cabernet
Buying up land in Napa.

How a Wine Spritz Entrepreneur Spends Her Sundays
The lifestyle profile of Jordan Salcito!

In a Sea of Credentials, Wine Professionals Seek Meaning
Options for spending money.

Beyond Brunch: The Realities of Mother-Daughter Winemaking Teams
A few examples profiled.

So You’re Thinking About Joining a Wine Club …
Listen to Eric on this one.

Restaurant Wine Jobs Are Coming Back—But Do We Want Them?
One woman’s perspective.

Bolivian wine-growers banking on ‘distinctive’ altitude flavor
It’s good stuff.

Fred Tasker, Miami Herald and WLRN’s ‘Wine Guy,’ dies at 79. ‘He took readers around the world’
RIP Fred.

Reviving America’s forgotten winemaking grapes
Some lesser known names all around.

What Makes Natural Wine Exclusionary? The Name, Some Say
The name has always sucked.

Turning the Tables on Margot Bigg
A name I didn’t know.

Cyber security experts warn over online wine scams
The Russians know our weakness.

When Italians Abandoned This Village, Refugees Brought It Back to Life
Not a wine story, but a darn good one nonetheless.

Gallo lays off most Clos du Bois winery workers
The predictable consequence of M&A.

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Drinking While Eating is Not Food and Wine Pairing

A couple of months ago, I wrote a piece entitled “Food and Wine Pairing is Junk Science” in which I attempted (some would say unsuccessfully) to argue the point that the so-called “rules” of wine and food pairing, and that the supposed “art” of making such combinations is a load of crap that actually makes wine harder for people to understand and appreciate.

In the weeks since, as is my usual habit, I have posted things on social media about what I’m eating and drinking. Several friends and followers have “pounced” on such posts with glee, exclaiming (some good-naturedly, some with just a whiff of spite) something along the lines of “SEE, so you DO believe in food and wine pairing.”

They’re missing the point, entirely.

Choosing a wine you want to share with your dining companions and drink with your dinner is one of the most natural and wonderful experiences afforded us as human beings, and something utterly fundamental. As far as I’m concerned, it’s practically why wine was invented in the first place.

But deciding what you want to drink with your meal is not the same thing as carefully matching a specific wine to an individual prepared dish of food with the idea that the wine plus the food will result in a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. This intention, and the supposed artistry and principles that underlie it are what produce the anxiety and hangups that infiltrate the average consumer’s understanding of what wine means.

Perhaps I should have said that I believe in merely combining wine and food, not matching them. We should all drink wine while we eat. We just shouldn’t worry about it, nor make it anything resembling an exercise of precision.

Choosing wine to go with a meal can easily have almost nothing to do with the food being served. Sometimes, for me at least, it’s simply about what I want to drink. The other night, I just wanted to drink Champagne. It didn’t matter to me in the slightest what I was going to be eating for dinner.

Of course, other times, what’s on the table does enter the picture, but not as a formula or an equation to be solved. It may sound like I’m headed towards the splitting of hairs here, but what I’m really getting to is the idea of intention.

If anything could be said to be the kernel of my rant it is this: deciding what to drink when you eat needs to be less about precision and more about pleasure. More about you and who you are eating with, and less about what someone else says is the right pairing or a set of principles about acidity and sweetness that you read in a book.

We should all have food and wine together. But we should be enjoying them, not pairing them.

Read my original rant.

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Want To Taste Wine? Sign This Waiver

As Wine Country re-opens throughout California and visitors return to tasting rooms once again, beyond mask-wearing employees and lots of hand sanitizer, they may encounter something unusual before sipping and spitting: legal waivers to sign.

I chronicled my wine tasting experiences at newly reopened tasting rooms in both Napa and Sonoma in my monthly column for Jancis Robinson which was published yesterday, and one of the things I encountered in both places was the stipulation that I sign a legal waiver before being permitted to taste wine.

This, dear friends in the wine industry, is the opposite of hospitality, and a surpremely bad idea that should be halted immediately.

Why?

Because forcing customers to sign away their legal rights and make attestations as to their health before entering your facility and tasting your wine is not about keeping them safe, it’s about keeping YOU safe. And when you are in the hospitality business, and you find yourself forcing your customers to do something uncomfortable that is entirely for your benefit, you’re doing it wrong.

Just ask any of the restaurants who are opening up in your county. The idea of forcing someone to sign a legal document before sitting down to have a meal is patently absurd. I haven’t been out and about much since things started reopening, but when I recently sat down in a restaurant for the first time since the shelter-in-place began, I certainly wasn’t asked to legally attest to the fact that I had no symptoms of COVID-19 and agree that I wouldn’t sue the restaurant if I later became sick.

You want to take my temperature as I come in the door? Fine. You want to ask me to sanitize my hands? Great. Insist I wear a mask except when I’m eating and drinking? Great idea.

But don’t get the lawyers involved.

Here’s the way I see it: either you are comfortable enough with your ability to keep your customers safe and the risk of frivolous lawsuits (which by the way, could have happened before COVID-19, too) or you’re not.

If you’re not — if you’re truly frightened to death that there’s a significant likelihood that someone might catch the virus through no fault of yours and choose to sue you — then you should seriously consider whether you should be opening back up right now.

And lord knows, there are plenty enough signs that this re-opening may be too much too fast already. And there almost certainly will be a second wave.

I say this with the deepest compassion and empathy for business owners and their employees who are truly suffering right now. I can’t imagine what it must be like to have the government shut down your business and force you to furlough or terminate employees who, in this industry, probably feel like family. It’s heartbreaking, and I join many of my industry colleagues in demanding that the government take care of the hospitality business in the same way it has been taking care of the airlines and the banks and the country’s wealthiest corporations.

If you feel like you need some level of protection, work with your insurance companies and lawyers to find a way to do so in a way that does not impact the guest experience. For instance, here’s what I was greeted with when I pulled into Peju Province Winery’s parking lot last Wednesday:

Now I’m not a lawyer, and I assume this probably isn’t anywhere near as protective as a signed legal contract, but from a customer experience perspective, it’s miles better. Such signs have long been posted in wineries thanks to Proposition 65. There’s got to be an equivalent approach for COVID.

So I implore my industry colleagues in these trying times: don’t forget the principles of hospitality as you struggle to regain your footing. By all means, do what you need to to do keep everyone physically safe and healthy. That’s an important part of taking care of the guest. Forcing them to cover your ass legally most certainly is not.

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