Posts Filed Under commentary
About every other week, some friend or 1WD reader emails or tweets me a link to Matt Kramer’s “Drinking Out Loud” blog on WineSpectator.com. And about every other week, I have the same reaction after reading it: Kramer writes well, but his conclusions sometimes leave holes large enough that you could drive a steel tank full of Yellowtail through them.
Usually I simply shrug and ignore those conclusions, but Kramer’s piece (titled “Dubious Wine Achievements of Our Time: How smart wine people became boneheads”) published last week struck enough of a nerve that, Shatner style, I just… couldn’t… let… GO!
It wasn’t Kramer’s near-total dismissal of both Bordeaux (maybe he should have called it “Bored-oh?”) as a region (points with which I largely agree, by the way) and Russian River Valley Pinot Noir (points with which I largely disagree) that set me into a fit of head-scratching bewilderment, but his assertion that fine wine recommendations cannot successfully be crowd-sourced.
That latter conclusion flies so forcefully smack-dab into the face of reality that I can only categorize it as head-in-the-sand posturing. Sounds harsh, I suppose, but I see no reason to let something slide when it’s so far off the mark from reality.
Let’s break this one down, shall we?
First, by looking at what Kramer actually wrote, and then at the (potentially invalid) assumptions upon which those statements were based. C’mon, it probably beasts actually working over the next few minutes, doesn’t it?…
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“That was an interesting concept for me,” Jeff Slater, Nomacorc’s Marketing Director, told us as he presented research findings on alternative wine closures; “winemaking continuing after bottling.”
A few weeks ago, I and a small cadre of wine press toured Nomacorc’s Zebulon, North Carolina manufacturing facility as media guests, meeting with their upper brass and donning lab coats to see how their synthetic wine closures – the only ones in the business to offer specific oxygen transfer rates – are made.
And Slater (who has his own – quite engaging – personal blog, by the way), had gotten me thinking with that comment. When does a winemaker’s job end? If you believe Nomacorc, that job – at least when it comes to any particular wine release – doesn’t stop when the bottle gets sealed.
Nomacorc might not be a household wine geek name, but in terms of numbers the odds are good that you’ve had your corkscrew in at least one of their products at some point. As of 2011, Nomacorc had around 70% of the synthetic cork market, and were the second-largest closure manufacturer in the world, topping off 13% of all still wines globally by market share. Thanks to deals with mega-producers Kendall-Jackson, Cupcake and Barefoot, nine out of every ten Chardonnay bottles in the U.S. are stopped with a Nomacorc closure.
Put another way, recycling has become a major concern and big priority for Nomacorc (according to CEO Lars von Kantzow), because they produce two billion (yes, with a “b”) closures per year: 1 in 5 of every wine in France, 1 in 4 for Germany, 1 in 3 for the U.S., by volume. They’ve churned out something like two corks for every human on Earth since they entered the market in 1999, when their founder, Belgian Gert Noel, got fed up with having one too many corked wines and worked with his son to develop an alternative.
So, yeah, you’ve seen one of these closures. And chances are good that you’ve not thought much about them, either. As Slater put it when he summarized a 2011 Merrill Research survey of about 600 wine consumers: “it’s like the laces in your shoes; you don’t think about it unless it breaks”…
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If you’re a wine producer and calling, say, your refreshing but probably overpriced (c’mon, let’s be honest) $35 Sauvignon Blanc an “entry level” wine, you might be missing the trick with both the older (now in the 30s) and younger (just reaching legal drinking age) Millennial generation.
That conclusion isn’t based on reams of hard data (believe me, I tried to find those reams, and no one has them… yet…), and so I will go ahead and do you the favor of substantially undermining my own argument here before I even start. But… there are some signs in the wine marketplace worth mentioning, signs that might be of concern to those vintners who offer “lower-priced” wines over $25 labeled as “entry level,” secondary products without as much focus as their high-end stuff. And they are signs that suggest that the target markets don’t consider those wines as much “entry level” (a term they most likely associate with “affordable”) as they do “splurge.”
Consider these tidbits:
Which means that your “entry level” wine is actually splurge material for most Millennials, and yet is probably marketed as an adjunct to your “real” wines (the more expensive ones) that most of them can’t afford even if they’re splurging. Hellooooo, mixed messages!…
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With all my talk recently about alcohol not being anywhere near as important factor in quality wine as overall balance, I asked myself a tough question in the wake of that talk, and I couldn’t come up with a good answer.
When was the last time you’ve had a wine that was over 16% alcohol that seemed balanced?
Personally, I drew a total blank.
There literally isn’t one dry, still wine (non-fortified… Ports for example are definitely not included in this mini-analysis) I can recall that clocked in above 16% abv that on the whole felt compellingly balanced to me.
Anyone? Buehler? Buehler???
Of course, part of the reason for this is likely due to the fact that I just don’t record abv when I review wines… but I might starting doing exactly that, if only for experimental and self-education purposes. And the number of 16%+ abv still wines out there probably isn’t all that large, the majority probably clocking in somewhere between 12% and 15% abv when you’re talking still, dry fine wines. But having said that…
While I’ve also had plenty of juice in the 15%+ range that were great – big wines, no doubt, but also damn good ones – of the wines that I can recall that clocked in somewhere in 16%+ booziness range, none of them were great, balanced offerings. In fact, most of them were way off the mark when it comes to balance; boozy, raisined, overly pruney, and a chore to drink.
So I’m hereby amending my previous diatribe, adding that there may actually be logical limits to balance. And while I won’t ever go on record as saying that great, balanced still wines can’t be made in that abv range, I sure as hell think it makes the job of achieving greatness that much harder.
What about you? Have you had a dry wine over 16% abv that you thought was balanced? Shout ‘em out!