Master of Wine and Certified Wine Educator Tim Hanni has been lighting up the on-line wine world this week.
More specifically, what’s been lighting up the wine world is the release of a report of highlights from a study of wine consumer taste preferences that Tim has co-authored with Virginia Utermohlen, MD.
Titled “Beverage preferences attitudes and behavior of sweet vs. tolerant wine consumers,” the sixteen page report is getting a hell of a lot more than sixteen pages worth of discussion, as it draws conclusions from a series of studies that focus on the market of wine consumers and how they taste – conclusions that challenge the conventional notions of how (or even if) wine can be judged objectively and empirically, and just how wrong the wine industry might be getting it in how wine appreciation is taught.
In summary, Tim’s report might just be the hot topic of the wine world right now, with several wine personalities from Jeff Lefevere to Steve Heimoff to Jancis Robinson chiming in with their (mostly fascinating) interpretations of Tim’s results.
As you might expect from someone who has been in the wine and food biz for over thirty years, and who was one of the first Americans to become an MW, Tim is not shy about is views. In fact, he’s been an active participant in the fray and debate about the results of his study since its announcement (for a great example, see GoodGrape.com’s take on the report, which is one of the best overviews on the topic published to date, and contains fascinating tête-à-tête reading in the comments from Tim and others).
Clearly, based on the reaction to the report so far, Tim’s views – and the manner in which he presents them – can be polarizing. As Tim put it in one of our email exchanges, “It is intriguing to me how the idea that people are different and that the topic of sweet wine and defense of sweet wine consumers can generate so much hostility.”
Are the debates missing the point? Maybe. According to Tim, it’s not whether or not sweet wines are better or whether or not those that prefer them are superior tasters, but that there are significant differences in how we taste wine and food that is important: “This is a quote from Jancis Robinson MW from 4 years ago,” he told me, “when I had my scientific mentors, Dr. Chuck Wysocki from Monnell Senses center, Michael O’Mahony form UC Davis, present data and conduct demonstrations at the MW symposium in Napa:
‘The main point of the session was to suggest that there are all sorts of populations of people who will perceive wine differently, thanks to our own sensitivities and preferences, and that the wine business is crazy to act as though one message, or even one sort of wine, suits all.’“
I had the opportunity to ask Tim about the study, his work with Virginia Utermohlen, and his views on how to bring the power back to the wine consumer people. Whether you love or loathe Tim’s take on wine tasting preferences, few would challenge Tim’s passionate zeal for championing the empowerment of wine consumers, and I suspect few would find the following interview responses from Tim anything less than fodder for compelling wine conversation.
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Am I crazy for thinking Chilean wines still have way too much pyrazine/green pepper action?
Well… am I???
That’s a question that’s been on my mind lately, especially after taking part in the Wines of Chile red blends on-line tasting recently and finding myself in the minority of participants who found the levels of nettle / green pepper aromas in the reds almost… distracting. The Syrah-based wines showed the most promise (and to me the lower amounts of pyrazine action). In my experience, those green-ish aromas are ok in very, very small quantities, adding hints of interesting smells to the dark fruits and giving reds the occasional bump from “very good” to “astoundingly complex” territory.
Notice I am saying “very very small quantities” and I mean just that – the pyrazines that contribute to those aromas are potent and a little goes a loooooong way, baby.
To be honest, I’m beginning to think that Chile may never really get it totally together on this; it might just be part of their climate, their terroir, their vinous destiny.
Which means that Argentina might be poised to clean Chile’s clock in the South American fine red wine market.
Not all Chilean reds are overly green, and I’m not the only one who thinks that Syrah might be the variety with the brightest (and least green) future in Chile: Michael Cox from Wines of Chile said the same thing during his talk at the recent European Wine Bloggers Conference in Vienna.
BUT… After tasting more and more examples of excellent, complex, and reasonably-priced higher-end red blends from Argentina, I’m growing increasingly more convinced that Argentina’s future is looking rosey… er, make that dark red… and that the one who might suffer most from that success is Chile, at least in the U.S. because consumers here probably don’t prefer the wet blanket of green bell pepper aromas laying all over the dense black fruit of their supple reds.
This all really hit home for me when I caught up with Argentine producer Doña Paula’s Edgardo Del Pópolo, their head Viticulturalist and Operations Manager, for dinner in downtown Philly to taste through their recent releases and generally talk shop. Edgardo didn’t think I was crazy for being turned off by the pyrazines in Chilean reds, but he was a bit more diplomatic about the differences and saw them mostly as complimentary. He did, however, offer this tidbit:
“In South America, we have a saying: shopping for wine here is like shopping at the grocery; in Argentina you get your fruit, and in Chile you get your vegetables…”
Never mind that Doña Paula’s Torrontes is a killer entrant into invigorated the S. American white wine market (it’s got a killer nose of passion and star fruits); their Seleccion de Bodega Malbec is not only proof that Argentina has nailed the dark-fruit-profile red thang, it’s also a great example of how complex (think hints of graphite) and age-worthy Malbec can be in the right hands.
And the pepper? Black, white, but definitely not green. Sign me up, baby.
So… I ask YOU… am I crazy? Shout it out in the comments.
To get you started, here are some of the responses (the serious and not-so-serious!) to that same question when I posed it on twitter and facebook last week…
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Last week, I had the pleasure of “attending” a tasting meeting with a handful of Chilean winemakers. “Attending” meaning I followed along via video while tasting a handful of samples (all red blends) made by that handful of talented winemakers – me and a handful of other wine bloggers, at the invitation of Wines of Chile for their fourth Blogger Tasting / Q&A to promote wines from the region – roughly a year after the last such event that I was able to attend with the Wines of Chile crowd.
The wines, though quite good, were not really the highlight of the evening; nor was being able to see, and (sort of) chat with, the Chilean winemakers via video during the event. The highlight, for me, was that during the tasting the last of the 33 trapped Chilean miners was rescued. That news brought cheers and high-fives from the winemakers, but their actions belied something much bigger and more emotional. It was a bit strange and wonderful to be connected (even if virtually) to the country of Chile while that long-awaited moment was taking place – the country of Chile is wearing badges of honor, relief, and well-deserved pride after the rescue, and it was great and touching to have had some (even minor) direct exposure to that.
Not that the wines were totally out-shadowed by the news – the Wines of Chile selections, for the most part, showed a continuing upward trend in the level of winemaking artistry of which Chile is capable. Chile still has its red wine detractors, and I for one seemed to be in the minority of those who found the level of pyrazines (nettle and green bell pepper aromas) still more distracting than appealing.
But… where Chile is getting the balance right, they’re getting it soooo right. There were three standouts from the tasting for me that I wanted to highlight, two of which can be had for prices that make them real bargains:
08 Hacienda Araucano Clos de Lolol (Colchagua Valley): 140 chars don’t really do this elegant & refined red blend beauty due justice. $23 B+ –>
Araucano’s head winemaker Luca Hodgkinson was a hit with the lady bloggers during the tasting, but it was his wine that was a hit with me and from a personal-preference standpoint was my fave of the night. Luca cut his winemaking teeth in Bordeaux, Toulouse, and the Rhone, and the French influence is remarkably clear in the wine (a blend of Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Carmenere), which goes for elegant subtlety (and achieves it, despite a 14.2% abv). Tomato leaf, supple blackberry fruit, and a hand-in-hand balance of black and white pepper that might as well have been singing “Ebony & Ivory.”
07 Casas del Bosque Gran Estate Private Reserve (Casablanca Valley): If the nose were more complex it’d be a quantum physics equation $50 A- ->
The most expensive wine of the tasting (another Syrah-based blend, with Merlot and Pinot Noir – yes, really, Pinot as a blending grape) was also the most complex and best-constructed. While it was a bigger wine than I prefer, the nose alone was enough for me to consider it Kick-Ass material: dark chocolate, herbs, pepper, smoke, cedar, toast… you could write a dissertation on the complexity of this wine. The mouthfeel was silky-smooth and if this wine could actually speak it might well have said “me honran, porque yo soy impecablemente hecho.”
08 Montes Ltd Selection Cabernet Sauvignon/Carmenere (Colchagua Valley): At this $ it’s like hitting a tobacco & black fruit lottery. $15 B –>
The lowest-priced wine of the night was easily the biggest bargain for those who like their Cabs to be like Shaft – bad-ass, serious and black (there’s a 30% smattering of Carmenere in here, too to keep things interesting). Black fruits abound, but there dense rather than in-your-face, followed by leather, tobacco and oak. If not a “big” wine, it’s certainly a “big-ish” wine and certainly could fool many a blind taster into thinking it was more expensive.
Full list of wines and reviews after the jump…
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