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The Prince, A Scrooge?

Bah,Humbug! to sweeping pronouncements about vintages, regions, etc. At this year’s Wine Spectator New York Wine Experience, contributing editor Matt Kramer hosted a session on Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. He called the extreme Sonoma Coast the source of “the most profound Pinot Noirs grown in America today.” I do love many of the Pinot Noirs originating in the true or extreme Sonoma Coast, but to make such a statement belittles the incredible Pinot Noirs produced by Calera Wine Company at Mt. Harlan, by Hanzell Vineyards on Sonoma Mountain, and by Mount Eden and Rhys Vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains, to name a few.

Bah, Humbug! to heavy glass bottles. Wine writers hate them (ie Dan Berger, Paul Gregutt), sommeliers despise them, and I dislike them. They don’t fit into my home Vinoteque wine cabinet and they are unwieldy to pour from. Lifting cases of heavy bottles can lead to serious back problems (a case of heavy bottles weights about 43 pounds) and cases of heavy bottles are more expensive to ship. Glass represents anywhere from 50 to 73 percent of a winery’s carbon footprint and switching to lighter weight bottles can greatly reduce the carbon footprint and save wineries money. I assume their popularity among wineries is loosely based on the perception that consumers will consider the wine contained therein of higher quality and worth the often higher prices. I don’t think wine reviewers are impressed or influenced by the massive bottles and huge punts.

Bah, Humbug! to wax closures. I would be the first to acknowledge that wax closures are pleasing to the eye and give the wine packaging a desirable flare and sophistication, if not expensive aesthetic. That said, they are a pain in the touche to deal with. After driving a worm through the wax to open the bottle, the wax invariably fragments, sending pieces everywhere including into the wine when the cork is finally liberated.

Bah, Humbug! to alcohol percentages on labels so tiny that they defy readability except for those young people gifted with 20/15 vision. The TTB requires that alcohol content appear on the label no smaller than 1 millimeter and no larger than 3 millimeters. Many vintners choose to put the alcohol content in 1mm black print on a very darkly color label, essentially hiding it, and making deciphering a challenge. I urge wineriers to put the alcohol percentage somewhere on the front or back label in a size and with enough contrast to be easily read. While your at it, can you please put the “honest” alcohol level on the bottle?

Bah, Humbug! to over-oaked Pinot Noir. It is true that no one is certain what Pinot Noir is supposed to taste like, but I seriously doubt that oak is high on the list. Kudos to the many vintners who are favoring less new oak or eliminating new oak completely.

Bah, Humbug! to wine collectors attempting to sell wines from their overstocked cellars at exorbitant prices. Don’t pay absurd prices on the secondary market for so-called cult Pinot Noirs! They just aren’t worth it. I recently bought some Pinot Noirs from a serious wine collector in Southern California who needs to thin his cellar. Admirably, he is selling the wines at his cost. Some of the producers available reads like a who’s who in the PinotFile: A.P. Vin, Arcadian, Arista, Benovia, Clos Pepe, Domaine Drouhin Oregon, DuMOL, Kanzler, Kosta Browne, Kutch, Littorai, Loring, MacPhail, Native 9, Peay, Penner-Ash, Privé, Radio-Coteau, Rhys Vineyards, Rivers-Marie, ROCO, Sea Smoke, Skewis, Stoller, WesMar and Williams Selyem. The wines have been properly cellared after their acquisition directly from the wineries. To obtain the list of wines for sale contact dave@loverofwine.com.

Bah, Humbug! to the explosion of scores of American Pinot Noir at or above 90 out of 100 points, the result of so-called “creeping grade inflation.” The blog, Fermentation, written by Tom Wark, recently noted that 78% of the 2009 California Pinot Noirs rated by Robert Parker, Jr., were given a score of 90 points or better. Certainly 2009 was a great vintage for Pinot in California, but it isn’t realistic to think that so many wines deserved such exalted scores. It seems to me that every winery I know has a Pinot Noir that has scored 90 or above by some publication or competition. The recent tasting report by James Laube in the Wine Spectator was more realistic. Even though Laube raved about the 2009 California Pinot Noirs (“09 is head and shoulders above any other vintage in California Pinot Noir history”), 55% of the 350 wines tasted achieved a score of 90 or above which was the best performance for this category ever. Writers have pointed out that this grade inflation decries the 100 point scoring system because so many wines are considered superior. All the more reason not to chase high scoring wines but rather pursue a producer with a broad work of excellence.

Bah, Humbug! to those who are afraid to trust their own palate. If you like it, then it is a good wine. There is no accounting for taste. As wine importer Neal Rosenthal has proclaimed, “Your taste is your own. Your patrimony. You play with it as you play with your hands.” Wine critics can enhance and direct your wine experience, but they cannot be your wine experience. There are very few really bad Pinot Noirs from reputable sources on the market today. Be more concerned with differences than what is good or bad.

Bah, Humbug! to consumers who equate price with quality or quality with price. You know who you are. You believe the best Pinot Noir costs the most and vice versa. It is true that you get what you pay for and many of the best Pinot Noirs are expensive, but you may find you get equal enjoyment from any number of modestly priced Pinot Noirs. As Alex Hunt has pointed out, we should seek the opposite tendency and equate desirability with quality. My suggestion is to gather several wine drinking buddies, bag a dozen Pinot Noirs priced from $18 to $100, and then taste and rate individual preferences blind. If you can’t bear to do it with friends, do it by yourself with your dog by your side, because he will be oblivious to your embarrassment. A study by Johan Almenberg and Anna Dreber in the Journal of Wine Economics (Vol. 6, No.1, pp 110-121, 2011) designed an experiment to examine how knowledge about price of a wine affects how the wine is experienced. They found that disclosing a high price before tasting the wine produced considerably higher ratings, but only from women. Disclosing a low price did not result in lower ratings. I think the results would be different if the people tested were experienced wine drinkers.

Bah, Humbug! to the excess of single-vineyard Pinot Noir bottlings. The truth is that blended wines can offer more nuances and complexity, more consistency, and are often priced less than single vineyard Pinot Noirs. This year’s number one wine among the Top 100 in the Wine Spectator is the 2009 Kosta Browne Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir which is a blend of three vineyards. The fact is, many vineyards are not worthy of single-vineyard designation. That said, single-vineyard Pinot Noirs can be the most stunning of all Pinot Noir wines and all but three of my 2011 California and Oregon Pinot Noir All-Americans are single-vineyard designates.

Bah, Humbug! to label kissers. Don’t drink labels. As University of California at Davis Professor Dr. Maynard Amerine has said, “It is not the year, the producer, or even the label that determines the quality of the wine; it is the wine in the glass, whatever the label or producer or year.”

Bah, Humbug! to uninformative, lackluster winery websites. Wineries should disclose as much information about themselves and their wines as possible on their website. Pinot geeks clamor for it and wine writers need it. Provide copies of all wine labels; these visual images help the consumer to connect and assist the wine press in spreading the winery’s image. Include an e-mail address for contacting the winemaker for questions. Keep the information current.



*”Bah Humbug” wine glasses available from www.hourglassstudio.com.

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