Anti flavor or pro flavor? It’s all about freshness
January 5, 2011
I have been reading a bit about the anti-flavor elite, referring to a tweet by Robert Parker dismissing people who are not particular fans of big wines, specifically wines from Australia. The great critic also has used the words ‘pleasure police’ to describe people who do not share his point of view when it comes to bigger wines. Amusing stuff. I had spoken 10 days ago to a wine merchant who is convinced that Bordeaux stopped making Bordeaux wine in 1990 or so. He says that alcohol levels have shot too high. On the other end of the spectrum are people who would characterize Burgundy as thin and acidic. Let’s not even mention German wines. Or – Heaven protect us – Alsatian Pinot Noir.
What I think gets lost in these discussions about big or nuanced, oak infused or mineral, flavorful or thin, is the word freshness. And a sense of place. Bordeaux is not Burgundy, Burgundy is certainly not Australia, Napa is not Tuscany. And then the grapes of course and respective climates and corresponding vintages. So many factors.
Do I think that Bordeaux went too far with 100% oak, ultra low yields, jammy aspects, high alcohol. In some cases, Hell yes. But there are fresh Bordeaux made after 1990. There are big Bordeaux which can also be complex. Some just need time in bottle. Others are just balanced on a bigger scale. I tend not to like the bigger end of the scale, but that’s just my taste. Is the wine necessarily bad? I think not. But that’s Bordeaux, the place I know best in the wine world. I have had some Australian wines that have garnered high Parker points. I tasted one at a friend’s house in France, and almost all the participants – except me – loved that wine. I think it was near 16% alcohol, and I felt it and did not like it. De gustibus non disputatum est…
But let me defend why I did care for that wine, or other wines in that ‘spirit’: they lack freshness. They speak with big flavors, oak-derived notes more often than not, scale and depth. Wow, that sounds impressive but it is not for everyone. I seek nuance. Nuance, expressed in a fresh manner. By freshness, I mean a feeling akin to smelling a bouquet of flowers, or perhaps a just rained on pasture or forest, herbal or mint aromas. Part of that freshness comes from a healthy amount of acidity (there are other factors, including grape varieties, winemaking methods, picking times and so forth). Most wines I like combine that freshness with body and structure and richness – good alcoholic content – but tending not to surpass 14 degrees, preferably between 12.5 and 13.5. All that, to me, tends to create youthful complexity, when the wine comes at you from multiple angles and remains interesting from its attack and onto its hopefully long finish. Of course these elements have to be in balance and promise good ageworthiness.
But a key component to me in all this is the freshness. And a rush to make big wines ever bigger methinks leaves out freshness from the equation.
Well, there is much more to say and learn and discuss. I do not want to be too authoritative in what I say, but I do express my subjective opinion here and welcome comments! Please, do pitch in.
For now, off to the gym to shed some holiday pounds… Happy New Year!