Wine Styles – The Ever Changing Debate and What’s Correct
Almost a year ago now I sent an email to a group of local bloggers that are very interested in the Virginia wine industry to get their thoughts on what Virginia's "style" could be for wine. Since then, I have pondered for some time the replies I got, continued to read more and participated in many discussions about Virginia wine styles and just wine styles in general.
What did I come up with? A headache!
In a day where everyone has a voice through the internet I think that typicity, varietal character, tradition, convention and creative are all words that can be thrown out the window. For hundreds of years, Chardonnay and many wines have been made using barrels and still are in the home of vineyard expression Burgundy. Now we are told that the use of oak is detrimental to terroir and that the preference is toward stainless steel and non malo-lactic fermentations, yet I doubt anyone is going to turn down or frown upon a bottle of Montrachet (I know I won't).
In 1982, Bordeaux made a cultural shift toward making bigger and richer wines that are aimed at competing with Napa since the Judgment of Paris created such a need. What was the result? Well as far as the critics of Bordeaux they went two decades with really on one "exceptional" vintage in 1961. The rest of the 60's and 70's are though of as pretty mediocre, save possible 1970 which were OK. Since then though when Emile Peynaud led the charge to lower crops and pick later for riper flavors, we have seen such years as 82, 85, 86, 88, 89, 90, 95, 00, 03, 05, 09, and 2010. I understand that there is some climate change but there is lot more intent to how wines are being made than what Mother Nature has changed. California went the same way always pushing the limits of ripeness which created the fame of wineries like Harlan, Screaming Eagle or Sloan and the list goes on.
Today many are saying that this is all wrong and that we should go back to a simply leaner style with less emphasis on ripe fruit, less alcohol, less oak, etc. I find this perplexing as it is these wines that started to create a wine industry that was accessible to everyone and over great enjoyment to most people.
I ask about this today because of one of our own wines. One of our wines that is almost sold out has garnered mixed reviews and a lot of it is because people can now use their personal tastes to become "critics". This wine has done well in tastings with major publications (Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast), was rated highly in Virginia's top competition and has been praised by many customers and local bloggers. There are however a couple of bloggers that have had differing opinions and in one case the blogger simply said everyone else is wrong and that it was the worst wine that could be made giving it a rating of 60 points. At first I was frustrated, but then I realized it was simply their taste. The only problem I have is a numeric rating being assessed which then places the blogging in the position of a critical analysis which requires a more structured setting with professionals tasting blind without outside environmental influences and without ever seeing the wine even in the end. It requires staff, but when offering a critical evaluation that can't be tampered with, that's what it takes. I am absolutely all for expression of blogging as opinion, as one blog in particular knows. These blogging sites are not the easiest to please and we have made wines they don't like, but they don't say the wine is garbage, they say it is not to their taste which I fully respect.
The same happens on consumer review sites all the time. One great example again is with our own wine. On a site to be un-named one visitor gave us a perfect 5 star rating commenting on how our wines are very "Bordeaux-Like" with great concentration... whereas two comments later we get 1 start our of five with the write up saying because they are very "Bordeaux-Like". Who's right?
I guess in the end wine like all sensory pieces of life simply are up to the personal tastes of each individual, but it does leave me still wondering, what is Cabernet Sauvignon supposed to taste like then, how about Chardonnay, how about Viognier and what about Virginia Wine. Do any of these varieties or regions really matter anymore if a Viognier is going to be dismissed for not tasting like Moscato? Maybe I will just have to continue to make it my life long quest to understand wine and what style is the "Best".