Following up on last week's blog post, I participated in a panel of wine critics this past Saturday, at the Institute of Masters of Wine event in Napa, and the three of us used similar terms to describe our perception of wine quality.
Balance, focus, depth, length, complexity and pleasure are a few terms that stood out.
James Halliday added the absence of obvious flaws, such as two major culprits that often show up: volatile acidity and brettanomyces. (He also took a few good natured swipes at the industry, and American wine drinkers, for not embracing screwcaps.)
Jancis Robinson added the term "refreshing," the moment when you drink a wine and then look forward to the next sip.
She and I used the example of a wine being like a great novel; it needs a beginning, a middle and an end.
We also danced around matters that related to varietal character, regional character, excessive ripeness, too much oak and too little acidity.
We had each been asked to select two wines to demonstrate quality. As I mentioned in my previous post, I chose two wines from emerging regions in California.
The audience tasted the wines blind and then tried to guess which critic had picked which wine, which ended up being a fun exercise because they guessed fairly well.
Robinson’s choices – a 2004 Keller Morstein Riesling and a 1996 Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon – reflected her assertion that wine should be refreshing (the Keller, with its lively acidity, was) as well as balanced (both wines were). The Monte Bello showed classic Bordeaux-like character, with rich fruit, lots of earthy notes and impeccable balance.
Halliday picked a 2002 Penfolds St. Henri Shiraz and a 2003 Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay. The former demonstrated his preference for wines of understated elegance and the latter for pure, unoaked Chardonnay flavor.
My two choices – 2004 Alban Syrah Reva and 2002 Marcassin Bondi Home Ranch Pinot Noir – showed that big, ripe wines can be balanced.
Halliday seemed to like both of my selections, noting that the Alban Syrah had been a favorite in Australian wine shows.
Robinson was surprised by the alcohol level in the Alban – the label says 16.7 percent – and the audience gasped at that figure. She also confessed that, as is the case for all of us, we tend to prefer the wines we’re most accustomed to drinking. For her, the style of Marcassin was too “sweet and ripe” for her liking. Her model of excellence for Pinot Noir remains Burgundy.
Still, most of the people I talked to after the tasting enjoyed all of the wines, knowing that quality is high and how we define it depends on our perspective, which, as Halliday concluded, is like trying to describe the meaning of life.
We all have our own definitions.
Jeffrey Ghi — New York — July 5, 2006 3:20pm ET
Michael Greenwald — Wynnewood, PA — July 5, 2006 4:45pm ET
James Laube — Napa, CA — July 5, 2006 5:17pm ET
Tim Sylvester — Santa Monica, CA — July 5, 2006 5:31pm ET
James Laube — Napa, CA — July 5, 2006 6:26pm ET
Brad Coelho — New York City — July 5, 2006 8:27pm ET
Tim Sylvester — Santa Monica, CA — July 6, 2006 1:01pm ET
Keith Stover — July 6, 2006 4:38pm ET
James Laube — Napa, CA — July 6, 2006 6:09pm ET
Michael Krogh — Eden Prairie, MN USA — July 6, 2006 6:10pm ET
James Laube — Napa, CA — July 6, 2006 6:13pm ET
Michael Greenwald — Wynnewood, PA — July 7, 2006 1:17pm ET
James Laube — Napa, CA — July 7, 2006 1:27pm ET
Michael Greenwald — Wynnewood, PA — July 7, 2006 2:51pm ET
R Scott Hudson — July 8, 2006 12:59am ET
James Morrison — CT — July 10, 2006 10:32pm ET
Michael Tracy — trabuco canyon CA — July 17, 2006 9:35pm ET
David Pardue — Hilton Head Island SC — July 27, 2006 3:16pm ET
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