I like light, refined wines. I really do. When I rummage through my wine cellar to find something to drink with dinner, most nights I gravitate toward the bright, tangy Rieslings and delicate Pinot Noirs.
But when I want something that will create a memorable experience for myself or my guests, I am more likely to choose a deep, complex Chardonnay, a nicely aged Barolo or a rich Syrah.
I have been thinking about this as, in preparation for meetings coming up in a few weeks to decide Wine Spectator's Top 100 Wines of the Year, I looked over my list of highest-scoring wines in the past 12 months. Plenty of outstanding wines in a delicate style dotted the list, but not among the big scores.
On reflection, I think it’s because lighter style wines usually don’t try to deliver a great experience. They try to make comfortable dinner companions. They don’t want to get in the way of the food, rather like background music. Few of us would be willing to pay big bucks for that.
It may seem as if we wine critics give short shrift to delicate wines, and we catch flak from the big-is-bad crowd for that. But in the end I think it’s because making a wine that delivers a great experience is simply harder to do in a lighter style. For me, great wine requires a certain level of intensity, complexity, depth of flavor and length. It’s much easier to do that on a big, powerful frame than it is with something fragile and light.
That’s not to say it doesn’t happen. When it does, it’s magic. Riesling can do it. In some instances, grape varieties you may not know can make wines that surprise us with their elegance. I have had head turners made from grapes I can’t pronounce.
The grape that’s most likely to accomplish that elusive goal is Pinot Noir. No other variety in my experience can feel so light and airy and yet deliver the intensity, depth and length that makes for a great experience. There are other reasons to love Pinot Noir, but that’s the main one for me. I am willing to pay some big bucks for Pinot Noirs that do that.
Of course, the bigger-framed wines that score well for me are the ones that show some elegance along with the power. That's not easy to achieve, either, but in the end those are the wines that are most likely to make you remember them.
What about for a wine that’s well made, lovely to drink, has charm, but doesn't rivet your attention? I just want it to be priced right. In terms of how I use the 100-point rating scale, that translates to pretty darn good scores in the high-80s, low-90s. How much are you willing to pay for wines in that range?
Troy Peterson — Burbank, CA — September 15, 2010 1:46pm ET
Tamara Hampikian — Naples — September 15, 2010 2:09pm ET
Michael Schulman — Westlake Village, CA — September 15, 2010 2:58pm ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — September 15, 2010 4:14pm ET
Michael Blum — San Francisco — September 15, 2010 4:19pm ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — September 15, 2010 4:23pm ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — September 15, 2010 4:37pm ET
Michael Schulman — Westlake Village, CA — September 15, 2010 4:42pm ET
Steve Ritchie — Atlanta, GA — September 15, 2010 4:49pm ET
Greg Sorensen — Brooklyn, NY — September 15, 2010 8:33pm ET
Thomas Matthews — New York City — September 16, 2010 8:22am ET
Thomas Matthews — New York City — September 16, 2010 3:13pm ET
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