Here’s a topic for everyone: “I'm new to wine collecting,” writes Jeffrey, “and still trying to get my arms around some of these issues. What are examples of big, overripe, fruit forward, etc. ‘faddish’ wines? Is Joseph Phelps Insignia in this category? The Martinelli/Turley (Marcassin) Pinot Noirs?”
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Defining ripeness should be a healthy weekend exercise.
For me, the terms big, ripe and fruit-forward define the full physiological ripeness of a grape, irrespective of its variety. Overripe, though, is where wines such as Cabernet, or Pinot, or Zinfandel, reach the raisin, or Port spectrum, of flavors. Or with Chardonnay, when the flavors extend to exotic tropical fruit flavors.
Higher alcohol levels also define ripeness, or overripeness.
Ripeness is really in the taste of the beholder.
Back to Jeffrey’s question: Phelps Insignia is the epitome of the ripe style. It’s big, rich, deep and concentrated, with a good dose of alcohol (and also oak). But it’s also amazingly elegant and refined, with impeccable balance, depth and focused. I don’t consider it overripe.
Occasionally the Martinelli Pinots (and certainly the Martinelli Zinfandels) are a touch overripe, but I don’t find the Helen Turley and John Wetlaufer Marcassin Pinot overblown. The Turley Napa Zinfandels (made by Helen’s brother, Larry) are also superripe, with alcohol levels in the 17 percent range. Yet they too can be balanced in a superripe style.
There are many critics who enjoy this style. But in fairness, riper wine styles are being pursued in many areas of the world, including Australia and Spain, and praised and damned by many. It's important to see what wines other wine critics praise before lumping them together as only liking one style.
I’ve given you a couple of examples of ultraripe wines. Now I'd like to hear from you. What constitutes overripeness to your taste, and what kind of wines fit that description?