Less Is More

 

Dan Berger’s article in Appellation America offers a brilliant insight: overripe wines are wimpier. And as a winemaker weary of apologizing for youthful leanness and austerity, these words are a breath of fresh air.

He’s right! Today’s overpriced prune bombs may offer cheap thrills to impact thrill-seekers who lack the stones to appreciate good structure, minerality and integrity serious wine offers. But they’re wimps.

Sometimes you just want to ask somebody, “Is it supposed to taste like that?” Access to local expertise in the form of a local retailer, sommelier or knowledgeable drinking buddy is a pearl of great price to be cultivated and treasured. It pays to know someone who will suggest a bit of breathing or cellaring, or perhaps just the right cheese to go with to help dial in a wine to show at its best.

I don’t make small wines. I was taught never to bottle a wine unless it has presence and focus. But so many of today’s offerings seek only to be musclebound and impactful, and that’s not the same thing. One couldn’t hope for a richer, more generous $18 Cabernet Sauvignon than my ’05 WineSmith, but the key to its integrity is its balance, not its power. And my Faux Chablis is quite a big wine, but only after it’s completed a mandatory five years of cellaring—before that it’s quite austere, sort of zipped up.

These early stages are worth seeing, too. As a winemaker it’s my pleasure and my burden to shepherd all the changes an adolescent wine of depth and potential must pass through. We also raise service dogs, magnificently bred golden labs who don’t seem quite as noble when they’re three months old and peeing on the Persian rug. But when they reach their final destination a couple years later in the homes of deserving owners, I know I’ve seen a side of my wines and my dogs which they’ve missed out on.

Today’s winemakers are under a lot of pressure to push their wines to show well and to show big when they’re far too young. Among the available tricks are excessive hangtime, high pH, heavy oak, residual sugar, Megapurple, and that aromatic kiss of muscat. Like heavy makeup on a child star, these cheap tricks can hide the quirks and blemishes which comprise real beauty.

But hey, it pays the bills. As more consumers come to grasp Dan’s less-is-more philosophy, more winemakers will emerge to provision them.

 

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