Unmasking A Wine’s True Character

Roberto Viernes
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Wednesday - October 28, 2009
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Elegant and silky

It’s Halloween time. Do you have your costume figured out? Are you going to be a ghoul or a fool, a fairy or furry? For many, it’s fun to dress up and be something or someone else for a night. Some let go of their inhibitions (in good and bad ways). Costuming can be fun and outrageous, and even spooky.

Well, I feel the same way about wines that are gussied up to be something that they are not.

You know what I’m talking about. There are wines into which a winemaker puts all kinds of things that are supposed to make the wine look, smell and taste like something it’s not.

Take, for example, Pinot Noir. One of the rages that some Pinot Noir producers have bought into is that a dark, thick, highly alcoholic, heavily oaked Pinot Noir will get better ratings. I’ve tasted many (I will not name) that are chunky, overly alcoholic and overly tannic. They smell and look more like a blend of Syrah and Grenache than the thin-skinned, pale-ish Pinot Noir that I recognize. These garish styles of Pinot Noir are brash and masculine things. They are a caricature of the elegance, finesse and harmony that are the hallmarks of great Pinot Noir. If I wanted to drink Grenache or Syrah, I would buy a bottle.


I don’t want my Pinot Noir to taste like that.

The same goes for Chardonnay. There are a ton of buttery, oaky, alcoholic Chardonnays out there. They are like a comedian who has the need to swear and cuss all the time throughout the show to make people laugh. It’s aggressive, brutish even. To me, the greatest comedy is subtle and intelligent.

Layers of flavor

The same goes for Chardonnay. I don’t drink wine so I can get drunk with huge alcohols. I don’t drink Chardonnay (or any other wine) because I want to drink oak juice. If I want creamy and vanilla, I would drink a milk shake. Where is the balance of flavor that comes from great farming synergized with great winemaking? That is the intellectual value in the wine. Not the palate-thumping, two-by-four-tasting, toothpick-in-your-mouth-type of wine.

Wood should be an added enhancement, like lipstick or a touch of perfume, not a mask for a wine. And too often is Chardonnay guilty of putting on a façade.

Do you think the noble Cabernet Sauvignon is guiltless of these traits? Yes, most Cabernet Sauvignons do have new oak aging. But it, too, can have too much. Have you had those Cabernets that taste more like Zinfandel? They are totally jammy, over the top in alcohol level and something similar to Port. If I wanted my wine to taste like that, I would probably go buy a bottle of Ruby Port. Where is the true nuance of Cabernet Sauvignon, the lovely savory and fruit character, not the compote or preserve?

Show me the true character of a wine. Thank goodness there are those who don’t make wine for ratings, but for character and integrity to a sense of place. I’m sure you will see all kinds of costumes when you are out and about trick or treating this Halloween. For my part, I’m glad it’s only for one day, as I would rather get to know the real person than the personality of the mask.

Maskless: 2007 Patz & Hall Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($38) Beautiful fruit in this wine, bursting with it in fact, but it remains elegant and silky with a long after-taste. This is hallmark Pinot Noir. 2007 Once The Table Cabernet Sauvignon ($29) The essence of this wine is Cabernet Sauvignon. Not too much oak but in balance with a great core of black and savory fruit. It won’t bust anything in your palate, but it will welcome you with complexity and layers of flavor.

Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier. E-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
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