Here’s my approach to wine criticism

It seems I ruffled a few feathers after my last column, which criticized the over-oaked chardonnays of the past.

By Lorn Razzano
Posted Jan. 17, 2012 @ 2:00 am

It seems I ruffled a few feathers after my last column, which criticized the over-oaked chardonnays of the past.
Apparently there are quite few of wine drinkers who love copious amounts of wood in their chardonnay and, in fact, really enjoy the fatter, rich, butter-bomb, extracted, higher-alcohol chardonnays — regardless of where on the planet these wines were grown and vinified.
I was taken to task for describing what a chardonnay should or should not be using my personal palate as a guide. No one who called me was the least bit angry or upset, but each reminded me that what I thought a wine should taste like may neither be what the majority prefers nor what the wine was actually supposed to taste like.
It is gratifying that so many of you respond to this little wine column. I receive about 10 comments a week, almost all of them filled with encouragement and good wishes. Some comments are meant to set me “straight” on one issue or another, which also is gratifying, as I understand that perfection is not my strong suit. Above all, this exchange regarding the wine scene within the community is really quite wonderful, and I encourage this on every level. Last week I received about 40 comments, which is quite something, and I am grateful.
Wine writing, not unlike art appreciation or movie criticism, remains subjective in nature, and evaluating requires some set of personal, experienced and/or education-based filtering.
I consider wine evaluation, whether it’s about specific varietals, winery practices, consumer or retailer practices or vineyard management, a two-pronged approach: First look at the “map,” then experience the terrain. We understand, for example, that there are very specific assumptions and taste components associated with certain grape types that come from a historical perspective that survives in today’s wine world. These provide the flavor baseline. The actual experience of the wine is the terrain. We should expect this terrain to conform, within reason, to our map.
Very woody, high-alcohol, richly malolactic chardonnay (any varietal) might still be within this map, but for my money, the more one messes with the inherent flavor component of a grape, the further one strays from the map — the true spirit and soul of the grape. There comes a point in winemaking at which obscuration of a grape varietal through manipulation gets us off course, and at times, way off course.
It well could be that those who like this winery “magic” are drawn more to alcohol and oak than to the simple and inherent varietal flavor points. This is not an uncommon occurrence, and I would ask these wine drinkers to see whether oak and alcohol in other wines aren’t the real draw.
This is how I view the world of wine, and I understand this might be an old-school approach, but it is my approach and I’m sticking to it. This is never to say that those who look at the world of wine in a different light are “wrong.”
My hope for you is that you find a place of continuity and constancy (understanding) in your wine travels. If it is varietal based, go for it; if it is oak and alcohol, go for it. Grab the map and start walking.
Lorn Razzano is owner of the Wine Cellar in Ashland. Reach him at [email protected].

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