25 March 2009

Cape crusaders

[lone penguin]Unfortunately, this most lavish of landscapes is also an armed camp. Beyond the usual “armed response” security signs nailed to every home and business, the greatest of the estates seem to bristle with defenses. I have already seen far more razor wire than I care to, which in otherwise beautiful locales is particularly jarring, but here are added fiercely-armed guards that glower at each passerby.

I don’t exaggerate. On the drive towards an interior building at one famous Constantia winery, we cruise down a beautiful vineyard road, admiring the signs designating each block of grapes, while keeping an eye on the quarter-dozen machine-gun-toting, flak-jacketed, paramilitary soldiers that patrol it. It’s a very disconcerting site. On the other hand, I’ve never eaten on a military base before…

…continued here.

21 March 2009

The I in wine

[merchant sculpture, venice]Does arrogance go hand-in-hand with professional criticism?

In response to my recent musings on Robert Parker and his anti-engagement style of online discourse, one of the nicest wine-loving folk I know wrote, after several paragraphs of worthy comment, this rather provocative coda:

Thin skin is a tough play in the wine critic game. Arrogance, even worse.

The latter characterization is something I’ve thought about quite a lot over the years. Because it must be said, almost every professional (which I’m defining as paid) wine critic I’ve ever met has a discernable arrogance. Including, though it hardly needs to be reiterated for anyone who knows me, myself.

Now, it’s true that some handle their arrogance better than others. The most successful seem to employ one of two techniques: a passionate humility in their non-critical life, or an equal measure of self-deprecation that usually, but not always, takes the form of humor. I wouldn’t argue that most critics are off-puttingly arrogant, though some certainly are…but still, the character is there in virtually everyone who plies the trade.

Why? Well, I think there are actually two different questions therein. First: is arrogance an essential part of being a critic? And second: does being a critic make one arrogant (or increase that quality, if it already exists)?

I’m afraid I believe the answer to both is yes. Everyone has an opinion, but a paid critic is compensated for theirs under an assumption that others will subordinate their opinions to the critic’s. Otherwise, what market would there be for a critic’s opinions? The critic will succeed or fail based on the perceived value of that subordination (or, sometimes, just because the critic is an unusually entertaining communicator), but the basic fact of a critic’s professional existence is one that puts their judgment “above” that of others. Moreover, to even want to be placed in such a position in the first place betrays a core confidence that one’s opinions can be judged more worthy than others’. The cognitive leap from that to the definition of arrogance looks a lot like standing still.

And if that arrogance somehow isn’t there to begin with, the process of criticism seems to bring it out. Anyone who’s been a fan of the most successful bloggers as they’ve risen from obscurity to compensated fame can see the process at work. Exploration becomes knowledge. Knowledge becomes authority. Argument for the sake of knowledge acquisition becomes argument from authority. Questions become statements. Statements become accusations. What was independent becomes establishment. None of this makes the blogger less successful – in fact, it seems to escalate fame, which is a phenomenon I’m not going to explore here – but it does affect their interactions with their audience.

The only defense is self-examination. Constant, relentless, and even harsh self-examination. Without it, there can be no mitigation. And without mitigation, trouble inevitably ensues. Oh, I could tell embarrassing stories about that

(Another time.)

One caveat: I’d argue for a separation between arrogance as a character trait vs. arrogance as a way of dealing with the rest of the world. They often go hand-in-hand, but they don’t have to. Someone may state their opinions in a voice of unimpeachable authority (earned or not), but they don’t have to be a bastard about it. Staying on one side of that line seems to me to be the key difference between tolerable arrogance and insufferable arrogance.

Unfortunately, the immediacy of the internet brings out the worst in many inherently arrogant types. There’s no time for self-examination when someone is wrong, after all. Many critics have the self-awareness (often coupled with a lack of time, which can be very helpful in this regard) to use the internet in what I’d call “safe” ways – one-to-many communication, like blogs – rather than as a participant in opinionated free-for-alls, like online wine fora.

And those that don’t? Well, sooner or later they get into a lot of trouble. And they behave very, very badly at times. I could undoubtedly fill the next few hours with stories from my own past, but let’s leave lower-tier critics out of this for the moment, and head right to the top. Guess who?

Oh my....in their blind tasting of 2004 (I have no affiliation other than one tasting I do for Howard and Bob each year,but like the professionalism of their tastings)......another "evil" wine blew away the competition...and very noteworthy ones at that....that anti-"terroir" "transparency" creation.....Lascombes looks to have had a sure-fired great showing....of course let me say it before The Usual Suspects chime in....it won't last...won't improve...just a terribly bad wine that people actually like to drink and makes friends for all of Bordeaux...that a do...

Now, I could be as snarky as usual and wonder how someone who is paid for their words can be so persistently incoherent, but then again we could all use an editor from time to time.

I could also spend a while explaining the background of this quoted post, but there’s probably no need. The intent should be clear even if one has no idea of the details. What makes it worse is that it was a thread-starter. Given the identity of the critic who posted it, everyone on that forum is going to click on the thread to read it. And then…what? What contribution is being made here? None. It’s not even an argument. It’s finger-pointing (mostly the middle one) in text form, for no reason other than to – yet again – mock unnamed interlocutors.

Is arrogance to blame here? Well, that’s part of it, yes. There is an obvious implication in this and so many other posts from the same source that what’s most important is not that his criticisms be useful or even right, but that they be acknowledged as right. However, to me, that isn’t arrogance. That’s an inexplicable inferiority complex covered up with arrogance, unfiltered by what my commenter referred to as “thin skin.” And it remains unworthy of the critic in question.

Look, I don’t want to turn this post – and especially not this blog – into a bash-fest over one particular critic. We all have our faults, and some of us put them on display a little more frequently than we’d like. But here’s a plea meant for all of us who do any sort of criticism: remember what’s actually “important” about what we do. It’s the work. Not us.

17 March 2009

Our ellipses are sealed

In a typically ellipsis-ridden but less unreadable than usual post on his forum, Robert Parker took on a swath of his readers with a highly rhetorical non-question:

Can anyone offer a meaningful definition to the following:
1.Modern wine-making
2.traditional wine-making
3.high alcohol

…which he followed with a lengthy missive questioning, and dismissing, their use as characterizations of wine. But with the possible exception of “transparency” (I’m not a subscriber, and thus can’t search his tasting note database), I’m quite certainly Parker himself has used all these very terms to describe wines, and will do so again in the future. In fact, several respondents make that very point:

The Wine Advocate uses phrases like "traditional" and "old-style" in reviews all the time, including Parker's. How come these terms are only meaningless when other people use them?

As recently as your classification of Châteuneuf-du-Papes (a very useful classification), you used the terms traditional and modern. What did you mean by them?

In light of this, I have a rhetorical question of my own: does anyone think Parker will actually respond to those questions?

To be sure, the quoted responses are only slightly less rhetorical than Parker’s initial volley, or the mildly snarky response I just typed. But they’re important. Not because I think Parker has an interesting answer for them – I don’t; I think he was just sniping at people with whom he disagrees, an all-too-familiar mode of communication from a critic who, given his position, should really be above such things – but because they raise a useful point about the language we use to describe wine.

As I’ve argued fairly recently, wine has its own vocabulary. The greater the population of that vocabulary, the more expressive the language. Putting aside debates about what each term may or may not mean (and I certainly have thoughts on that), does anyone really experience utter mystification at a wine labeled high-alcohol? Or two wines contrasted as more modern and more traditional? Are those terms absolutely, 100% meaningless to any and all readers? Yes, the borders are indistinct and personal, but isn’t that inevitable with as subjective a practice as wine commentary?

I note with pleasure that, in the thread under consideration, two of the Wine Advocate’s more thoughtful critics contribute searching responses on several of the terms, which is probably something the initial questioner didn’t expect. There’s value in their musings, but even more in the existence of such a discussion; isn’t a conversation, even one that ends in disagreement, better than the sort of derisive mocking in which Parker is engaging? And after all, the world’s most powerful critic does, in his heart of hearts, know better. For in the same post, he writes:

there is no need to dig a deep trench and denigrate everything that doesn't fall within some tightly defined parameter bereft of any merit or careful examination

Indeed, Mr. Parker. Indeed.

Update: color me surprised. Then again, these aren't the definitions Parker asked for from others, just an acknowledgment that he does indeed use some of the mentioned terms. In a way this makes his initial post worse, because as this followup makes explicit:

I asked for definitions from the USUAL SUSPECTS that constantly use them as frequently as our government is bailing out financial institutions...just wanting to see how they defined them...of course no revelations or significant substance has yet appeared

...Parker openly admits he has no interest in dialogue, but merely wants to mock everyone else's.

Murder in Myrdal!

[fjaerland panorama]Clinging to the edge of a steep, forested hillside about halfway through the journey, our train grinds to a surprisingly rapid halt. There’s no announcement of the reason, not even in Norwegian, and heads are craning. Presently, we see the conductor walking past our window. We peer forward, then back; there are sheep scampering down the hillside, a few men and dogs doing their best to herd them down the precarious slope.

Our guess is correct: the train has hit a sheep, and there’s a collection of shepherds and train personnel gathered a few dozen meters behind us. As we’re pondering the length of the delay, and whether or not it will affect the scheduling of our onward journey, the conductor approaches our window once more. He yells ahead, and in response the train inches forward for a minute…just far enough to take us out of a line-of-sight view of what’s about to happen. For now, gripped in each of the conductor’s hands, is a pair of rather fierce-looking hatchets.

…continued here.

11 March 2009

Children of Doon

[cigare blanc bottle]Here are some notes from a brief visit to Bonny Doon’s soon-to-be-former tasting room in a beautifully forested back corner of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

I’ve requested an appointment (identified as press), rather than just dropping in, and the only benefit seems to be that I taste a few more wines than casual visitors, though no more than their wine club members (one of whom stops in for a tasting while I’m there). It’s a shame, because I’d have liked to learn a little bit more about what they’re doing. But many of my questions are not answerable by the tasting room staff (who are otherwise quite engaging), and others go unasked because I’m not the only customer.

The only facts I really discover are the details of the winery’s recent and rather extreme downshift over the last few years – 500,000 cases in 2006, 30-35,000 cases in 2008 – and that biodynamic certification was received for one of their vineyards (Ca’ del Solo) in 2007, with more on the horizon.

Bonny Doon 2006 “Le Cigare Blanc” (California) – 75% grenache blanc, 35% roussanne, from vineyards in Arroyo Seco. Stone fruit, sand, and spice…then intense apricot and blood orange with slightly less spice…then slight vegetation as the wine winds down. This sort of phase-shifting isn’t, I find, unusual with Rhônish whites that aren’t pushed to (or past) the limits of ripeness. All that said, the most appealing element of the wine is actually its gravelly texture. There’s enough acidity for balance, and great persistence, but I think this wine is not everything it could strive to be. (9/08)

Bonny Doon “Ca’ del Solo” 2007 Orange Muscat (Monterey County) – Less than 1% residual sugar despite all organoleptic evidence to the contrary, which actually isn’t all that unusual for muscat. Orange peel perfume and medium-sweet fruit make this overwhelmingly approachable, but the wine’s fatness is only broken by acidity late into its finish. Some crystals – which they just love at Bonny Doon – are perhaps present as a sort of foundation. This could be better. (9/08)

Bonny Doon 2006 “Vin Gris de Cigare” (California) – A pinkish blend of grenache, cinsault, syrah, grenache blanc, and roussanne. Dried grapefruit and other citrus rinds, with some of them in candied form. Lavender, as well. Good weight and balance. Long. The wine turns more rind-dominated on the finish, but this is only to its benefit. Elegant and quite tasty. (9/08)

Bonny Doon “Ca’ del Solo” 2005 Sangiovese (San Benito County) – There are dollops of nero d’avola, cinsault, and colorino here. What do they add? I’m not sure. An intense nose of mixed jellies – plum, blueberry, blackberry – fades to simpler multi-hued cherries by the finish, there’s a tannic bite that grates with underripeness as the wine lingers, and a fairly significant amount of acidity adds to what eventually becomes a general and growing sensation of off-putting weediness. Eh. (9/08)

Bonny Doon 2005 Syrah Bien Nacido (Santa Maria Valley) – Soulful. A beautiful nose (a sequel to the tedious Russell Crowe flick) of blackberry and leather, plus mint, promises much. The texture is plush, but without sacrificing a pleasantly herbal earthiness not usually found amidst this level of luxuriance. Balanced and very structured, with the clear intention of and potential for ageability. If there’s a flaw, it’s a touch of stretch and green to the tannin, which is worth keeping an eye on as the wine matures. (9/08)

Bonny Doon 2004 “Le Cigare Volant” (California) – 38% grenache, 35% syrah, 12% mourvèdre, 8% carignan, 7% cinsault. Surprisingly Rhônish. Meat, underbrush, herbs, and sap. Juicy and approachable, but very well-knit. I like this a lot, less because the elements are superior than because the wine carries itself with palpable confidence. (9/08)

Beauregard 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon (High Valley) – A little cross-promotion from the winery up the driveway from Bonny Doon’s tasting room. I can’t say I’m a fan. Coconut, dill, and stale chocolate are not aromas I crave. A juicy texture, sour acidity, and overly-rounded tannins aren’t the droids structure I’m looking for, either. And the finish is weird. Don’t just avoid, run away. (9/08)

Bonny Doon 2005 Viognier Doux (Paso Robles) – 12.2% alcohol, 12.8 grams residual sugar, 500 ml bottle. All the aromatics here are in the honey genre. While big, the wine’s got an extremely appealing silken texture with a little edge of bitterness on the finish. There’s little more to it, but it hardly seems to matter. Pure fun. (9/08)

Bonny Doon 2004 Recioto of Barbera (Monterey County) – 14.5% alcohol, 7.2% grams residual sugar, 500 ml bottle. The nose here is lovely – full of crushed raisins – despite the bottle being open for twenty-four hours. This probably explains the bit of fade to the palate and a perimeter that’s more enticing than the center, but the wine retains a certain crispness and edge, with apple-toned acidity. More remarkably, this lacks the persistent (and to me, a sensitive, often deal-breaking) flaw of recioto-styled wines: volatile acidity. If there’s any here, it’s below my threshold of detection…and that threshold is legendarily low. Nicely done. (9/08)

The current “buzz” on Bonny Doon is that shedding its mass-market brands (primarily the Big House lineup) and a lot of the experimental tomfoolery has made them more focused and, overall, better. But I always liked the mass-market wines as very tasty examples of the genre, and I don’t know if I see clear evidence of re-dedication to top quality; Bonny Doon has usually made “good” wines, and these continue in that vein. Every wine – except perhaps the rosé – lacks something that would push it into a higher qualitative echelon. That said, there’s time enough to see what happens; the new paint here is still very wet.

After my tasting, I buy a bottle, unpack some lunch, and enjoy a mostly restful meal at a picnic table adjacent to the tasting room. “Mostly restful” because I’m interrupted by a full twenty minutes of battle with an inquisitive (or hungry) bee. Anyway, a revisit:

Bonny Doon 2006 “Le Cigare Blanc” (California) – Honeydew melon, pear, spice, and tan earth rumbled with gravel. Warmth does not help the wine, though air seems to, so I’d suggest decanting and then the fridge. (9/08)

The wines, like dust

[shriveled grapes]In a very good, but sure-to-be-attacked, article, Eric Asimov of The New York Times looks at the ever-roiling controversy over ripeness and pinot noir in California.

One of the key reasons it’s a good article is also one of the reasons it’s most likely to draw criticism: it’s mostly one-sided. Asimov talks to, and then agrees with, those pursuing less elevated ripeness and antagonistic to the modern search for more. But I think that much of the criticism will be misguided, for two reasons.

First, some will misunderstand Asimov’s role at the NYT. He is both wine writer and wine critic, sometimes within the same article. The latter job must, by its very nature, deal in opinion and subjectivity. He is, in this article, very clearly utilizing his critical voice, despite a wealth of supplementary information all too often (these days) abandoned by critics and left for writers. And there’s no mistaking Asimov’s position. Critics are, after all, paid to take a stand. That will, at times, necessitate choosing sides.

As for the potential argument that Asimov should, as a writer, be more objective, it’s worth pointing out that you’ll never, ever hear anyone issue this complaint when a writer agrees with them. Nonetheless, it doesn’t apply here; Asimov is rejecting the overworked modern quasi-journalistic dodge of “on one hand…but on the other hand” that passes for (and fails to be) analysis in our times, and his writing is better for it. Again, he’s a also a critic and working as one here, in which case he’s being paid specifically to act as a filter for his audience. He can’t do that if he fails to exercise his judgment.

Second, Asimov never claims that the lower-ripeness style is better. That would be a claim to objectivity, and thus misguided. Instead, he says he prefers it, which is a very different thing.

Third, Asimov addresses and dismisses one of the major complaints of New World pinot noir producers: that resemblance to Burgundy must be an essential mark of quality. It’s true that it pinot noir would usually benefit from being as good as the best Burgundy (after all, the French had a rather significant head start), but this is a very different thing than asserting it should be like Burgundy. The fame of Burgundy rests on several pillars, and one of the most important is site-specificity. If that fame has any value at all for New World producers (and I’m not arguing it must; winemakers should hold to their own qualitative goals), it should be as support for the idea that pinot noir is wonderfully expressive of place…and thus, there is very little reason why a pinot noir produced outside Burgundy should “taste like” any sort of Burgundy, unless the terroir is exactly the same.

Fourth, finally, and perhaps most importantly, Asimov gets to the core of the issue in a way few mainstream wine writers do. The ultra-ripe pinots and their less-ripe counterpoints, plus everything in-between, evince occasional differences in soil and mesoclimate, but their primary differentiator is intent. The producers of wines for which “syrup” is considered an organoleptic virtue do not have their hands tied by a terroir they cannot escape, they want to make wine that way. And the same is true for those who make lighter, crisper styles; it’s not that they’re prevented from making the other kind of wine, it’s that they don’t want to.

Now, one may legitimately ask: is this contrary to the previous assertion, that pinot noir is particularly expressive of place? It may seem so. But it’s worth taking another look at Burgundy and asking the same question. Is there style variance within Burgundy, even among producers of the same site’s grapes? If the answer’s yes – and it is – then site-specificity hasn’t been refuted. Instead, an old truism has been reasserted: whenever there’s conflict between the hand and the land, the hand always wins.

(Epilogue: well, that didn’t take long.)

09 March 2009

Kind of blue

[waterfall]We’re in a car, driving into the hills, with people we’ve never met. I’ve seen this horror plot at the cinema, and it never ends well for the passengers. It’s true that our hosts don’t seem particularly threatening…but I’m sure that’s just what they want us to think.

…continued here.

08 March 2009

Dead-blogging: Galhaud “Collection” 2006 Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes Viognier-Muscat

Time for an experiment. Also, an effort to get some content up here that doesn’t take three days (punctuated by naps) to read. So: a kinda-sorta live-blogged tasting note. “Kinda-sorta” because I’m not posting the live-blogging until I’m done. Dead-blogging? …and there’s our title!

Galhaud “Collection” 2006 Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes Viognier-Muscat (Roussillon) – 12% alcohol, which is probably a vague approximation. It’s in a fat, heavy bottle…which is a little unusual for a relatively inexpensive wine (around $10 or so).

The varietal composition – 70% viognier, 30% muscat – pretty much promises a world of perfumed soap in the glass, the deliverance of which I’m not sure is a promise I want kept. And I admit to some surprise at the blend. I’ve had an occasional viognier of quality from around the world – there was a Passage Rock from Waiheke Island in New Zealand that comes to memory, and a few Californian versions from Edmunds St. John, Alban, and Domaine de la Terre Rouge have been worthy – but it’s a grape that really, really seems to need its famous “home ground” of Condrieu to develop any superlatives. And even there, it mostly underachieves, especially given the usual quite-high tariff. Elsewhere, it seems to provide more of a sticky, soapy texture than much complexity or site-reflection…which, I guess, makes it the cilantro of the wine world. If every viognier in the world not made by Christophe Pichon were to disappear tomorrow, I can’t say I’d be overly sad about it, and I actually claim to like Condrieu. Maybe I should revisit that notion.

Then, add to one perennially-underachieving grape some muscat, planted absolutely everywhere to more or less OK-ness (it’s a hard grape to ruin), and rarely enjoyed other than at some level of residual sugar. Its role in blends…well, it tends to dominate them, which is why it’s rarely a good idea to employ as a partner. It’s just too perfumed.

I know nothing about the producer, and the web is no help. That right there is a little unusual, and often indicates layers of ownership, some sort of shadowy négociant, or a cooperative. The wine’s an Alain Blanchon import. I don’t get the sense from the packaging and presentation that there’s much else to know, but I could be mistaken on that score.

As for the place, it’s hard to say what it brings. The Côtes Catalanes are becoming a fairly reliable source of good value, fruit-forward wines. Perhaps there’s not much complexity in most (though I understand that an occasional old-vine carignan can bring the noise), but there’s a lot of drinkability. However, there’s no uniformity to the terroir – it is a vin de pays, after all – and so who knows where or how this was grown? At $10 in the States, I doubt we’re talking viticultural fanaticism at any stage.

It might be my own failing, but I don’t care much about color unless it’s unusual, and this wine’s light, washed-out sun hue seems completely normal. Aromatically, it’s actually not all that muscat-y. In fact, the dominant aroma is that of a soap. Not soap itself, but the sort of semi-anonymous blend of laundering aromas used to aromatize soap. And maybe some banana? It’s vague, if so. The wine’s still a little cold, so we’ll see what happens later, but I’m surprised at the lack of aromatics. It’s not corked, but it’s awfully shy for the grapes used. They definitely weren’t pushed to the limits of concentration before harvest.

A sip, a swirl. Texturally, it’s viognier – that stickiness again – with a sort of soda-like prickle that I often find in muscats, even those without any pétillance. There’s enough acidity, which can be a problem with both grapes. And there’s some alcoholic burn, too…even in the wine’s well-chilled state. That’s likely to be a problem as it warms.

…OK, it’s later, and the wine’s at temperature now. The aromas are a little more pronounced, but I still think they’re viognier-dominated. Such as they are, and they’re still not much. Now there’s a bit of banana-skin bitterness to the finish. The wine’s very wet, even watery, and that heat hasn’t quite gone away, though it’s no more intrusive than it was at the outset.

There’s just not much to be impressed by here. Neither of the grapes are used to potential (and the general lack of muscat character suggests a sort of shocking indifference; I’m not sure I’ve ever tasted a more wan and insignificant muscat), nor is the wine fun or fruity enough for its lack of character to be ignored. It just sort of sits there, growing increasingly bitter and more watery to little purpose. I’d suggest avoidance.

06 March 2009

Somewhere, a place for us

[Blair Walter inspects his subsoil]Jamie Goode laid the gauntlet down. Of course, he did it on Facebook, so I doubt most people did more than trip over said gauntlet on their way to superpoking someone. Nonetheless, he got my attention…which might just mean I spend too much time looking at the ground, wary of things over which I might stumble. Anyway, this is what he said:

Terroir matters but what exactly is it? We need a good definition.

Right now, anyone who’s been around the online wine fora block for a few years (or decades, in my case) is rolling their eyes. Terroir is one of the trifecta of grossly overworn subjects, along with the efficacy of scoring wines and their ever-escalating cost, that has been so thoroughly masticated that there’s absolutely nothing new to say, though there’s an ever-revolving crowd of newbies to say it. Long-timers know each others’ arguments and positions by heart.

So why would I – one of those eye-rolling long-timers – want to dip my toes once more into this exceedingly tepid and turgid water?

Blame Jamie Goode.

Usually, the definition offered up is “somewhereness” (I prefer “placeness”). Both are a little un-rigorous. They tell us what terroir means, but not what it is. I think we can do better.

Let’s start with the fundamentals. I’ll begin with one of the most controversial things I could write: terroir exists. It’s true that not everyone believes this. “Terroir is bullshit,” claims one well-known California winemaker of my acquaintance, and he’s hardly alone in saying so. “Terroir is marketing,” claim a number of his brethren elsewhere in the Golden Two-Buck Chuck State. (I’m sorry, was that snarky? Hey, it’s a blog. Snark is what we do.) And so forth. If terroir doesn’t exist, then everything that follows is a waste of time. It still might be. But I think that the definition, or perhaps the argumentation leading up to it, will actually take care of this foundational problem. Judge for yourself, later.

Much later.

Continuing with the fundamentals, wine is a construct made with a defined number of inputs. Only two, in fact. They are:

  1. the grape(s)
  2. the winemaking

You’ll notice the distinct lack of the word “terroir” in that list. Not to worry. Because the grape, too, leaves the vine having accepted its own collection of inputs:

  1. the grape(s) inherent characteristics
  2. the viticultural choices made by the grape grower
  3. all other grape-changing effects not produced by human intervention

That last part includes the weather over that growing season. But it also includes longer-term meta-effects. Anything that changes the chemistry of the vine (and thus the grape) in any measurable way would be one of these meta-effects.

The meta-effects are terroir. Well…more or less.

What meta-effects? The list is well-known, if not necessarily universally agreed-upon. Non-comprehensively, these include overall mesoclimate (this is the proper term, not the usually-deployed “microclimate”), anything that effects water retention, sun exposure, heat retention, soil chemistry (and thus soil type(s)), and so forth. Broadly speaking, these meta-effects can be broken down into two categories: those below the surface of the ground, and those above it.

For some, we’ve gone far enough, and with a little more specificity in that list will have defined terroir in a satisfactory fashion. But if that were all there is to it, Jamie wouldn’t have dropped his gauntlet on Facebook’s scuffed-up floor. Very, very few people argue that what I’ve just iterated doesn’t exist, or doesn’t have an effect on grapes…and those that do argue the point seem unacquainted with basic agriculture. Any farmer will tell you, without necessarily knowing or caring about terroir, that these effects both exist and affect their practices in a fundamental and inexorable way. However, we need to continue, because not everyone is willing to stop their definition in the realm of the sciences, or at least the evidentiary. For this we can probably blame the French.

Part of the definitional problem is that terroir is a borrowed word with no obvious English equivalent (that is to say, there’s a translation, but it’s not what we mean when we talk about terroir in the context of wine). To many French folk, the word is imbued with much more than climate and chemistry. Anyone who has seen a “produits du terroir” sign while driving the French countryside knows this; the word has quasi-historical implications, and certainly is laden with a measure of cultural baggage that is, to the French, inseparable from geography. Some even talk about human inputs as being part of terroir, though a rigorous definition of this type would have to include everything from training methods to complete site (re)constructions of the type practiced by certain mega-wineries, and that’s most certainly not what the human-input proponents mean. Others claim that people themselves are part of terroir, arguing that the majority portion of the word “viticulture” is not “viti,” but “culture.”. Traditions are sometimes mentioned. As are other living creatures. And so on.

[Geisberg & Osterberg over Ribeauvillé]While these diversions appeal to the romantic in me, they pose a definitional problem. I’m going to solve that by insisting on another fundamental precept: terroir must have clear, scientifically-measurable, and scientifically-repeatable boundaries. If it does not, then a definition is going to be impossible, because it can mean different things to different people. Since we’re here to define terroir, that’s not of much use. Moreover, imposing a structure on the concept of terroir doesn’t preclude the consideration of any of these other categories of influence. Far from it. I certainly think that human inputs exist (I’ve mentioned some of the forms already), and I think that traditions absolutely matter for certain wines, though not for others. What remains to be determined is whether or not they have anything to do with terroir.

Tradition has a more specific name in wine lingo: typicity. Some think that typicity should fall under the definition of terroir, and most who think that live in the Old World, in places where the traditions of wine run deep into the centuries. However, following from the determination that terroir must have scientifically-measurable and scientifically-repeatable boundaries, typicity cannot be part of terroir. Why not? Because while there are components of typicity that can, under certain circumstances, be derived from the immutable qualities of grape varieties and terroir, those components are not the entirety of the concept. Winemaking – practices and style – must also be considered. Thus, taken as a whole, typicity isn’t inherent, it’s artificially imposed. And remember that there are wines whose typicity is a matter of great debate among their advocates. Does a Cotat-produced wine from the Mont-Damnés really taste of Mont-Damnés despite being so different from other producers’ interpretations? Does Brun’s “l’Ancien” taste like Beaujolais or not? How much sangiovese is too little in a Chianti, or tempranillo in a Rioja? There are also wines whose typicity is a matter of arbitrarily choosing date ranges; is Bordeaux “typically” blended with Hermitage or not, and what sites and/or grapes does a given label actually comprise? Is a Mâcon botrytized or not? Montrachet: sweet or dry? What is a Rasteau “supposed” to be? Are varietal bottlings or blends the true Alsatian tradition?

I could go on for a long while, but these examples are all well-known among controversy-loving wine geeks. And they all serve to illustrate the basic impermanence and subjectivity of typicity. Thus, it cannot be part of our definition of terroir.

What about culture? Again, which culture? Greek? Etruscan? Roman? Roman Catholic monastic? Germanic? French? Many cultures may have contributed to the viticulture of a long-planted site. But the cultures were different. And even within narrower groups, culture is not steady-state, it’s a shared environmental construct in constant motion. To say that terroir includes culture is to introduce a permanent variable into the equation. That may satisfy a romantic urge, but it’s of little use when trying to construct a definition with any utility or rigor.

How about creatures other than man? It depends: are said creatures a permanent influence on a given set of vines, and – this is important – in a way that affects grape chemistry, or are they transitory? Most pests, like glassy-winged sharpshooters, or the phylloxera louse, are transitory; they (or the parasites they carry) may affect grape chemistry, but it’s hard to call something a permanent influence when it eventually kills the vine, and when it’s fully mobile under its own power. Grape-noshing birds might seem to be a permanent fixture, but they don’t influence grape chemistry, just quantity (if they ate underripe grapes, performing a sort of avian green harvest, then maybe we could include them…though maybe not, since unless they’re trained their influence is hardly predictable, and thus not scientifically measurable).

One biological entity might be part of terroir, though, and that’s botrytis cinerea, the fungus known in certain forms as noble rot. That botrytis affects grape chemistry is unquestionable, its effects are predictable, and thus the effect is scientifically-measurable. And if a site has a clear and permanent predilection to be affected by botrytis (or the opposite), then it can be said to be part of the site’s inherent characteristics…thus, more or less scientifically-repeatable. So it should be part of terroir, right?

[St-Jean-de-Minervois]One objection is obvious: if terroir is to be scientifically-repeatable, its form should be a constant, or close to it. Thus, if a vineyard isn’t botrytis-affected every single year, botrytis cannot be part of terroir. Right?

This seems an easy escape clause from what appears to be a thorny definitional issue. In fact, it’s too easy, because it misapplies the concept of terroir. In any case, there’s a better reason to eliminate botrytis from the list of terroir-influencing sources. Bear with me here…what follows will seem to be a bit of a diversion, but it will eventually come back to and explain this point.

One more thing we can probably blame the French for goes right back to one of those frequently-heard Californian objections to the concept: terroir is marketing. Because the fact is that, for many, it is very much a point of differential and qualitative marketing. And it has been used in both positive and negative ways. The latter is what gets other winemakers’ backs up, because some will insist that only certain wines “show terroir”…those wines usually being those with a long tradition of site, varietal, and winemaking continuity, and thus (obviously) few of which are placed anywhere in the New World.

Others will point to a generalized inability to, in controlled double-blind conditions, inerrantly identify specific terroirs as proof that terroir does not exist. Two things are worth mentioning here. First, anyone with enough experience has met tasters – many, but certainly not all, of them grape-growing winemakers – who seem to be able to identify sites with surprising regularity. Sometimes, they can even do this by tasting the grapes themselves. A remarkable talent? Maybe. More likely, it’s long familiarity. The wine generalist may not be able to reliably differentiate Schlossberg from Sommerberg, but a specialist in Alsatian wine will be better, and someone who grows grapes on those sites will often prove to be quite adept. Second, however, is the more fundamental objection: the “proof” thus demonstrated by such tastings is not that terroir does or doesn’t exist, but that it is not always useful for the consumer of wine. Again, hold onto that thought for a moment or two.

The (indeed highly marketable) idea of a “terroir wine” is an entirely different concept from the basic definition of terroir. Note that nowhere in my proposed definition have I mentioned a requirement for terroir to be organoleptically identifiable. A wine may or may not show its site-derived characters , just as it may or may not show its varietally-derived characters, and just as its winemaker-derived characters may or may not be obvious. In no case would a taster, having failed to discern certain qualities in a wine, deny the existence of the grape(s) or the winemaker. Yet for some reason, when terroir is not discernable, they’re perfectly willing to deny its existence. This is remarkably insensible; remember our farmers, who would weep at the notion that one plot of ground is pretty much the same as any other. If farmers acted on such an absurd belief, a lot (more) of them would be out of work.

This brings us to the key point: it’s not that terroir is useless or irrelevant in terms of wine appreciation, but that its actual point of application in the process that leads from vine to wine is wholly within the vineyard. In other words, in the purview of the farmer, not the taster. There may be terroir for the taster to discern, or there may not, but there is always terroir for the farmer to discern and deal with.

So to return to our moldy conundrum, is botrytis part of terroir? From the farmer’s perspective, the question is not about botrytis, but about an affinity for botrytis. That predilection is something with which the farmer must deal, compensating (or not) according to the demands of the wine, just as a mesoclimate-derived predilection for extreme August heat is a factor with which the farmer must deal. Botrytis can be prevented or encouraged, yes, but the predilection itself cannot be eradicated without significant changes to other aspects of the terroir (proximity to water, altitude, water retention, diurnal temperature effects, etc.). In other words, the terroir is not the fungus itself, but the predilection for the fungus…a property of the site, not of the mold. This keeps us safely within the boundaries of our earlier assumptions; the yearly presence of botrytis may or may not be fully predictable and thus not scientifically-repeatable, but the chance of a site’s embrace/rejection of botrytis most certainly is predictable and scientifically-repeatable. What follows from this seems to be a firm, clear standard: no biological entities aside from the vine itself have terroir effects.

[Craig Camp at Anne Amie]Right?

Well, what about the wee beasties in the soil itself? Worms, bugs, bacteria, and so forth…are they or are they not part of the terroir of a site? And what about grasses and other things planted in and around the vineyard? How about eucalyptus trees in the neighborhood, from which oils adhere to grapes, affecting the taste of the resulting wine? And how about pollen from nearby lavender fields, often cited as a “natural” flavorant in wines from Provence?

The fashion in which we dealt with fungus shows the way forward. It’s certain that the physical and chemical makeup of the soil is indeed affected the creatures living in it (and, it might be added, by cover crops and other in-vineyard plants of that nature). Since we previously asserted that soil chemistry is part of terroir, surely these chemistry-modifying biological entities are also part of terroir.

Again, no. Botrytis affects the chemistry of the grape in predictable and measurable ways only given its presence…which is not assured, only predicted. The same holds true for things living in the soil; they can move away, or be killed by means physical and chemical, or experience a growth spurt one year and a decline the next. In other words, they’re a variable influence, like the weather. The only aspect of their existence that may be part of a site’s terroir is, as with botrytis, a predilection of that site to encourage or inhibit such biological entities.

In both cases, the key point is that our fungi, annelids, bacteria, and so forth are an effect of terroir, not a cause thereof. They exist, or not, as a response to the site…just as the vines themselves do. And while it’s true that they also may affect the site, the same is true of vines, whose questing roots may change the physical nature (and thus the water retention, and as this proceeds over a very long time the geological composition) of a site. Yet the vines themselves are a response to the terroir, not the terroir itself.

Which brings up another question. Doesn’t the preceding demonstrate feedback effects that suggest terroir is an evolving system? Yes. Without external management (which is in direct opposition to the concept of inherent terroir; management is man-made), it is impossible to think that a site does not change over time. Soils change. Vines are uprooted, and their younger replacements’ roots access different soil realms, leading to different vine chemistry. Mesoclimates change, not least in response to anthropogenic climate effects. Farming methods change, causing chemical and biological discontinuities in the soil as viticulturalists adopt, then abandon, various treatments and theories. Weather “events” and regular old erosion change entire vineyards, permanently. And as the previous paragraph demonstrates, the biome created by a given terroir has its own inexorable effect on the terroir.

So how can there be terroir if there’s no continuity? Well, remember what I wrote earlier: terroir is not tradition. Continuity is not a foundational requirement for the existence of terroir. Identity is…but even then, the identity that matters is an agricultural one, not the kind required by a taster for the purposes of identification. Again, terroir is about farming, not tasting.

[Schoenenbourg]This is, I think, a hard mindset for people to accept. Of what use is terroir if 1) it’s not about identifiable qualities in wine, and 2) isn’t even a consistent factor?

The response to this will begin to sound familiar: this isn’t a significant question, because terroir isn’t about tasting. That there’s enough identity and continuity for some experienced tasters to identify some terroirs is both a marvelous thing and a demonstrable truism, and in fact without identity and continuity as expressed in finished wine we wouldn’t be having this conversation in the first place, because no one would care whether or not there was such a thing as terroir. But the entity to which terroir actually matters is the grape hanging on the vine, not the person putting his nose and lips to a glass. Everything else is a mere ancillary benefit, not the effect itself. Terroir is of tremendous utility to the grape, even if it lacks the consciousness to know it.

Oh…and as for eucalyptus, lavender, and the like? An apparent vineyard signature, perhaps (until the offending plants are cut down, or the wind shifts), but an external influence no more intrinsic to the site than a “pool” of humidity birthing dormant fungal spores, or farmer spraying fungicide. So no…not terroir.

Moving on…

Here’s another fundamental concept that follows directly from the above discussion of marketing: all sites have terroir. All sites. Despite what those who which to use it as a wedge marketing term would like you to believe.

“But what about wine X, or Y? There’s no terroir there!”

What did I just say? “All sites.” Terroir is in the vineyard. Whether or not it is in the wine is irrelevant to its definition (though a given taster may care about this very much; I, myself, have a general preference for wines that reveal terroir). The most industrial multi-site blend comes from sites that have their own measurable terroir, even if the only thing discernable in the finished wine is the chemical stew used to bludgeon unpalatable grapes into commercial submission. (Sorry. Again with the snark.) Which is another way of stating yet another fundamental concept: quality has nothing to do with terroir.

Again, we run counter to traditional usage. Terroir, for many commentators, is all too often a synonym for the qualitative phrase “good terroir.” Certainly that’s as misguided as employing “wine” as a synonym for “good wine.” It may stand to reason and the law of averages that not all terroirs are “good,” whatever standards one may wish to apply to that qualitative assessment, and we could delve into the reasons a terroir may or may not be “good,” but they’re all subordinate to one of our guiding principles: scientifically-measurable properties. All qualitative assessments of the “good/bad” type are subjective, and thus not scientifically-measurable.

So are we any closer to an actual definition of terroir? I think so. And here – heaven knows you’ve waited long enough for it – is my proposed definition of terroir:

Terroir is a biological outcome derived from the interaction of mesoclimate, geography, and geology (including soil chemistry), expressed by the entity sustained by that interaction and possessing a chemically identifiable identity, but excluding the influence of external biological entities.

Now comes the important part: let’s pick at it. I’m quite sure it can be improved – certainly it can be made shorter – with a little external biological input.

(And Jamie…are you happy now?)

03 March 2009

Just say note

[wine tasting]The poor tasting note. Beloved and loathed, essential and useless. And now, finding its very purpose questioned. It’s enough to give a laundry list of anthropomorphized fruits and vegetables a complex.

Via Vinography…itself via Eric Asimov (don’t you just love the self-referential, navel-sucking blogosphere?)…there are some interesting musings on the benefits and/or dangers of the form out there. (For example: here and here.) Since tasting notes are, by far, the most common form of written expression on the subject of wine, this is a matter of some import. And, of course, as a generator of seemingly endless iterations of the genre, I’ve some thoughts on the matter.

It’s sometimes said by the jaded online wine literati that tasting notes are the least interesting form of wine commentary. That’s not true. Ratings and scores are. This is not the forum for well-worn arguments about the utility or sensibility of scoring wines against each other, except to note that in the end, ratings provide only two potentially useful bits of knowledge: 1) the scorer’s personal hierarchy of preference, and 2) a demonstration of something well-known before the widespread use of scores…that, in the main, there’s fairly widespread agreement on the qualities and identities of the world’s best wines.

Since the latter – a long-held, “establishment” view of wine – is one of the things many of scoring’s most ardent advocates claim to be subverting with their rating systems, there’s a particular irony involved in this result. And in any case, it’s where that general and congenial agreement collapses that a discussion of wine quality becomes truly interesting.

But we’re already off-topic. It’s probably true that, after ratings, tasting notes are the next least-interesting form of wine commentary. However, the gap between the gold and silver medals (or, I guess, their opposites) is rather larger than one might first suspect. For tasting notes can delve directly and succinctly into the areas of interest I just mentioned: the measures of quality and difference that bring actual diversity of opinion to the worlds of wine production and appreciation.

That’s can, not do. Naturally, this is a standard few tasting notes actually attain. Why? Lack of skill, sure – wine writing’s no more overwhelmed with brilliance than any other pursuit – but that’s not the key reason. Many with demonstrable skill still produce tasting notes that fall short of this standard. The reason is that tasting notes of depth and literacy, that enlighten as much as they reveal, that contextualize while they characterize, are difficult and time-consuming to research and write. And the simple fact of the matter is that most people don’t want to spend that much effort, especially when notes aren’t that well-compensated (from top critics, on a per-note basis) or, as most are, produced simply for the love of it.

Should they? No. Not because I wouldn’t like to see it reflected in the collective body of tasting notes, but because I don’t care for the concept of “should” here. It’s not up to me or anyone else to dictate to people the whys and hows of their notes. They’re as personal as expression gets from the appreciation (rather than production) side. It takes great depth of knowledge to write longer-form notes that enlighten, and it takes even greater skill to distill that enlightenment back into short-form notes. But there’s no way to develop that skill without exploring the form in a sort of personal apprenticeship; wine writers, even the best of them, are not produced from whole cloth, they’re created by a long process of self-development and collaborative feedback. To insist on formalization before that development is to narrow the wonderful diversity of voices and modes of expression, and while this might have surface appeal for the bewildered consumer overwhelmed with competing and contradictory authorities, it’s ultimately bad for both wine writing and wine itself.

A better approach to the problem identified by Asimov – that tasting notes, as currently conceived, confuse rather than educate the consumer – might be to suggest ways in which the form might be improved without stunting that essential development, and from which interested writers may select those techniques that work for them, and reject those that don’t.

One caveat, though: I reject the notion that the seeming impenetrability of tasting notes to the novice is evidence of their lack of utility. All fields of specialized knowledge have their subject-specific nomenclatures. For some reason I’ve never understood, wine aficionados are unusually sensitive to the existence of theirs, either clinging to it out of misplaced snobbery or, more often, deliberately subverting it to the point of true disutility. Why? Look, if all a consumer wants is for someone with the mantle of authority to point to a tasty bottle of wine, then they don’t need to learn the lingo, and there’s no need to infantilize the jargon in a vain attempt to cradle these people within the fraternity. They’re not interested, because what they want is a shopping list. And if another consumer wants a deeper and more specialized experience, they’ll make the effort to learn what they need to learn, just as an enthusiast of cars, or baseball, or stamp collecting will. Wine folk need to stop apologizing for their grammatical flights of fancy in a misguided attempt to entice the uninterested, and instead concentrate their efforts on those that care enough to play along.

So how can tasting notes be made more useful? An obvious first answer is to lengthen them, bringing background, history, context, and food pairings into play. Many excellent writers do exactly this. But, as I noted, it’s a laborious process. And not just for the writer; there are readers who don’t want all that background, who just want to know about the wine, and will find deeper and more verbose explorations no less off-putting than the jargon they were designed to supplant.

There may not be one solution that pleases all audiences. But there are improvements that can be made. Whether in long- or short-form notes, the essential points of “difference” are worth more emphasis than they currently receive. A tasting of fifty chardonnays from the same region will result in a lot of mostly-identical notes. As with a mathematical equation, one could go through each note striking out the constants and leaving the variables intact. I don’t mean that commonalities should actually be excised (though it’s an intriguing idea), but that a note can, and perhaps should, speak more to the question: why this one rather than that one? And in what situations? That, certainly, is of more interest than noting the presence of tropical fruit aromas for the twentieth consecutive time.

Another technique, and one that I’ve been working on myself, is to make the note less about what the wine tastes like, and more about the experience of drinking the wine. That’s not a distinction that makes sense to everyone, so let me expand on that point a bit.

In a typical tasting note, there are two components: the organoleptic assessment (I tasted these fruits, I found these structural elements, and so forth) and the qualitative assessment (I liked it, the previous vintage was better, it probably won’t age, etc.). The latter is sometimes turned into a score, and sometimes not. It is commonly assumed that the latter is also the full representation of the taster’s personal reaction to the wine. It may be, but I suspect that in most cases, it’s not. And this is the verbiage that’s missing in most notes.

Why restrict the grammar of wine notation to plants, rocks, and chemicals? Why not talk about mood? A wine might remind one of a sunny day in a golden field (a white Southern Rhône), or a chilly drawing room in an old European estate (a German riesling). Or of the wine’s character as if it were a living thing? An Austrian weissburgunder may stand stiff and Teutonically rigid, like a soldier guarding palace gates, while a Santa Barbara pinot blanc might be as relaxed and easygoing as any “dude”-uttering Californian.

People express discomfort with this sort of language, but they shouldn’t. In the latter pair of examples, all the descriptors are doing is standing in for a set of characterizations that could be done with the standard grammar, but in a far less interesting way. A “stiff, Teutonic” pinot blanc could be ungenerous with its fruit, high-acid, and with a significant mineral component that reminds one of Germanic wines, especially riesling. Its qualities would seem to be held in reserve, perhaps to be teased out with age. The wine would be the opposite of “showy” or “easy.” And its “relaxed, easygoing” Santa Barbara counterpart would have more forward fruit that’s immediately accessible on first sip, lower acidity and less structure in general, and an approachability that suggests against careful study in search of something more purely emotional. The first wine encourages the taster towards analytical exploration, the latter encourages the taster to stop thinking so much and enjoy the experience. These are common reactions to wines; why are they so infrequently reflected in the language we use to describe those same wines?

There’s so much more that can be said. Wines may transport one to a place, or a memory. An old red Burgundy may recall a sunset, a young Madiran the blackest midnight, a Kumeu chardonnay the first rays of dawn. A Sardinian vermentino may transport one to the docks, a saline breeze from the sea filling the air, as the first fishing boats return with the morning’s catch. A Zidarich vitovska may be so iconoclastic and difficult to grasp that it becomes an intellectual task to drink, while a young zinfandel may make one laugh out loud at the sheer fruity joy of it. And all these responses will be informed by, but also depend on, context…a notion I’ll explore in a moment.

[note-taking]Overly serious tasters reject this sort of verbiage for several reasons. First, there’s simple repression; these are more personal reactions that the coldly clinical forms in common use, and not everyone is comfortable with that level of revelation. Second, there’s the fear that such descriptors are less useful because they’re overly personal; that a wine described as “cold” means nothing to a reader unless the issue under consideration is something scientifically measurable, like temperature.

But this is silly. Unless we move to fully chemical tasting notes, wherein quantities of the various esters, structural elements, and so forth are given in numerical form, there will always be an inherent individualism to wine description. One person’s freshly-picked Granny Smith apple is another’s elevated malic acid. Different tasters use gooseberry, boxwood, or cat pee for what is essentially the same character, found so frequently in sauvignon blanc. And not everyone knows what a Makrut lime leaf smells like, even though it may be the best way to express what a taster is experiencing; what meaning does that term have to the uninitiated? If the answer is “none,” then how can its use be justified? Yet if it’s the right descriptor, how can it not be used? Even structural elements cannot be pinned down so easily; for example, we may find agreement that a wine is acidic (given sufficient experience identifying acid in isolation from other components), but its balance in relation to other elements will be a personal assessment, not a scientific one, and so moving from “acidic” to “too acidic” is fraught with the uncertainties of personal judgment.

Further, consider the utility of tasting notes from a more objective, less enthusiast-oriented perspective. Does anyone head to their store in search of a wine that “tastes of apricots and gravel?” Ever? No, of course not. But they might want a fun crowd-pleaser for a party. Or something that’s going to impress their oenophilic boss at a formal event. They might desire a wine that will satisfy rather than make intellectual or emotional demands after a difficult day at work. One that provides a revelatory moment wherein they finally understand the appeal of nebbiolo. Something that reminds them of their honeymoon on Santorini, or a wine that will challenge every assumption they have about Italian whites. Grocery list notes cannot respond to these desires – they lack the vocabulary – but more personal, emotional notes can.

Next, it’s important to render an opinion. But remember that an opinion doesn’t have to be a rating, or a simple binary expression of approval/disapproval. If a wine is confusing, say so. If a wine is enthralling despite its objective flaws or imbalances, say so. If a wine is compelling at first taste but a chore to drink, say so. Though some do indeed drink (and thus notate) in a rigidly binary way, sorting all wines into yes/no categories, I suspect most don’t. Wines and the potential contexts in which they can be experienced are far more varied than such a simplistic, neo-Neanderthal response. A deeper, broader, and more nuanced way of talking about wine embraces this diversity.

Finally, remember that there are as many different ways to express thoughts on wine as there are wines. There’s not just one style, and those who find (say) the list-and-score method wanting can turn to commentators who possess a more personally appealing style. And there’s power in that. For while it’s important that individual expression be preserved in all its diverse forms, the corpus of that expression is also worthy of consideration. Each commentator brings their own colors and styles to the weave, and though it’s not true that a collective perspective is inherently superior to the personal kind, it’s hard to deny the mind- and palate-broadening potential of all those individual pieces knitted together in a vast tapestry of knowledge, emotion, and thought.

No, the tasting note is definitely not dead. It rises again, but unlike the Phoenix it must sometimes change forms to be reborn.