I’m always amazed at how ideological people can be about wine. Or perhaps I should say, idiot-illogical. Wine is a varied and wonderful drink that should bring like-thirsted enthusiasts together, not divide them over subjective preferences. But no, and living in the Washington, D.C., area at a time when our elected leaders seem hell-bent on destroying our country, perhaps I should not be surprised that people fight about as really insignificant as wine.
There’s a bias I’ve encountered among many wine lovers that consider French wines to be “dirty” or “barnyardy.” This viewpoint emerged at the recent Wine Bloggers Conference in Charlottesville, Va., where Jancis Robinson was accosted by a pinot noir producer and asked her opinion of his wine. When she said it wasn’t “pinot noir-y enough” for her, he said, “Oh, so you like dirty pinots, with a lot of barnyard?”
You don’t have to take my word for this – Jancis caught it on camera, or at least the discussion. It’s at the very end of this video on the “Live Blogging” session at the conference, when she is interrupted as she describes the scene. We don’t see her inquisitor, and we don’t know what pinot noir she didn’t care for. But we clearly hear a New World winemaker insulting the world’s second-most famous wine writer, a Master of Wine, about her taste in pinot noir. His assumption was that if she didn’t like his pinot noir, she must like crappy pinot noir.
Unfortunately, Jancis turned off her camera and we don’t hear the rest of the conversation. I only hope she responded with something like, “Well, I don’t particularly like wines that have been stripped of their varietal character by manipulations and other hijinx in the winery.”
Jancis’ exchange with her anonymous detractor echoes the latest controversy in the wine blogosphere. This was sparked by Helen Turley and John Wetlaufer, the wife-and-husband team behind Marcassin wines, luxury cuvees of pinot noir and chardonnay from California. Turley, of course, has been annointed by Robert Parker and Wine Spectator as one of California’s best winemakers, if not THE best. It seems that Turley and Wetlaufer believe that a certain region in France (hint: it begins with B-U-R-G) is ill-suited to produce pinot noir.
A disclaimer is in order. I have never, to my recollection, tasted a Marcassin wine. They don’t send me samples; they don’t need me, and I don’t need them. I have probably tasted wines on which Helen Turley has consulted, but I have no real impression of them and I cannot name one off the top of my head. I do not particularly care for her brother’s zinfandels. I have never met Turley or Wetlaufer. I have no dog in this fight, just bemusement.
The controversy came to light through Dr. Vino, wine’s foremost pot-stirrer who has a great eye for this stuff, and was whipped up further by a particularly vituperative post by Slate’s Michael Steinberger on WineDiarist.com. They took exception to a newsletter penned apparently by Wetlaufer and sent late last month to Marcassin subscribers in which Wetlaufer recounted how he, Turley and Robert Parker tasted Marcassin’s 2006 pinots alongside a Domaine de la Romanee-Conti La Tache and found the Burgundy benchmark “undrinkable.”
On the face of it, the argument should be this: California makes riper pinot noir than Burgundy does. Some people prefer California, some prefer Burgundy. But noooooooo – there has to be good and evil involved.
Wetlaufer embarks on a lengthy discussion of why Burgundy cannot ripen pinot noir. Here’s an excerpt:
Because of summer rain and heat, there is vegetatively vigorous growth in Burgundy vineyards, even in Grand Cru like Batard-Montrachet or Romanee-Conti itself (again take a look at “Heaven on Earth” on pp. 46 and 47 of the 5/31/10 Wine Spectator). [Oh, you recycled that? Silly you! - DM] Carbohydrate (photosynthetic assimilate) partitioning or allocation, which is mediated by phytohormones, [we need more such phytohormonal mediation in Washington these days - DM], strongly favors vegetative growth points over fruiting structures. These, i.e., vegetative growth points, include growing tips, shoots, lateral growing tips and shoots, and juvenile leaves, including young leaves on lateral shoots. [British Prime Minister Cameron is all for controlling juvenile shoots and leaves - DM.] At veraison vegetative sinks in actively growing vines dominate clusters, especially the grape skins, which are a weak sink for the carbohydrate necessary for biosynthesis of aromas, flavors, and color.
Got that? I didn’t think so.
This controversy seems to be over the massive ego Turley and Wetlaufer show about Burgundy, and you can follow it on eRobertParker.com as well as the comments on Steinberger’s post or at wineberserkers.com. But I think it goes to something more, an innate belief that one person is superior to his neighbor because he knows a little something about wine.
Can’t we all just get along?