How To Understand Really Stupid Wines
The wine was a 2006 Grenache from the Barossa Valley in Australia. It clocked in at 18.5% alcohol. It was carried to me by a good Aussie friend who purchased it in New York. The wine was absurd in every respect—in its size, in its lopsided nature and in its imposing heat. The alcoholic mask worn by this wine was complete in every way. What lurked underneath the heat was a blueish fruit. But it was hard to either notice or care about the fruit. The first task at hand upon tasting this wine was abandoning it as soon as possible.
Shoving the wine aside, I simply couldn’t stop wondering what the winemaker was hoping to accomplish by producing this thing. For that matter, I’m not sure what the thought was in letting the grapes get so ripe (likely over 30 degrees brix) as to produce an alcohol level of 18.5%. The final wine did not have to be so high in alcohol. It could easily have been watered back and the alcohol brought down to a level merely “very high” instead of absurdly high.
The producer of this wine is extremely well-regarded. Their wines are accorded “cult” status, snapped up at high prices and praise is generous. This particular wine received 94 points from a publication of importance. So I assume the makers are not idiots. In fact I have to assume they wanted to make a wine that showcased the flavor and aromas of alcohol, with small hints of blue fruit.
For quite some time I’ve been one of those wine lovers willing to entertain the idea that quality is relative; that “good” wine can be defined in any number of ways and that any challenge to this relativistic notion of “good” would be difficult to muster. So maybe my reaction to this disaster of a wine is unwarranted. Maybe there is something else to this wine that I wasn’t understanding.
By this relativistic theory of what amounts to “good”, I’m forced to assume that the production of this wine wasn’t merely a matter of one winery being really hopeful that there are lots of people willing to ignore outlying wines of such weird proportions and embrace them (while certainly getting wildly drunk). Under the Good-Is Relative Theory of Wine I have to assume that this wine was not only aesthetically viable, but also economically viable.
Still, if I were responsible for rating and reviewing this wine, I would dismiss it as ridiculously flawed and probably rank it somewhere between 65 and 72 points with an “AVOID” recommendation.
But here’s the kicker: The wine culture in the U.S. has evolved to such a degree in the past 20 years that today you can make a wine of such stupidity and still find enough palate’s to embrace it and appreciate it and, presumably, pay the $60-$70 this wine currently demands on the secondary market. This kind of palate diversity is weirdly encouraging, despite being, to this wine drinker, unimaginable.