Dispensing with the Unjustified Criticism of Big California Wines
The great Kermit Lynch was profiled in last Sunday’s issue of the New York Times Magazine. The immortal wine importer/singer entertained and enlightened with views on a number of wine subjects, including a bit of a slap at California wines or, as he calls them “Pop Wines”.
No one should ever have it in mind to question Mr. Lynch’s knowledge of wine. But in the interview, he continued the promotion of what is, in my view, an unfounded criticism of California wine, linked to a specific style of wine and to Robert Parker’s opinions, and the article proved a good opening to speak to the issue of whether anyone who attempts to criticize California wine for being too big or too alcoholic can ever be right.
In the interview, Mr. Lynch is quote as saying:
“I call the wines that have been ascendant during the Parker reign “pop wines,” because they’re created by people thinking, Oh, wow, if I make a wine like that I’ll get a hundred points and I’ll be as rich as so-and-so. They see, “Jeez, I’m driving my tractor, and he’s driving a Mercedes, and I have land here, too!” But my God, how many oaky alcoholic wines can you suffer before it becomes monotonous….When a lot of California wineries started chasing high Parker scores, I lost interest.”
The thing is, Mr. Lynch is in the minority. The number of people who like big, fruit forward 14%-15%, oak aged wines that are soft going down far and away out-number those who profess to prefer the more “minerally”, low or moderate alcohol, “terroir-driven” wines. And here’s the thing: There is no legitimate case and no argument that can be successfully made that the latter type of wine is better or more authentic than what Mr. Lynch calls “Pop Wines” and what others call “Parkerized” wines.
Mr. Lynch has the common sense and experience not to engage in the worst form of the “pop wine” argument that you often see. That argument tries to make the extremely demeaning case that people who buy, say, a fruit forward, low pH Napa Valley Cab have somehow been duped or don’t think for themselves or don’t really appreciate wine, but rather just drink what they think they are supposed to drink. The corollary is that people who buy expensive Napa Valley or CA wines that are big and bold are doing so just to show off .
And yet, more and more Napa Valley wine is sold. And there is no sign at all that the wines are backing off from being big and bold. Furthermore, you can find numerous CA and Napa and Sonoma wines that never pursue scores, yet are also made in a big, bold, fruit forward 14.5% alcohol-style. Why would that be if it was all about score chasing.
Here’s the very bottom line on this: That style of wine that celebrates richness, fruit forward-ness, lower pHs, notes of new oak and 14%+ alcohol is a style of wine ever bit as authentic and every bit as natural and every bit as legitimate as any other style of wine you can lay your hands on. And just as important, it really sells well and there is no indication that this style of wine is going anywhere. But we’ll see about where the most vociferous critics of this style of wine end up. My guess is they’ll be complaining to their grave that Robert Parker is responsible for these wines, when in fact it should be abundantly clear that it’s consumers’ palates that are responsible for these wines.