The Turning Tide of CA’s X-Treme Wines?

For those of us that believe Californian wines have tended toward the overly extracted, alcoholic and bombastic over the past decade or so, there is always the hope that the tide will turn; that the pendulum will swing in the other direction toward more restraint and balance. We are looking for signs.

I found a promising sign.

Such a sign is likely to come from someone who tastes lots of wine and who also has noticed the tendency (rush?) toward bigness. My sign is Stephen Tanzer, publisher of the International Wine Cellar newsletter.

In his latest newsletter, Tanzer writes the following in lead up to reviews of a few new releases:

"As long time readers of this publication are aware, I’m a major fan of the best wines from California, yet I’m constantly amazed at the way some publications grossly overrate wines that are simply large. Those who taste too much or too fast may be scoring wines on their immediate "impressiveness" without sticking around long enough to discover how boring or overbearing many of them can become as they open in the glass. Wines that catch one’s attention on first sip can quickly become repetitive and hard to swallow—and these bottles are as likely to cost seventy-five bucks as twenty-five…."

"Happily, current evidence suggests that many producers in California are finally backing away from X-treme wines. Some of these winemakers have decided they don’t enjoy these heavy drinks after all; others are dissatisfied with the way some of their past vintages, from overripe or overworked fruit, are developing in bottle. Even sky-high ratings can’t make these wines easier to drink…"

Now, I don’t know how many bottles of CA wine Tanzer tastes over the course of a year, but I sure do know it’s more than me and more than most. It’s a good sign that he sees evidence of the backing by winemakers from X-treme wines.

This kind of affirmation from a top critic is the kind of thing that helps turn the tide further. Steven Heimoff of the Wine Enthusiast has also been attempting to draw attention to more balanced wines.

Perhaps the tide is turning.


7 Responses

  1. ken - January 24, 2007

    God, I hope it is true. I was served a Paso Robles Zin the other evening. The food didn’t stand a chance. Saved the wine for pancake syrup the next morning. Marginally better. The homeless guy seemed to like it, however.

  2. Jerry Murray - January 24, 2007

    I am glad to see Mr. Tanzer getting some acknowledgement. It isn’t just the CA wines he is taking to task for being merely big ( boring ) he has been giving Oregon Pinot Noir the same treatment. I do not subscribe to Mr. Tanzers newletter but anytime I see his ratings of Oregon wines I just think to myself “right on”! The question is can Mr. Tanzers relatively obscure newsletter turn the tide?

  3. beginner - January 24, 2007

    I couldn’t feel more identified with Tanzer when he says: “Wines that catch one’s attention on first sip can quickly become repetitive and hard to swallow—and these bottles are as likely to cost seventy-five bucks as twenty-five…” Recently have had the chance to try out 2 sort of ‘cult’ wines from CA, a Pinot from Monterrey (retails at $40 approx) and a Cabernet Franc from Napa (80 bucks!!) and I’m still recovering from the punch in the mouth. The nose was great, also the first sips (I drink wine rather than sip it) showed good, balanced wines but I couldn’t taste much else after the first glass. My wife gave up entirely after the 1st glass I and finished the bottles myself on the 2 ocassions. The franc was tough to finish, almost 15% alc, lots of fruit, lots of oak. I know those wines are not for me. Will the soften in the bottles? Hope so, have a few more bottles at home…!! Hope the tide is turning, otherwise I know which wines not to drink.
    Keep up the good info coming!!

  4. Dr. Debs - January 24, 2007

    Good news, indeed. I wonder, like Jerry, if Tanzer can help turn the tide and if we consumers sick of the big wines couldn’t help by subscribing to his newsletter?

  5. Terry Hughes - January 25, 2007

    I sure am in agreement with you guys. The time is way overdue for a recovery of the balance and elegance that used to characterize the serious wines of California 30-40 years ago.
    Maybe then the Golden State really will start living up to its old promise. After all, the Judgment of Paris didn’t happen with 15% oak bombs.

  6. tom farella - January 25, 2007

    Yes, yes, I can feel it. Unfortuanately, we’ve been reading about this in the wine press for a few years now. As a producer, I would like to add that I’m weary of what more alcohol does to my dining experience. Even half a degree has a dramatic effect.

  7. Joe - February 2, 2007

    While Stephen gives me hope, I am not convinced we will see a turn soon. On my recent visit to Napa, I asked everyone I met to recommend a winery. There was near consensus on this winery (undisclosed), but they produced a slew of EXTREME over-extracted high-alcohol wines, and bragged about ‘hang-time’. Sigh – if that is what the local experts aspire to, it will take many years for a change.

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