Ask For that Sweet Caress
Do you know who Randall Dunn is?
For those of you who do, bear with me.
Dunn is one of the most respected winemakers in America. He built Caymus Special Selection. He defined the meaning of mountain-grown Cabernet. He helped put Howell Mountain on the viticultural map. He consulted for the likes of La Jota and Pahlmeyer. His Dunn Vineyards Howell Mountain Cabernet was identified by Jim Laube as one of a very few produced at the time to be a 5-star wine and among the very best California has to offer. Robert Parker likes to give his wines 95, 96 and 97 points.
Randall Dunn also believes "The current fad of higher and higher alcohol wines should stop."
This was the message contained in an e-mail (read it HERE) Dunn sent out to the American wine media a couple days ago. Coming from a man as respected as Dunn, the result of the electronic shot across the bow of American winemaking and American wine criticism was to get LOTS of people talking.
That accomplishment alone gets this message from Dunn nominated for E-mail of the Year.
Very simply, Dunn is saying that the trend toward 14%, 15% and higher alcohol wines is 1) destroy the ability to taste terroir, making drinking wine with dinner less enjoyable and resulting in less wine being sold in restaurants. Though he believes its the wine media that is encouraging winemakers to producer higher alcohol wines, he lays it at the feet of consumers to stop the trend:
"It is time for the average wine consumers, as opposed to tasters, to speak up….Ask for wines that are below 14% when you are out to dinner. The reactions are fun, but the results are not good for United States wines. The sommelier usually comes back with a French or New Zealand wine….Consumers – wake up and get active. Reviewers -please at least include the labeled alcohol percentage in all your reviews, and try to remember that not everyone is spitting."
Dunn has taken a bit of a beating for his disparagement of high alcohol wines over at the e-RobertParker wine forums. What I glean from those who don’t like Dunn’s message is that he should understand that everyone has their own palate and it’s not right to say that high alcohol wines are bad because they simply are higher in Alcohol.
One of my favorite things about wine reviews and criticism and commentary in general is we get to see folks take a stand, which it strikes me is exactly what Dunn, and Robert Parker, are doing.
As it turns out, I really hate being left out of a good old fashioned piling on of opinion. So, allow me my 2 cents: Those who disagree with Dunn and who defend the high alcohol wines, particularly those in the 15%+ range are simply wrong. Unless it’s Zinfandel or Port, a 15.5% alcohol wine is not good. It may not be bad. But it’s not good. Though I can appreciate a firm slap in the face, that never feels nearly as good as a sweet caress on one’s cheek.
The defense of these absurdly high alcohol wines is amusing at best, particularly when you get to the point when the defender gets to the point of using the phrase "physiologically mature”. Start stepping away slowly, never turning your back on them, when you hear a defense put up with these words as the basis for the defense.
Here’s hoping that many more folks in the media and many more consumers take Dunn’s advice and start asking for a sweet caress rather than a slap in the face.