Posted by: David Stewart | July 23, 2013

“Cynical, ignorant, expensive lies”

I try to be an informed consumer. Who doesn’t? I want to make buying decisions based on some objective criteria. I read the calorie count on food packaging. I look for reviews of equipment I’m considering buying. Some buying criteria is simple but I like there to be some thought process going into it.

If I spend more than about $10 on a bottle of wine, I would certainly like to taste it before buying it. Tasting is a fine measure for some wines, but some of them don’t actually taste very good when they are young. Once they have spent a bit of time in the cellar, many wines will open up their flavors. The natural tannin in the wine will mellow and the result will be terrifically complex, with layers of flavor.

But it’s not always the case.

A Willamette Valley vineyard region where the most expensive wines in the state of Oregon are grown

For example, when Oregon’s 2007 vintage of Pinot Noir was bottled and released, it was universally panned by the wine press as a poor year. The wines seemed weak, acidic and unpleasant. But some savvy winemakers advised patience.

Sure enough, the 2007s have really improved over time. Today they are very nice to drink, with very pretty aromas and interesting flavors.  For example, a week ago Deb and I tasted through a vertical of Ayres “Pioneer” Pinot Noir from 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010. The year we liked the best was 2007 (and I was able to score a couple of bottles to take home).

In contrast, 2008 was heralded as the “year of the decade” for Willamette Pinot. The weather was not too hot, not too cool, wines of this vintage were declared to be awesome and would age nicely for a decade. This past weekend, one of the winemakers I respect a lot suggested that 2008 might not be the year that everyone thought it would be. He posited that the wine press felt so badly about giving 2007 a bad name that they hyped 2008. So for the consumer, you should consider drinking your 2008s instead of holding on to them until 2018. In fact, they might not last so long.

What about a wine you might want to buy without tasting it first? Maybe it’s a very unique wine at a very high price. You will likely count on the reputation of the winemaker and the vineyard, but you would normally find a trusted reviewer like Wine Spectator or Wine Advocate to provide some objective perspective.

Part of the review is a suggestion for how long the wine should be aged before opening. After all, if you open a bottle too early, you might lose out on all of that wonderful complexity had you waited. On the other hand, wait too long and you might end up with vinegar.

A recent post from a wine writer has declared that the emperor has no clothes. There is no validity in these aging suggestions. He suggests that these are “cynical, ignorant, expensive lies.” Read it for yourself and decide if you agree.

But I assume that most reviews are ridiculously subjective anyway. Wine reviewers typically roll out a list of flavors, sometimes running on to ten to twelve flavors or aromas. And if you read two independent reviews, they usually are completely different in terms of the flavors.

Maybe it’s because I can’t imagine spending $200 and up on a trophy wine and salting it away in a cellar until I’m dead.  I’d rather enjoy wine sooner, and preferably at a lower price. Take any review and treat it as a suggestion rather than the gospel truth. Try not to wait until the bitter end to drink your fancy wine – if possible, get enough bottles of a good wine and open one per year to see how they are developing.

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