Take this list for what it is worth. A small peak behind the curtain thanks to a group of wines that works with the same or similar palates. It is a fascination exercise that seems to reveal a touch of group-think in an industry more accustomed to buzzwords that stress the unique. Terroir, typicity, authenticity, these are also check boxes, more and more in use and in fact dominant in the anti-establishment wing of the wine party. I am naïve of course, because I want it all. I am not an ideologue when it comes to wine, I do not believe that large producers and authenticity are incompatible, I can’t assign quality simply on the basis of scale and technique. There is some middle ground.
I think many if not most of my favorite wines here find that middle ground. They do not give up popular appeal yet forge an identity for themselves that is distinct of that of their neighbors’. It’s quite a challenge, particularly when one enters a world of ubiquity. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and increasingly Cabernet Franc and Malbec are growing around the globe. At the root of their widespread success is the ease with which they grow and produce compelling wines in such a variety of sites. That success, that visceral ability to produce, is also what makes so many of these wines alike.
Grown in ideal spots, all of these grapes have something unique to say, but it doesn’t take much to turn what they’re saying into indistinct mush. A few degrees too warm, a bit too much or little water, and the grapes no longer speak with a local accent but rather revert to a universal language. There is nothing wrong with the international style, in fact it is very successful, but unless you are the very best of the international style, you are one among many.
Many of these wines are perfectly fine and particularly well done, but not much different from one another. Some trade on name recognition, others on appellation or marketing, to maintain or increase their market share. One thing they don’t do is excite me. When I taste these wines, I try to gauge their overall quality, but at the same time I can’t ignore the fact that I am also thinking about what the wine represents and what I think it should be.
So there it is, I try to be objective but I can’t be. I also have to be subjective if I am to be interesting! It is my market compromise, akin to what many wineries feel they have to do to retain an audience. I think the solution for us both, wineries and myself, is to continue to take risks and move towards the subjective, even embrace it in fact. We can all work towards being technically correct, but then we risk being lost in a sea of conformity.
I will continue to try to offer you an unfiltered impression of the wines I taste with the requisite point score but a detailed tasting note as well, and using our new Top Lists functionality I will call out my favorite wines. Categories such as top scoring wines, top value wines and wines worth cellaring. The wines worth cellaring list is particularly appealing to me, offering a shorthand way of hedging my bets. Letting you know that the 87 I awarded any particular wine should not be seen as a definitive answer, but for many wines a simple a starting point.