The Recipe for Great Winemaking
The Sycophant and the Donkey
My weekend reading included an interesting article in the NY Times entitled ‘The Chemistry of a 90+ Wine.’ Yes I know. I made a promise to a number of you that I would get back to the wine reviews and quirky dinners and I will, er, um, soon. But this is important.
The article’s subject is a Mr. McCloskey who has apparently conceived of a new way of measuring wine quality. He uses spectrometers and chromatographs to separate and measure particular chemical compounds in a vintner’s juice. The resulting ‘quality index,’ the ratio of phenols, terpenes and other secondary’ chemicals to one another, are then compared to a ‘benchmark’ wine, a mythical 100 point wine which comes from a similar analysis of previously high scoring wines (from the usual culprits).
The premise is simple. ‘The Score’ is everything, and by modeling one’s wine after those which have previously received 90 points, it follows that one should receive a similar benediction, and thus sales. In fact, McCloskey’s company Enologix promises it’s clients that it’s ‘metrics’ will assist winemakers in . . . boosting average national critics' scores.''
Now there is nothing wrong with using whatever system one wants to use to analyze wine, and in fact I am intrigued by any tool which aims to explain why we like what we do. Knowledge is good. The problem here is that McCloskey is purporting some sort of ‘holy grail’ of quality which is based on what a small group of individuals have deemed to be quality. Follow? If you so fervently believe that you know what the ultimate good is, you're moving into dangerous territory.
McCloskey himself has claimed, "If you ask what is wine quality?..."people say it's relative, it's a matter of taste. But the fact is, it's not." It would seem that McCloskey believes it is a matter of a few tastes, that being those of Parker, Laube, His and all those critics who tend towards the jammy, oak-infused New World style. Suffice to say that Enologics has quite a roster of clients.
Okay. Fuck that. So what?
I have written a number of times about the potential pitfalls that arise from winemakers who rely too heavily on additives and manipulations to make their wines as opposed to technique and terroir. I won’t rehash it here. McCloskey’s concept in of itself is interesting, its the possible applications that make me squirm ...ie. guns don’t kill people, people kill people.
Already many wine buyers seem unable to make a purchase that does not have the benediction of one of the big critics. It is lamentable for any number of good reasons, but this type of ‘sycophantry’ is even worse because it relates to the winemaker’s integrity. I have my problems with the ‘ego-centric’ new world winemaker attitude, whereby nature seems to be tolerated just as long as it doesn’t get in the way of what he or she’s preconceived notion of what their wine ought to be. But I can understand it, and even if I believe that the use of all these interventions removes a wine from the subtle influences of it’s terroir, if they are used to create a unique wine which reflects the personality of the winemaker then I can at least respect it. It comes from them.
Using The Enologic system for the purpose of pleasing critics completely eliminates the winemaker’s personality from the process, and instead panders to a small group of tastes and the ‘metrics’ of a man who claims to have written the recipe book on how to make a bestseller. This type of winemaker is as soft as the Pillsbury doughboy, as real as Hasselhoff.
Wine should be the product of the interaction between the winemaker and nature, not the interaction between the two to make a wine the Parker-Laube tandem will like. This is soul-less pandering, insulting to us wine consumers and most importantly, it 'splooges' a couple more drops of oil on that slippery slope towards the uniformity of taste. We are being powned like some cheap whore. You the consumer are looked upon as a second class drinking citizen, you ass.
If there was ever a reason to trumpet the democratization of wine criticism then this is it.