Category: Wine Criticism

Making Up With Sancerre

SANCERRE is the word on the lips of nearly every young woman that strikes a pose in front of the wine fridges. Sancerre sells itself.

It’s easy to spell and retain. Even if it’s dead simple to pronounce and flows from the tongue like a short sibilant song, one feels a tiny sense of pride in pronouncing it, as if one knows it’s coming out properly.1.

Along with shitty industrial Pinot Grigio, boring inexpensive Malbec, and that last refuge of shaky-handed, broken souls that is vodka, Sauvignon Blanc is one of the major drivers of a wine and spirit shop’s sales that gradually evokes a deep hatred in salespersons. With each request, a stake is further driven into an angry heart that’s grown tired of ushering folks to a selection of beverages which evoke the opposite of excitement.

Having to taste through oceans of mediocre Sauvignon Blanc with sales reps proves the first breaking point.

Not unlike a smelly cat reappearing at one’s door, nearly every single day, a Sauvignon Blanc makes an appearance. And the telltale signature of feral pyrazines or perhaps thiols — let’s call it ‘Sauv Blanc stank’ — makes its indelible little mark. You can smell it from 5 feet away, and it’s going to cling to your palate as you try to move forward and taste other wines.

The smelly cat.
That smelly cat is back.

What I have always had a hard time grasping is just how Sauvignon Blanc conquered the world, particularly given (Click to Read more)

  1. Perhaps the average consumer glows a bit in trumping the foreign wine name pronunciation bugaboo that plagues, say, Gewurztraminer, or German and Austrian Riesling vineyard names, or Blaufrankish []

The Big Fight Over Riesling

I don’t know, Rocky. Maybe if you were a little bit drier?

Riesling has been the source of a great deal of contention of late. Two wine critics seem to rather handily summarize the entrenched positions on either side of the debate.

In this corner: Steve Heimoff firmly positions himself amidst the jeering masses that dislike Riesling, and resents wine cognoscenti’s insistence that it be appreciated.

And in this corner, after a lifetime of trying to spread the Gospel about its virtues, Jancis Robinson worships Riesling as king, but now frets over its ability to fulfill its destiny and claim its throne among world markets, particularly in light of recent contracting sales data.

Thinking aloud about what may be holding Riesling back, Jancis notes its strong characteristic “flavour” (unexplained in youthful Riesling, and described as petrol in older Riesling).

There’s no denying Riesling ages into a petrol aroma, but, let’s fill in the blank … that youthful flavor is one of fruitiness: a blessed, fulsome fruitiness.

If we agree to take German Mosel Valley Riesling — the most edgy and rocky of all Riesling terroirs — as a yardstick, the terroir typically expresses itself in a fairly limited set of aromatic profiles: “… the most typical blue slate fruit-driven character is typically apple, white peach, or — if ripe — yellow peach; red slate, by comparison, offers more brawny, spicy minerality, and occasionally tropical fruit”1.

As we’ll see shortly, however, this fulsome fruity blessing is equally its curse.


  1. Quoth Ernst Loosen at an aged Auslese Tasting at Hearth, 9/15/2011, New York, NY []

On the Value of Wine Criticism: a Conversation with the Blind

Let’s admit it, there are a lot of wine words that raise eyebrows.

The esoteric jargon leaps to mind: “This wine has lift. Excellent palate tension”. “A laser-like focus”. “This wine is rather foursquare”. “Très nerveux”, quoth the French wine critic, often when sampling a dry white wine they like. Can a wine be nervous?

Then there is the dauntingly precise collection of fruits, flowers, and other non-edible aromatic descriptors in tasting notes.

  • Sous bois, or mushrooms.
  • Stones.
  • Latex or Band-Aids.
  • Violets.
  • Saddle leather.
  • Barnyard (or manure).
  • Stalky.
  • White pepper.
  • Pine.
  • Mint.
  • Green bell pepper.
  • Mimosa.
  • Honeysuckle.
  • Geranium.
  • Cat pee.
  • Red currant.
  • Wet dog.
  • Toasty.
  • Tar.
  • Soapy.
  • Nail polish.
  • Apples.
  • Corn.
  • Lactic.
  • Orange blossom.
  • Mousy.
  • Cranberries.
  • Brioche.
  • Bubblegum.
  • Egg.
  • Cheese.
  • Lemon.
  • Magnolia.
  • Lime.
  • Cherries.
  • Apricot.
  • Toffee.
  • Pear.
  • Plums.
  • Peaches.
  • Tobacco.
  • Lychee.
  • Cedar.
  • Petrol.


And finally, there’s the troubling lack of consensus between critics regarding exact descriptors for the same wine. What one critic might consider to be a “full” wine with “bilberry, truffle and red currant”, another critic might dub “angular yet fresh with a core of Alpine strawberries”.

If the critics can’t even agree, what’s it all worth? How can it be right?

Deep breath: I vehemently defend these practices and descriptive tools. And, I’ve had it with the parade of Philistines (Click to Read more)