Monday, January 31, 2011

2008 Bordeaux Tasting: Where's the Fruit?

 Grand Cru tasting leaves me scratching my head.

Bordeaux are supposed to be the finest, most refined, subtle, quietly complex wines in the world. At the 2008 Vintage trade tasting hosted January 21st at San Francisco's Palace Hotel by the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux, I discovered to my disappointment that the 2008 red Bordeaux are uninteresting because their crisp tannnins lack the balance of fruit. Age will soften the not-overdone tannins, but how can it reveal invisible fruit?

This is in contrast to the 2006s, which while they had stronger tannins to the point where tasting them was almost painful, yet at the same time they showed such depth and richness and density and complexity that you could easily see how age will soothe and reveal.

But not the 2008s. None of the reds charmed me, disarmed me, or rose above blandness, in my humble opinion. The St. Emilions showed slightly more fruit, as did the St.-Juliens -- or any fruit at all, really. I still wouldn't cross the street for them, or cross the room.

These are solid brands, too: Château Batailley, Château Beau-Séjour Bécot, Château de Rayne Vigneau, Château Doisy-Daëne,  Château Grand-Mayne, Château Grand-Puy-Ducasse, Château Haut-Bages Libéral, Château Haut-Bailly, Château La Tour Blanche, Château
Ch. Leoville Barton
Léoville Barton, Château Léoville Poyferré, Château Lynch-Bages,  Château Phélan Ségur, Château Pichon-Longueville, Château Smith Haut-Lafitte -- decent, well regarded wines, every one.

Plainly I am not an experienced taster of young Bordeaux. I didn't see anyone else wrinkling their noses or looking disappointed, so maybe it's just me. But I love Lynch-Bages, and the representative from that area (there was only one Lynch-Bages, I don't remember which) showed me nothing at all. The best reds poured were merely tolerable.

The whites, by contrast, were just fine, thank you very much. The Sauv Blancs, and the SB/Semillon blends, were good. The Sauternes were rich and sweet, complex and delicious, toe-curlers, every one -- not a loser in the bunch.

I'd list specific wines and notes but none of the reds rose above a "B," so there hardly seems any point. If you have a chance to pick up a case of some of these 2008s, wait a year before trying them. And good luck. I hope I turn out to be wrong (or simply misinformed).

And I might be, though style and approach should not be excuses for a lack of flavor and depth. "Subtle" is supposed to be a virtue, not an excuse. I understand the French downplay fruit because theirs are beverage wines, not cocktail wines -- but this is ridiculous!

Delicious Sauternes!
I was vastly amused to bump into Miguel Boscana, of Rosenblum Cellars, who poured his own disdain on the Bordeaux for utter lack of fruit. These wines, of course, represent the complete opposite of Rosenblum's fruit-forward approach to Zinfandels. He insisted that the French don't know how to, or haven't the weather for, or possibly lack the taste for, fruit in their wines.

French red Bordeaux are, it's true, a complete crap shoot for moderately active American wine drinkers: At their best they are stunning; on average they are disappointingly bland.

What am I missing?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

"Blanding" Just A Matter of Taste?

Last week, my long-time colleague Dan Berger expressed the opinion that American wines are undergoing a "blanding" in which varietal fruit flavors are getting fainter and fainter. Dan thinks that's a bad thing.

Over the past several months, I've used SavvyTaste (get the Facebook App here) to share quite a few wines that I thought lacked fruit. Among those wines were Charles Shaw (Two Buck Chuck), Oak Leaf Vineyards and almost everything else in the $3 to $4 category.

I found most those wines too bland for my taste.

For my taste.

But NOT for the millions of people who buy them. Obviously sales speak for themselves and illustrate that there is broad support for those wines.

But as we have emphasized over and over at SavvyTaste, genetic variations and many other factors influence how we experience wine individually. What is too bland, or too sweet or too-anything-else for me can likely be the perfect match for someone else. That does not make them bad wines or their fans inferior tasters.

But obviously, Dan's palate -- and mine -- are not good matches for people who like wines with faint fruit. There is a market for those wines, just like there is for bigger, more fruit-forward wines that I like.

It's all a matter of taste.

That's why SavvyTaste's goal is nor to RATE wines, but to SHARE them in order to connect people with the same taste preferences. Go ahead, get the app and give it a try.

A FINAL WORD: Interestingly, I did find the the Oak Leaf Vineyards Pinot Grigio ($2.97 at Wal-Mart) had a lot more fruit than many that cost $15 and up.