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Has California Wine Gone Off?

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Alice Feiring writes today in the Los Angeles Times that she’s quit drinking wine from California because, in her mind, the wines have become “overblown, over-alcoholed, over-oaked, overpriced and over-manipulated.”

It’s an old story, really: Some folks in the biz feel that certain critics (specifically Robert Parker) are being pandered to by winemakers who know what kind of wines they like. “Big wines” full of oak and heavy with alcohol are often the result.

It’s a fair point. There are wines that are so overdone that they are hard to drink. One wonders what critic actually enjoys them at all, but Parker seems to like them, and his ratings move cases.

But I disagree that California has lost its way. In fact, I find it’s easier than ever now to find outstanding wines with rich fruit and real terroir, wines that haven’t been manipulated and which will stand the test of time. Unfortunately there’s also plenty of average wine out there (and some downright bad wine, too). You just have to be willing to taste and taste a lot in order to find what works.

I take some issue with Feiring’s praise for Mike Dashe’s “un-Californian” wine which she defends vigorously. No, not that I’ve had Dashe’s wine, but that Feiring seems to have made up her mind about it based on how it was made before she tasted it. Ditto for Cathy Corison: Her praise seems largely based on low alcohol content than anything else. (I’m still trying to wrap my mind around how a wine can be “shockingly” elegant.) Really, isn’t Feiring simply subbing in her own prejudice for lighter style, less-alcoholic wines for Parker’s gut punchers? That old problem of “personal taste” rears its head again, proving that not all wines are for all drinkers, and that there really is something for everyone out there.

That is, after all, how White Zinfandel got started. Just ask Robert Parker what he thinks about that.

Thanks for the tip, Jairaj!

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Christopher Null

Christopher Null is the founder and editor in chief of Drinkhacker. A veteran writer and journalist, he also operates Null Media, a bespoke content company.

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