T h e N e w L e t t e r i s . . .
Which stands for The Qualities of Wine
How to help predict a good match
It never ceases to amaze me how complex the selection of a bottle of wine is. There is no
product that comes even close to the number of choices, and the vintages within those
choices. I admire the people that are not simply driven away by the potential confusion when
picking a wine. Those not driven away are the ones that support my livelihood and make the
romantic world of wine possible. Thank you.
These same folks get the pleasures of wine. The pleasure and affect that elevates a table like
nothing else seems to have the ability to do. When I am happy, I want more people to be
happy; so I think, how can more folks be introduced to this phenomenon?
I am thinking the way would be to make the selection process more reliable with less
anxiety. There needs to be a method that lets people at any level of wine knowledge make
more informed choices, without cutting off the wonderful curiosity that wine creates. Not to
dwell on the 100 point scale, but that system cuts off curiosity. The problem being you only
have one direction to go, which is up. The implicit message is a higher score is better.
Thereby cutting off some of the most ethereal wines that can elevate a table like no others.
Those wines don’t necessarily score well.
I have now negatively criticized, so I believe I have an obligation to suggest an
improvement. Which is to focus on the Qualities of Wine.
Stepping back, what is quality? I’ve thought about that question a lot, and this is my
current thinking – Quality is the ability of a product or service to provide the customer with
the feelings that they want when they want them. It’s not about facts, it’s about feelings.
If I want to get the feeling of joy by offering someone a wine from their birth year, I need
to act upon that at least a couple of decades earlier. So the quality of ageability is my foremost
priority to get that feeling of joy. That is an example of just one of the qualities. To get to this
more reliable and curiosity enriching method of letting people know what’s inside the bottle, I
propose these 7 qualities + overall quality:
Trueness to varietal
Accentuation of place
Thoughtfulness of production
The proposal is to rate these qualities as Low, Medium, or High. If I knew these
discernments while I am pondering a restaurant’s wine list, it would make the process ever-so-
much more lovely. The same when standing in the aisles of Trader Joe’s. Everybody who sells
wine is given free samples of that wine, and that wine could be objectively evaluated right then
and there and subsequently communicated.
There is a pecking-order of these qualities. The two most important paths for telegraphing
the qualities are Food dependency and Cocktail-ability. So they should come first. If space for
communication is an issue, then just these two tell me worlds of information as compared to
the current methods. Here’s how the qualities strike me....
Cocktailabilty — The ability of a wine to stand on its own without food. This may not be the
highest and best use of wine, but it certainly is a reality of the day. Alas, the demise of the
cocktail has forced wine into a form that brings it to the center-of-the-road, reduces its
ageability, increases sucrosity, and disregards a sense of place. Having said that, I must
contradict myself by saying that sparkling wine is a lovely cocktail.
Food dependency — To say that a wine is “food friendly” is missing the point because it is
not a statement of commitment. That phrase is just to ‘markety’ for me. But to know if a wine
must be served with food for it to soar, tells me a lot about its qualities. These are the wines
that elevate the table through the synergies of food- pairing, conversation, and magic.
Trueness to varietal — This is where fashion and tradition are at odds. It is presently
fashionable to produce Cabernet Sauvignon without the traditional components of the true
varietal expression of herbaceousness and slight vegetativeness. The name of the varietal even
sanctifies its vegetativeness with its root in the word sauvage or savage. Given that there are so
many wonderful varietals, it is the responsibility of every wine producer to ask the question,
‘what can this varietal do that no other varietal can?’, then proceed to manifest that uniqueness.
Compellingness — By far and away the most subjective of the qualities. It includes such
notions as: come hither, mystery, and mastery. It speaks to wonderful impulses and can even
include reckless abandon. Compellingness says that you are not going to understand and
master the appreciation of such a wine with just one exposure to it. This is the thing that the
initiated search for, it is their often just-out-of-reach holy grail.
Ageability — With this quality science weighs-in. Tell me the pH’s of two different wines,
and I will tell you which will age better. As in golf, lower wins. The unfortunate thing is that
we cannot accurately taste for pH, so we take our clues from the structure of the wine. We are
looking for the balance point of tannin, alcohol, flavor, sucrosity (the impression of sweetness
independent of actual residual sugar), and acidity. The more that balance tips toward tartness,
and away from high alcohol, the better it will age.
Accentuation of place — Connection is one of the greatest intrinsic qualities of wine.
Particularly connection with place; to be in a vineyard with great and fun people is to truly
elevate wine. You know on so many different levels, where it comes from. “If you want this
flavor, it only comes from this dirt.” The problem is that certain places can produce wines that
are not fashionable. The tragedy is that uniqueness of a region and vineyard is not rewarded
by the wine-as-cocktail movement. So the pressures of the marketplace emasculates place and
makes for limp producers that dumb-down the God-given uniqueness.
Thoughtfulness of production — If everything else is right about a wine, it only gets better
when you know the story of how it was thoughtfully grown, fermented, cellared and bottled.
Here fashion is a friend: for example, a wine produced with greener techniques is more
fashionable and does imbue a higher quality.
Overall quality — Take all of the above and add-in how the wine is packaged. The packaging
must telegraph accurately what is inside that bottle. You should have several clues which wine
is going to go better with a picnic or a multi-course dinner. The look of a wine is going to
promote or inhibit the feelings you want to have. And if you are not getting those feelings, it
is hard to argue that there is high overall quality.
So let’s test this proposed method...
I’ll use two wines from the Library of Ahh Winery, the 2007 Brickhill Vineyard, Between the
Groves, Barrel #1 of 1 – and the 2005 Bien Nacido Vineyards, Barrel #3 of 4. Just for giggles,
I will use pluses and minuses to get a little nuance.Qualities
Qualities 2007 Between the Groves 2005 Bien Nacido 3 of 4
Cocktail-ability low - medium
Food dependency high + medium -
Trueness to varietal high + medium +
Compellingness medium + high +
Ageability high + medium
Accentuation of place high high + +
Thoughtfulness of production high + high
Overall quality high - high +
Now supposing we take three classic occasions where people want specific feelings to
evolve: having the boss over for dinner, amorous intentions, and a fancy multi- course meal.
Does the method help predict what wine would be the best? Well, compared to the 100 point
score, I would have to give it a resounding yes!
Is this better than prose tasting notes? That’s a ‘It depends’. But this method combined
with a tasting note that objectively lists a few descriptors and reports the oak level and
body/tactility... then you would really have something.
So here’s to Quality and predictably having a little bit more fun !