An elitist wine snob should know where to draw the line
By Panos Kakaviatos for wine-chronicles.com
1 September 2018
Greetings readers, writing to you from lovely Neustadt an der Weinstrasse in Germany, where the harvest has begun earlier than usual given the hot summer. I am here for yet another series of tastings of Mundus Vini, one of the most important wine competitions in the world.
And as usual, it has been another fascinating experience judging wines by panel.
Winemakers who judge tend to be more “understanding” in assessing wines than merchants who sell wine. And merchants who sell wine tend to have more understanding than hacks like yours truly, who like to write about wine, but do not need to sell it.
Mundus Vini is a great opportunity to share opinions about a series of wines tasted blind by flight.
This has been my fifth year participating and something always interesting comes up. In this case, we had flights with wines that were made with residual sugar in excess of 4 grams per liter, but not more than 12. Wines, which I would think, should be inexpensive and somewhat simple, made from grape varieties that do not typically have so much residual sugar, as we were assessing, for example, Montepulciano reds with up to 12 grams of residual sugar and another flight featuring Chardonnays from southern France, also with 4 to 12 grams of residual sugar.
While most of our panel agreed that many of these were “well made”, quite a few meriting silver medals, I could not go to gold for any of them.
Wine people versus people
Now trade tastings like Mundus Vini are meant for assessing wines that for the most part are currently being sold for on the market. Judges are meant to assess the wines based on their market interest and their estimated “pedigree”. As the esteemed wine author and expert Robert Joseph said one evening after a day of judging here: “Most people do not eat in three star Michelin restaurants”. Indeed, many eat fast food. By the same token, “wine people” may look with disdain at, say, average ho-hum Pinot Grigio, or the current Prosecco craze. But these are popular wines for the people. And there is a reflection of this in politics today: elites look with disdain at Trump voters or Brexiters. But one must have understanding for the popularity of both, in order to accurately assess “the situation”: and so it goes in wine and in politics. So, yes, read the Daily Mail as well as The Guardian, to get a more rounded picture of what the hell is going on.
But I digress.
So, yes, we should not necessarily exclaim “What the hell!” when we see Chardonnay with up to 12 grams of residual sugar. If it is a balanced wine, then it has merit. And some markets enjoy wine that is on the somewhat richer side of “balance” …
However, I do think that there are limits for “wine people understanding people”.
So in my group this time around, I categorically refused to give any gold medals to any of the Chardonnays or Montepulciano wines with so much balancing residual sugar. I was told that one gold in question was balanced and excellent and that it did not matter how much residual sugar there was. Well, to a certain extent …
I would have been more inclined to give gold to a well-balanced Chardonnay with no residual sugar, than to a well balanced Chardonnay with 6 grams of sugar. There is balance, and there is balance.
We did agree that it would be better for such wines with such residual sugar to include that information on the back label: now that was a “wine people, wine geek agreement”. Information to the people brings power to the people. An educated public may pick a better president next time. I digress, again.
But, yes, there are well made Chardonnays with residual sugar and well made Montelpulcians with up to 12 grams of the sweet stuff.
An elitist wine snob has to know where to draw the line. ?