Wednesday, June 25, 2008

If It’s Good, Must You Like It?

I’ve long been an upholder of a principle that is very likely to irk some readers: simply liking a wine does not mean that the wine is good. Conversely, and just as potentially irksome, simply disliking a wine does not mean that the wine is bad. Like it or not, true wine appreciation, what wine writer Matt Kramer might call “connoisseurism,” entails more than just expressing subjective, personal opinion. Coming to grips with these aphorisms is a difficult but necessary step in developing a well-rounded foundation for the understanding of wine.

I’d like to think that I’ve developed a reasonable knack over the years for knowing how to avoid buying truly bad wine (though it’s important to taste bad juice from time to time both as a reality check and as a basis for judgment). On the other hand, I don’t think anyone who’s truly interested in wine, no matter how careful, can ever be exempt from occasionally picking up a bottle – a good bottle – and finding it not to be to their liking.

In originally selecting the wine that inspired this soap boxing, I’d followed some important cardinal rules of wine shopping. It was a current vintage release procured from a reasonably good wine shop, both guidelines that reduce the chances of ending up with an abused bottle. Likewise, the capsule spun freely, with no sticky or sweet smelling signs of leakage. Just as importantly, this being European wine, it came from an importer whose selections and handling practices I trust. It even came with recommendations, strong enough to have stuck in my memory, from my cohorts Brooklynguy and Canada Joe. All of these variables considered, I opened this bottle with every expectation of liking it.

Cheverny Blanc, Domaine du Salvard (Delaille) 2006
Bright, clear straw to the eye. Intensely aromatic, redolent of grass, mint and white flowers, all of which carry through to the palate along with flavors of kumquat, lemon water ice, white pepper and gooseberry. The wine is balanced, dry but fruity, refreshing and entirely proper – essentially good wine – yet I found it not to be to my liking. Why? The primary reasons are twofold.

First, Salvard’s 2006 Cheverny said nothing to me of its place. If I’d been handed a glass of it in a blind tasting, I most likely would have guessed New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc or, in any event, certainly an unoaked, new world SB. The minerality and more subtle herbaceousness I expect from Middle-Loire Sauvignon were respectively missing and far from subtle.

Second, in spite of the clean, lively texture of the wine, I found there to be something coarse about the wine’s overall impact. Maybe my expectations are unrealistic but I want even my everyday, under $15 wines to display some elegance.

I think Brooklynguy’s pal NorthCarolinaguy put his finger on the aspect of the wine that bugged me: aromas and flavors of dandelion. I like dandelion greens in salad, at least in small quantities, for the bitter spark they provide. I like them even more when sautéed with garlic and olive oil – very nice on pasta. I even like dandelions in my yard for their diversity of color and flora. But the cattiness of their aroma doesn’t work for me when it comes to wine. The French call the dandelion “pissenlit,” literally “urinate in bed.” Wikipedia attributes that etymology to the plant’s diuretic properties. I, for one, think it’s a little simpler than that.

$14. 12.5% alcohol. Nomacorc. Importer: Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, CA.


Florida Jim said...

I can pick-out a well made grenache from CdP or a top notch CA cabernet - even though I have no interest in either wine and don't care for either grape in those settings. And I have no interest in buying either of them, regardless of price.
If that is what you and Matt are talking about, then I suppose you are right in relative terms.

But I prefer to think in absolute terms - absolute to me. Approaching it that way, I think both are bad wines.
OTOH, I love the 2002 Overnoy, Poulsard. A friend believes it smells like dirty socks and tastes oxidized (even though it technically isn't). He has a good reason to call it bad.
And I have good reason to call him wrong.

Of course, nothing is gained with labels like wrong/right or good/bad, which is why I try to avoid them.
So I won't call your and Matt's theory wrong - I'll just say that I have another.
Best, Jim

bill l said...

funny you should blog on this wine, just monday night i was at a local establishment(remember the heineken light story ?), that long ago had dumbed down their wine list. i get dragged here by business colleagues occasionaly and this cheverney was the only thing there (wine-wise) i could ever drink. it usually shows up on list in the twenties possibley less.
it can also be had for about $10 in maryland.
i always saw it as a little life preserver or beacon of light, if you will, in the rough seas that are many wine lists in our area. (hows that for an analogy)

Joe said...

Hi David, I agree with you comments about "sense of place", and I also agree that blinded it might be a NZ SB, but at this price point I figure that few wine buyers will care where it came from and enjoy it for being a good SB at a very low price (can you get a good NZ SB for this price?). You will also find that I prefer more "coarse" whites, a personal thing - like the de Villaine Aligote that I love but Barry (Barry's Wine) hates...Cheers!

Tom Hudson said...

I find this to be true with Gamay. I have yet to find a Beaujolais or other wine made with this grape that my palate can tolerate. This includes all of the various Crus within Beaujolais.

At their best, they remind me of Welch's grape juice, which I can buy for $3.

David McDuff said...

Thoughtful comment, Jim. Even though you're looking at things from a slightly different perspective, the more I read your reply, the more I hear you saying exactly what I said, just with a slightly different angle. Your personal abosulute -- Cali Cab is bad wine -- given your earlier statement -- "I can pick out a well made... CA cabernet" -- seems to line right up with the idea of recognizing a good wine (objective) but not liking it (subjective).

I didn't like the Cheverny as much as I'd hoped. But on an otherwise dismal wine list and at the right price, I'd order it too.

One man's coarse is another man's rude. Scratching your head? What I mean is that my use of "coarse" didn't apply to the wine's texture -- I like good, tart, raspy Aligoté when it's done right, just like I enjoy Sauvignon Blanc when it's pieces are all in place. I don't mind rusticity either, when it makes sense in the context of the wine. Salvard's Cheverny just had an approach that I found off putting.

I'm very sorry. Bill is very sorry. Jim is very sorry. Joe probably is too. It's ashame it has to be Beaujolais. You're missing out on one of the great pleasures of wine. Of course, for every good Beaujolais, there are plenty of bad ones. Like I often tell people at the shop and when out doing tastings, you just haven't found the right one yet.

Brooklynguy said...

Good point - some wines are objectively good wines, but still do not excite you.

One thing - this Cheverny actually does taste like Cheverny, to my palate. There are only 3 or 4 Cheverny white wines I've tasted (Cazin, Huards, Salvard, Puzelat), and they all have a pungency and concentration that more resembles New Zealand than it does Sancerre, Pouilly Fume, Menetou Salon, or even Touraine - Cheverny's much closer neighbors. Why that is I'm not sure, but because those I named are essentially natural wine makers, it must have something to do with the micro-climate.

"I love the 2002 Overnoy, Poulsard. A friend believes it smells like dirty socks and tastes oxidized (even though it technically isn't). He has a good reason to call it bad.
And I have good reason to call him wrong." - brilliantly said Florida Jim.

Tom Hudson - give up if you must, but i hope you don't. you deny yourself one of the more basic and lovely pleasures of wine drinking.

David McDuff said...

Alright, BG, you've convinced me to test my own palate. I see a Cheverny tasting in my future.

Brooklynguy said...

i want in

Joe said...

I want in! Neil/David - I had the 2007 of this wine, a COMPLETELY different animal - try it when you find it.

Marcus said...

If you are cataloging Cheverny blancs for a potential smackdown then I can add Domaines Sauger and Montcy to the mix. I flogged the Domaine de Montcy once because I thought it was the best Loire white you could buy for $15, period. Is that available stateside?

(How did Montreal Joe beat me to posting interest while I was typing this!?)

David McDuff said...

Sounds like we have an international quorum. Jim, Bill, Tom -- you're all invited too. Question is, where and when?

Tom G said...

What no appreciation of the Gamay (beaujolais) seems hard to imagine! No Flurie Ponicie (dom. Vissoux) or Ch. Thivin (Brouilly), etc. etc. seems quite unlikely, sort of like no NZ SB or other such "abused" wine being considered unaceptable(your choice here). A quite nice CdP or Cali Cab or other might be quite nice.

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