Tom's blog

Back to those "good" wines...

It seems like every wine writer is weighing in on what makes a good wine. In an earlier post, I commented on Bianca Bosker's distinction between a good wine and a wine a person thinks is good. Largely, I agree with her: a wine that exceeds accepted criteria (balance, finish, and complexity) can be universally accepted as "good," but we may not think it is good for us.

In her book "Cork Dorks," Bosker also accepts the generic and cheap plonk that is becoming more popular among consumers. She says these "processed wines" are manipulated at the winery with chemicals, powders, short cuts and other laboratory wizardry to cut costs and create a monster wine that hits a consumer's sweet spot.

However, New York Times columnist Eric Asimov vehemently disagrees. He says wine critics should call a "bad" wine for what it is: bad. While he doesn't fault anyone for liking these wines, he feels it is the critics' responsibility to separate it from a field of wines made with painsaking detail by quality-minded producers.

He wrote, "....additives and manipulation didn't improve the general level of wine. Science did."

And, "Few things have been as damaging to the American wine industry as its homogenization. Knockoff wines sell, but the American wine industry also craves critical approval."

We do need wines for those who don't care or know the difference -- but many of us also need wines that are unique and fit the universal definition of "good." The thought that anyone can clone a wine irrespective of region or style demotes the great wines that draw consumers into this market. Instead, it makes wine just another beverage with as much distinction as Coke and Pepsi. Such is the direction I fear Dave Phinney is taking when he blends grapes from an entire country and labels it "I" for Italy or "F" for France.