The Somm Journal

Dec 2015-Jan 2016

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Page 20 of 124

20 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } DECEMBER/JANUARY 2015/2016 { one woman's view } Karen MacNeil is the author of The Wine Bible. Her new podcast is called A Sense of Place. You can reach her at karen@ THE 2011 VINTAGE OF NAPA VALLEY CABERNET SAUVIGNON has me angered. Well, not it. But the way it's talked about; the way it's apologized for. The 2011s are on the market right now (and the 2012s are coming on over the next few months). For more than a year now, I've heard the vintage described by vintners as "difficult," "cold," "rainy," and—perhaps the least damning word—"challenging." True enough. It was all those things. But the wines are beautiful. Why aren't California winemakers talking about them? Moreover, why do we consumers seem to believe that the harder the winemaker needs to work, the worse the quality of the wine? Countless vintages of Bordeaux are evidence to the contrary. Vintages that require a surgeon-like selection of perfect grapes and highly skillful winemaking are often the vintages that, years later, become the exquisite testaments to the quality of a region. In California, we oddly suggest the opposite: We imply that the best wines result when winemakers "do nothing." There's another peculiarity here as far as California wines are concerned. A major com - plaint continually lodged against California wines is that they are too ripe, and that all that ripeness blurs distinctiveness, and obfuscates the character of a microclimate. (Isn't this one of the premises of the In Pursuit of Balance movement? Isn't too much sun something California winemakers say they try to guard against?) You'd think, then, that a cool vintage would be heralded. Finally, grapes that aren't a heartbeat away from raisins! But no, the "difficult" 2011 vintage, and by extension, the "difficult" wines it produced, continue to be eyed warily. Often, ironically, the most influential nay-sayers (though they may not realize it) are the vintners themselves. Lately I've tasted many 2011 Cabernet Sauvignons from Napa Valley in particular. I have found in them layers and layers of flavor that simply don't emerge in super sunny, hot years when all the wines move toward a certain homogeneity of character. Instead, in 2011, the top estates (and top pieces of ground) really demonstrated their worth and the individuality of their character. And is this not, after all, the whole premise of the concept of terroir? So, hello vintners, a request: Can we start talking about the character of the wines, as much as we talk about the character of the weather? PHOTO: OLGA ALEKSANDROVNA LISITSKAYA VIA THINKSTOCK PHOTO: STEVANOVICIGOR VIA THINKSTOCK An Open Letter To California Vintners EXPOSING THE FALLACY THAT "DOING NOTHING" CREATES GREAT WINE by Karen MacNeil

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