All Good or All Bad?
By: George Balling
Absolutes are a tough business to be in. They are tough to support and even tough to describe. I find that life is a bell curve which to me means that unless you get to the very fringes of life it is challenging to describe anything in life as all good or all bad. Whether we are discussing the times we live in, or where we live, or people or, yes, wine there are very few of anything that can be described as absolutely good or bad, its just not the way life and the world works.
Over the nearly 16 years we have had the shop, and even before that while “cutting our teeth” in wineries in California we have tasted a lot of wine. I would shutter at the thought of how many wines that would be. In looking back over our careers in wine though, how many could we describe as all good or all bad.
I would start by saying that we tasted a lot more that were really, really good. When we start to reflect on those that were good enough to be almost considered as all good, what caused them to fall short of that absolute benchmark usually came down to price and, or availability. There have been wines I have tried that were stunningly good, the price level though was just too much to make them a regular part of our drinking lineup, so not quite all good. Others wines that I have found to be of the same caliber I was fortunate to try during what may have been their perfect spot in their life cycle, leaving them short of the all-good rating since there was no more to be had.
On the all-bad side of the rating scale things become a bit more nuanced. I’ll frequently taste wines that I like not at all. There are certain characteristics in wine that simply don’t appeal to me in the least. It is not unusual, as Mary says “if we all liked the same thing in wine, we would only need one”. Some of things I just can’t palate are Cabernets that have the sweet oak and sweet tannin profile, over oaked Pinot Noir is another “can’t go” place for me. White Rhone varietals like Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne ought never see the inside of an oak barrel, these and other wine making choices are things I just don’t understand and won’t ever drink.
Here is the challenge though, are they all bad? They are not. While I would not choose to drink wines made in this fashion, they are not poorly made or bad wines. They clearly have a market or the winemaker would not produce them in this style they are simply not what I prefer. The winemaker however is succeeding in his quest for that style of wine, they are not all bad.
Last week here in this column I talked about wine flaws. These are imperfections in wine that are beyond the winemakers’ control. Do these make for some bottles that are all bad? You bet. Since these are due to other factors than what the winemaker will choose, we should eliminate those from the conversation as well.
This reduces the number of all bad wines I have tried over my career to amazingly, very few. Like any business there are some of us that simply should not be working as winemakers, and there are some who will sneak through the cracks and get involved. I have tasted a few wines like that from those folks and they are certainly all bad. There are years in all of the world’s appellations too, when making good wine is more challenging for even the most skilled of producers. From those years I have tasted some out and out bad wines.
The good news for wine consumers is that there may be wines out there that you don’t prefer, with some diligence and focus you will be able to avoid those. With the number of truly all bad wines being relatively few you hopefully will rarely encounter all bad wine. The other piece of good news is that more often than not you will enjoy good wine, even if it falls short of the all-good standard, it will turn out that even mostly good or largely good are in fact great “places” to drink.