Guest Blog by: Michael McMillan, General Manager, Seven Stones Winery
Everyone has heard the terms tastemaker, tipping point or critically acclaimed when it comes to just about every subject that is trying to gain favor with the public. Wine is no exception. The world of wine has been strongly impacted by public opinion. That public opinion is also strongly influenced by many forms of media. Whether it is a single line from a popular movie causing the entire Merlot market to crash and Pinot Noir sales to soar through the roof, or the critique of a well-known wine critic causing a small winery to be thrust into a spotlight that can change their world, the tastemakers and influencers in the world of wine abound. But how much weight should we give these influencers before we have lost our own palate, which is the true barometer of what we should drink? Do we really think all Merlot is bad? Even in this tongue and cheek movie, the favorite wine was the great Bordeaux, Cheval Blanc, which is predominately Merlot. We must all learn to take what those with influence say, and weigh it against our own tastes and judgement. Trust that the best wine for you to buy is the wine you enjoy drinking, not the wine you are told you should like. This certainly takes a bit more effort, I won’t deny that. When we start looking at those who have influence more as advisors instead of rule makers, we have to start thinking more for ourselves.
Recently, there was a great deal of negative press on the 2011 vintage in California. If we were to listen solely to those trying to influence us, we would never buy a wine from the 2011 vintage. Does that really make sense? Can we make statements about the positive impacts of micro climates, terroir and the ability of a great winemaker and then negate all those factors by saying that an entire vintage should be avoided? Sure, 2011 was a tough year for making wine. There were certainly some weather aspects that made the winemaker work for their wine. However, there are great wines in 2011 from California. And because the 2011 vintage was a cooler vintage, these wines are going to have the tannic structure to be great a long time. Is it a typical vintage for California? Not by any means. But it certainly is not a vintage to be overlooked. The key to choosing a wine in a difficult vintage is to know the location the fruit came from and the reputation of the winemaker. Each individual property and winemaker is going to make a wine that differs to some extent from each other. This is true in both good vintages and difficult ones. So then, it goes to reason, in difficult vintages there can still be some great wines. In the case of 2011, hillside fruit in Napa experienced much less if little of the negative influences of the harvest rains. With 2011 being a cooler vintage, you end up with beautifully crafted hillside wines that have a tremendous aging capability. Many will remember the 1998 vintage. 1998, also panned by the influencers, had heads turning after it had spent 12-15 years in the bottle, while 1997, a critically acclaimed year, tended to fade much more quickly than anticipated.
So how do we know when to trust our own judgement or rely on the critics? It all comes down to how we use the critic. Let them tell us things that we may want to research further, but don’t follow them blindly. If they love a wine, make sure it is a wine that you also love. Perhaps your tastes are different than theirs. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. If you read that entire geographical areas should be avoided for specific vintages, take it with a grain of salt. Do a little deeper research and see if there aren’t some pockets in those geographical areas that didn’t experience the negatives. You’ll come out looking like the real expert when you are able to find a great wine in a vintage or region where the renowned critics told you they didn’t exist. Believe me, the hidden gems are there.