Bite your tongue, Dorothy

tongueMy Google Reader overflows with feeds these days. It’s hard to keep up with them all and I regret that it took me a few days to catch up to Alice’s post on Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher’s article “A Waning Affair with Barolo”. In their piece, the wife-and-husband team priggishly express their disappointment with the 2004 vintage of Barolo. (I read The New York Times daily. It’s my tie to the Big Apple. And I dogmatically avoid The Wall Street Journal — required reading for the rich, a manifesto and manual for capitalist subjugation of the proletariat. As a result, I was unaware of the piece.)

They say they set out to find 50 bottles under $70 so it’s not clear how many they actually tasted. But their unwarranted, superfluous, and supercilious take on the 2004 vintage is decidedly negative. The wines, they write, “really just weren’t that impressive. You can’t imagine our shock and disappointment. Flight after flight left us cold. They weren’t bad. They were pleasant enough. But with wine after wine, we used a word that should never be used to describe Barolo: simple.” Pleasant enough? Simple?

In another one of her excellent posts wherein she continues her struggle (la lotta continua) to defend the world from Parkerization (and here I take her concept of Parkerization as it relates to the arrogant, chauvinist attitude that his followers — more so than he — exude), Alice rightly laments: “I have a hard time when writers smack down vintage. In this case, especially as they really don’t seem to be experienced when interpreting young vintages, it seems irresponsible.”

It is more than irresponsible. In fact, it’s reprehensible.

When you taste a great wine (like Barolo) in its youth from a great vintage (and it certainly will prove to be an excellent vintage, if not a great one), you don’t look for greatness in the wine. You look for the potential for greatness in the wine. Beyond its tannic structure (dominant in this phase of the wine’s evolution), you look for the presence of defects. In their absence, you can begin to assess the wine’s potential for development. You also ask growers and winemakers what they think of the vintage (they know better than any) and you do your homework by reading your colleagues’s assessment of a given wine.

I looked up Franco’s post on a tasting of 57 bottlings of 2004 Barolo in September 2007 with Roy Richards, Nicolas Belfrage, David Berry Green, and Stuart George. (Dorothy and John, if you don’t know who these guys are, please add them to your reading list. They seem to know something about Italian wine.) According to Franco, Barolo 2004 was “classic vintage.” He noted that “2004 seems to be a great vintage and there are many wines worth buying and cellaring — with all likelihood, wines that will get greater over the years… [In 2004], Nebbiolo triumphed with its elegance and its singularity… One thing is certain, 2004 Barolo is a great wine and it deserves our attention, our trust, and the consensus of all lovers of great wine. In English, you would call these wines fine wines: they are elegant, refined, complex, and nothing less.”

Arrogance, hubris, chauvinism, superciliousness, ignorance, disinformation: these are words come to mind as I ponder Dorothy and John’s irresponsible and reprehensible journalism. Once again, the haughty American attitude shows its ugly head. Once again, American wine writers haven’t considered the most important elements in any wine: the people who made it and the place where they live and work. Bite your tongues, Dorothy and John.

15 thoughts on “Bite your tongue, Dorothy

  1. Someone in California, that you know, told me recently, “Winemakers are making wine for Robert Parker, but he doesn’t buy wine.”

    Go get ’em tiger!

  2. Many years ago I wrote a note to the frolicking pair of wine “writers,” excoriating them for their simple, yet untrained palates–begging them to learn something before yakking about a subject.

    I see they haven’t taken my advice.

    I visited Piemonte in the fall of 2007 and tasted ’04 wines, not only Barolo, but also the other wines of the region. My memory says that it was a stellar vintage–and my notes back up my memory.

  3. Here here. Well said. I think they have missed out. Hopefully, some of their readers will check other sources before making an informed choice or better yet, perhaps they will make their own choice and not follow any of the “experts.”

    You do sound like you are part of “lotta continua,” only with strong feelings for wine not politics.

    From my tastings and conversations, 2004 was considered a great year, hard to see how they could have totally missed that.

  4. It does amaze me that some can miss the very reason for vins de gardes. They’re by nature not intended to be consumed young. We have Dolcetto and Barbera to be drunk while awaiting the Nebbiolo-based wines’ maturity. The very point of keeping and maintaining a cellar is to drink matured wines hopefully at or around peak. A big part of the fun of wine is tracking the evolution of growers/makers and vintages.

    Then again these are folks who recommended drinking big, spoofy California Cabs with Thanksgiving dinner…

    Thanks for the post, Jeremy.


  5. Pingback: Dorothy, here you come again « Do Bianchi

  6. Jeremy:

    Nice post and about time someone took on Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum. For them to criticize the 2004 Barolos is ludicrous! Your comment about them (and too many other so-called wine writers) not taking into consideration “the people that made the wine and the place where they live and work” is spot on.

    To show how these two view themselves, I read a mission statement they wrote a few years ago about how they don’t accept samples. Wow- aren’t they special? Nice holier than thou attitude on their part, eh?

    What’s wrong with accepting samples? How else would most freelance wine writers be able to taste so many wines? They’re called samples, as they’re free. We aren’t slipped a $10 bill with the wines. If we don’t like the wines, we’re free to say so, although most responsible writers just don’t write about wines they don’t like. That’s called being professional.

    So they don’t accept samples- great for them. Must be nice to have an expense account with the WSJ to take care of your wine purchases. Maybe I can get one of those?

  7. thanks everyone for stopping by and feeling my pain… there is no doubt that 04 Barolo is fantastic and will probably be one of the great vintages in our lifetime…

    Tom, you are right on: they’re called samples because they’re free! Alice pointed out in her piece that they must have had a $3500 budget for their article… that’s INSANE…

  8. I have never tasted a 2004 Barolo, but I have two reactions to this article and these comments:

    (1) Franco is the only one here whose attitude is, “Poor them. They just don’t have very sophisticated palates.” Why is everyone else’s attitude, “What hideous people! How dare they criticize this obviously excellent wine! This is beyond imbecility–it’s an unconscionable outrage! For someone of their high standing and huge influence to denigrate this fine wine is simply revolting and proves that they’re monsters.” What ever happened to “to each his own” or “there’s no accounting for taste”?

    (2) “Free” isn’t free. Bob Cialdini does a great job of explaining the principle of reciprocity in his books, notably Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. His research shows that we are psychologically predisposed to say or do favorable things for someone who has given us something, no matter how small.

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