The Wine Curmudgeon loves regional wine. It’s one of my reasons for being. So, when I saw that Time magazine had done a major regional wine article, I was excited. Overwhelmed. And really thrilled,
Which was my mistake.
I rarely call out other writers and other articles. Everyone is entitled to their opinion – after all, some people might even object to me. But the Time piece is flawed -- factual errors and so much damning by faint praise that I have to say something.
Regional wine should be taken seriously. If it’s good, say so. If it’s crappy, say so. But the author, Joel Stein, seems more concerned with being flip and hip and other clever things than he does talking about wine. If he had used this tone for an article about California wine, the Wine Magazines would have skewered him. And deservedly so.
And you know the worst part? He liked most of the wines he tasted. But that doesn’t excuse being lazy or wrong or both.
I won’t go into Stein’s style or his taste in wine. I don’t care for it, but that’s his business I will say that Gary Gillstrap, whose Texas Hills syrah was rated excellent, deserved better than Stein mocking his name because sounded “like [he’s] either going to sing country music or kill someone, or sing a country song about killing someone.” And I’ll give Stein the benefit of the doubt for reviewing wineries in some states that weren’t the state’s best, like Westport Rivers in Massachusetts. There could have been availability issues.
But he should not have made these mistakes:
1. Stein mocks a Rhode Island winery for carrying the designation Southeastern New England. That’s its appellation, which is the legal description of where the grapes are from. If it had put Rhode Island on the label, as Stein sneeringly suggests, it may have have violated federal law. Appellation is a basic wine term, something anyone writing about wine should know.
2. Many of the wines Stein reviewed carry the American designation – a cabernet sauvignon from Oklahoma, a merlot from Utah, and a pinot grigio from Delaware, among others. The American designation means that 75 percent of the grapes used to make the wine are from anywhere in the U.S., and that’s usually California. In other words, an Oklahoma winemaker is using California fruit, which hardly makes the wine an Oklahoma wine for the purposes of this piece.
3. I’m sorry that Stein didn’t like the Gruet demi-sec from New Mexico because it was too sweet. Of course, it’s supposed to be sweet. This is one of the differences between it and the cava, which is brut, or dry, that Stein said he liked better. Criticizing the demi-sec for being sweet is like criticizing rose because rose is pink. It’s supposed to be that way.
4. Canoe Ridge is not in Spokane, Wash., but Walla Walla.
5. Stein says the Delaware wine may have been corked, which means it was spoiled and unfit to drink. So what was doing reviewing it? Would he have done that with a Napa wine?
6. Stein seems flabbergasted by grapes like norton, chambourcin, and marechel foch. Yes, these are not the grapes used in California. But most of the other 49 states don't have California's weather, so these native and hybrid grapes -- which can withstand heat, cold and humidity far better than cabernet and chardonnay -- are used. They aren't something most wine drinkers would know. But someone writing about regional wine should.