Wine & spirits

Food & restaurants

Sports & pastimes

Fashion & looks

Drive, sail & fly

Travel & leisure

Arts & literature

Homes & living

Business & people

Et cetera

What is this site?


The book


Five controversial conversation starters about wine

By Jeffrey Carl

  1. You hate Robert Parker.

    Robert Parker guides the influential American magazine Wine Advocate, which was the first to hand out “objective” ratings of wine on a 100-point scale rather than subjective reviews. This controversy is actually very similar to the film critics who refuse to give “so many out of five stars” ratings versus those that do. Snobs prefer subjective ratings, while regular schmoes just want something to tell them what to buy. The public has spoken, though: other wine magazines have gravitated to point ratings since Wine Advocate pioneered it.

    Many serious wine fans argue that wine ratings are both far too subjective and that Parker and Wine Advocate would never be able to tell an 86-point wine from an 88-point wine in a blind tasting (probably true). On the positive side, his ratings have given novice wine tasters an objective way to judge wines. On the negative side, his ratings have become influential enough to cause winemakers to chase his tastes, resulting in wine that is bolder and boozier. As of this writing it’s pretty safe to boldly disclaim the effects of Parker on the wine industry, but this may turn around eventually so don’t hate him too much.

  2. Some other state is the new California.

    This one gets thrown around a lot by partisans of various local wine regions. Let’s face it: California is still the gold standard for American winemaking regions, but every so often the growth and improvement of some other state’s wine production will cause people to tout it as “the new California.” New York is a respectable old-line choice; Washington and Oregon are the hip new upstarts. None of them are really there yet, but it’s a fun argument-starter. For extra difficulty points, choose a state such as Virginia or Texas.

  3. You think that MLF is ruining wine today.

    As mentioned previously, Malolactic Fermentation (MLF) is a process introduced after primary fermentation to soften the taste of wines. MLF (winemakers generally call it “malo,” pronounced “MAY-lo”) is typically used to improve the taste of dry red wines or even dry white wines, adding buttery or fruit tastes. MLF reduces acidity, but is controversial because it changes wines in various ways that can be positive or negative. MLF enhances many wines, but if improperly used can give wines the taste of cured meats. This is generally not considered a “good thing.” MLF is generally a necessity for European wines, but it isn’t always required for California wines (because of the differences in climate). However, it is frequently employed as a short cut to better tasting wines in California – even though they may have been better in the long term without it. Feel free to rage away about this even though you have no evidence to the contrary (see Phylloxera below).

  4. Sideways be damned, you like Merlot.

    The 2004 movie Sideways – about an underachieving smart guy protagonist and his successful dumb guy buddy going on a hedonistic wine tour “last hurrah” – inspired many amateur oenophiles to hate Merlot. In the movie, the antihero protagonist loudly refuses to drink Merlot (he’s a Pinot Noir partisan). Interestingly, the anti-Merlot manifesto in the movie was not actually part of the original book: Rex Pickett’s novel Sideways dresses up its buddy story with copious amounts of wine snobbery and wild sex but not anti-Merlot declarations. The movie adaptation’s screed against Merlots actually resulted in a significant decrease in Merlot sales. California Merlots are not generally considered among the world’s best, but are all widely varying mixtures of other varietals, and may be good or bad. Remember that most “Merlots” are blended to ameliorate the harsh characteristics of the Merlot grape, and so are dependent upon what they’re mixed with. At this point (in 2006), blithely dismissing Merlots is considered cliché and perhaps even gauche.

  5. You think that wine has all been downhill since phylloxera.

    A root louse called phylloxera vastatrix was accidentally introduced from the Mississippi Valley to European vines in the 1860s as part of an experiment. Over the next 20 years it nearly killed all the European wineries. Grafting of the European vines to American roots – which were immune to phylloxera – halted the spread, but resulted in longstanding claims that wines were never the same afterwards. Chile is the sole remaining country widely producing vines that have not been grafted with American roots, since it has thus far been immune to phylloxera. This whole issue is nearly moot, since only a handful of people alive today have actually tasted European wines from before the Phylloxera outbreak. But it’s still a fun argument starter, especially if you’re willing to pretend that you have sampled a French wine from the 1850s.

One more thing

Please bear with us as the site gets up and running. In the meantime, feel free to browse our current content or join us as a contributor.

Snob Marketplace