Sunday, August 16, 2009

Mr. Parker, Might We Have Our Rhone Back Now?

So I was scheduled to teach a class Friday evening, a class devoted to the wines from France’s Southern Rhone. Wines known for their wild nature, being racy, exuberant, loud…fun wines full of bright tangy fruit, spice and wild herbs. Not refined or polished like the Syrah in the North…no these are, (ahem…were) Grenache heavy wines, saucy, unpolished, untamed, wild…the kind of wines you want to party with.

So guess who was home at like 8:30 on a Friday night? Had to cancel the class, for the second time, due to lack of attendance. See the thing is our little wild wines, well they seem to be losing their voice. Hell, I’m the French wine buyer for our store and even I can’t get excited about these “new” Southern Rhone wines, how the hell am I supposed to inspire anyone else to drink them? Where the hell did all the jammy fruit, inky extraction and brown sugar come from? What happened to all the spicy red fruit, medium texture and rugged tannin? What up with the sweet goo where my party friends used to be?

Call it Globalization, call it Parkerization the bottom line is, the wines…they aint what they used to be and even worse, they aren’t selling. Pretty freaking amazing to watch the scores and prices skyrocket and the sales go right in the crapper. That something they always talk about…well, it’s giving. So how do we fix it? Let’s tout another “greatest vintage in our lifetime”…awesome, one question though…to who?

I spent a good amount of time tasting in the Southern Rhone last year, my notes just mirrored what I had been feeling for a few years, but worse “Hot, jammy, sweet and rich” oh and now they are even more expensive, perfect just perfect. Seems like the folks in Chateauneuf-du-Pape are taking a page out of the Australian wine playbook, wicked smart that….

Getting harder and harder to find a balanced, typical wine from Southern Rhone..there are still some but the valley between insipid or boring, and new world styled wines, it’s getting narrower, and at least in our little corner of the world…people are noticing. Giant scores, higher prices and those jackasses that are impressed by either, well they have inspired a movement in the Rhone and from the piles of wine that I don’t even want to drink, I know what kind.

So funny thing about score whores and people dazzled by their own bank account, they are the first to STOP spending money on wine when the economy tanks, yup they are back to the 2 Buck Chuck or whatever crap they find at Costco…you missing your loyal, buy every vintage folks now? Welp sorry, you added more Syrah, got rid of all those silly, hard to pronounce indigenous vines, bought those new, heavily toasted barrels. You stirred your soup to sell to the unwashed masses. That ninety-whatever-the-fuck means dick when you have to offer deep discounting just to move your “product” no?

Damn, think this thing pissed me off more than I even knew. I’m always annoyed when the people that build a brand…a place, get priced out of the game, so not cool and absolutely unsustainable. Hey Gigondas and Chateauneuf-du-Pape, hang up on the folks Down Under, give the Burgundians a call.


Nancy Deprez said...

So true - I was disappointed with the last few $$$ CNdP wines I bought and had.... sigh!!

Michael Hughes said...

Great read, you really hit the nail on the proverbial head. What the F is happening really? It is a crying shame when a unique region with an expression all its own goes the way of insipid, barely drinkable crap. All in the name of the almighty, & very finicky, dollar. Why is it that businesspeople don't understand that if you attach yourself to a trend one day you will be passed over. Then what?

Thomas Pellechia said...


You indeed hit the nail on the head.

There's an awful lot of wine in this world, and with the U.S. being the top place (next to China and India) for export growth, our populace remains dismally low on the per-capita consumption meter.

It's almost as if producers have no choice but to chase the action, as the competition in low priced wine is fierce, and the 'action' on the world stage is with trumped up trophy style wines: the former is too plebeian; the latter makes you feel like you've made it, and that you have taste, too.

In my 25 years in the biz, only once did I throw a potential customer out of my store. He not only didn't understand the offerings, he tried to tell me what I should have on my shelves, and not one of the wines he mentioned were drinkable--to me--but they were all high-priced, thick as honey, and as dark as Conrad's novels.

Once, while visiting the Bolla facility in Verona, I was presented with a new line of varietals that Brown Forman and Bolla concocted. Incidentally, at home, Bolla offers some decent products, which hardly seem to make it to us.

Anyway, the new line of varietals all tasted like they could have been produced in Australia, California, or Chile, but certainly not in Valpolicella.

I indecently asked the winemaker why he would produce wines that don't taste like his part of Italy. The response I got was: These are for the American market. That's what we are told you want over there."

When big importers tell producers what they can sell in America, producers have little choice but to believe them.

Samantha Dugan said...

Such a bummer.

Seems like where we are right now with those

Man, have I had that same kind of customer before, pisses me off. Always want to ask, "Oh is that what you do at YOUR wine store?"...jackass.

Anonymous said...

Great posting Samantha! I attended a tasting of a range of Mr. Parker's Vintage-of-The-Century Chateauneufs...and I wondered who was going to be interested in these Rocket Fuel wines. It was distressing to taste so much out of balance wine, especially given the price tags. I asked several of the people pouring "Who's the winemaker for this estate, Jim Beam or Jack Daniels?"

It's a shame that consumers, winemakers and those in the trade who don't bother to learn by tasting (who needs to? You simply buy according to the numbers!) are being led to believe that wine made from over-ripe fruit is of great quality.

Keep up the good work!

Gerald at Weimax in the SF Bay Area

Ron Washam, HMW said...

My Gorgeous Samantha,

First of all, someone tell Gerald it is beneath him to start a comment with "Great posting, Samantha." What is this, fourth grade?

Second of all, I love it when you get mad. You're so sexy when you're angry. That color in your cheeks, the sheer passion, the energy--it's spellbinding, alluring and hot!

Thirdly, I hate Parker for creating the cult of the Presige Cuvee in the Rhone, particularly in Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Importers deserve some blame too, but now so many producers strip their estate cuvees of their best barrels, the wines from their oldest vines, bottle them separately, charge way too much money for that kind of maple syrup, and their regular cuvees have gone seriously downhill. Those wines are so insipid they may be better off being overripe so at least they have some character. Way too many blechhh wines in the Rhone these days.

Man, you're so hot when your neck and cheeks get flushed. So alluring, so gorgeous, so irresistible. You're absolutely rant-tastic.

I love you!

Your HoseMaster

Samantha Dugan said...

Seriously dude, just use your name! I could not agree with you more, last Rhone tasting I went to just sank my heart...clunky, thick, gooey wines that had not one footprint of place, so depressing.

Why is it that I feel naked after one of your comments? Blushing like crazy...but so grateful for your kind words and affection.

Gerald said...

Nice comment Ron.

Many producers in Italy do the same thing in robbing their flagship wines to create "Super Tuscans" or "Super"-Anythings...

Samantha...that's the first time I've been called "Dude." Ron Washbag says I should be honored. Thanks.


Samantha Dugan said...

There you are...very nice to see You. And Ron is right, Dude is an absolute term of endearment...ask Michael, he's one of my favorite people on the planet and I have been calling him dude for years!

Ron Washam, HMW said...

My Gorgeous Sam,

What's best about your blog, aside from the useful opinions and wit, is that you do bare yourself to us, your loyal fans. Metaphorically, of course, but I'm willing to push that envelope too.

You're just simply the best.

I adore you

Your HoseMaster

Samantha Dugan said...

My little envelope I feel even more nekkid! (Blushing)

Charlie Olken said...

Wow. I go away for a couple of days, and GW comes out of the closet. No more Anon?

The last time I could afford to go to Europe on holiday, a group of us rented a house up in the hills to the east of the Rhone/Provence. We came down out of the hills one day to visit Vieux Telegraph and Daniel Brunier, a nice guy by the way, complained to us that our President, a shrub of some sort, was making global warming worse by not signing the Kyoto Agreement. Seems that the CdP folks have seen their start of picking date get earlier and earlier and he says he is now picking three weeks earlier than he did just two or three decades ago. There may be viticultural reasons for that as well, but part of the reason that grapes are getting picked earlier and at higher sugars is that they now grow that way.

And by the way, Sam, great commentary. Keep blogging like this and we wont need Heimoff and Yarrow anymore.

Samantha Dugan said...

Daniel is a very nice guy, (his wife is wicked cool too) and his wines are still balanced...too expensive, they were in that $40-$50 range forever, now they are closer to $70...big jump, but still taste like Chateauneuf-du-Pape. I'm talking more about Clos des Pape and Charbonniere, not to mention all the crap Cotes du Rhone that is being dumped on the market now.

Thanks for the kind words sir!!

Jerome said...

Growing up in France, wines from Châteauneuf-du-Pape were supposed to be enjoyed on a rare occasion after we kept that bottle in a cellar for a few years.

Now, people want the special everyday (I'm looking at you sushi trend!..). Purchase are based on a 100-scale rating given while the wine is still in its barrel or tank and 'coiffeurs' can't wait more than two hours to pull the cork.

On top of that, the whole region is looking at CdP as THE example and every neighboring village is making "Baby-Châteauneuf", polishing all nuances.

Now question for you: do you really see this section of the store suffering in particular or is it that most wines at this price point are dead right now?

As far as I am concerned, I keep putting some of these wines away; 1999, 2004 for me... and 07 for my daughter. I hope to see for myself in a decade or two if this over-extraction just ruined it... or not. How about enjoying a St Joseph from Villard while waiting?..

Samantha Dugan said...

It's a bit of both...those higher end wine are a little slower in this market but in I'm finding that even Gigondas and Cairanne are suffering...can't keep the Chinon on the shelves though. You of all people know how I feel about over extraction!

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Puff Daddy (and My Gorgeous Samantha),

We need Yarrow and Heimoff? Alderboy and Altarboy? Methinks not.

And I think your point about the influence of global warming on ripeness levels around the world is exactly right. People reflexively blame Parker, though I agree that he and his dog contribute significantly to methane levels. But I, too, think that many of the best wine regions of the world are just that much hotter and the winemakers haven't learned quite yet how to deal with it.

I adore you, Samantha!

Your HoseMaster