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Flawed Logic

Don’t talk to me about wine flaws. 

I get a little weary of wine writers, bloggers, collectors and educators who declare a wine “flawed” if they don’t like it.  Is there a universal book of what is acceptable and what is not, something called The Vineyard of Good and Evil that I’ve missed?  Should winemakers who foist these flawed wines upon us be subject to possible punishment by the Commissioner on Politically Correct Winemaking to sit out a couple of vintages?

My rule is a simple one: If what comes out of the bottle is what the winemaker intended, then it’s the winemaker’s style and not a flaw. 

For example, if a winemaker has detectable brett in his wine and wants it, or doesn’t object to it, it’s not a flaw.  It’s his style.  If he has brett in it, and doesn’t like it or want it, it’s a flaw.  The same with alcohol over, say, 14% or residual sugar over 4 grams per liter. Or buttery, toasty oak flavors.  Or lots of oxidation.

I’ve had these arguments recently with a couple of wine-writing friends who agree with my argument in principal, but who have such an ingrained hatred of brett – under any conditions – that I might as well be trying to tell a pit bull that a tabby cat can be his cuddly buddy.  I understand the emotions involved.

Still, Michel Rolland, Nicolas Joly, Manuel Louzada, Maria Jose López y Heredia and the late Jess Jackson make, or made, wines that have characteristics that I have heard described as “flaws.” I certainly wouldn’t want to accuse them of making faulty wines, nor would I accuse lesser-knowns who have the same practices.

On occasion, I have met inexperienced or unschooled winemakers who are unaware that their wines have characteristics that some drinkers might find objectionable, such as high volatility.  In these cases, I do consider their wines flawed simply because they uncritically accept whatever comes out of the tanks and vats and have no qualms about trying to sell it.  It’s not a planned style, but simply an unquestioning ignorance on the winemaker’s part.  These are generally the mom-and-pop shops of mid-America and the East Coast who give a bad name to the many fine winemakers who are their neighbors. But that is the exception.  Most commercial wines in general distribution are made according to a purpose.

Vintage variations are another consideration.  Some winemakers have the guts – or perhaps the luxury – to not put out a vintage if the wine isn’t up to their standards.  Others may decide to make a wine anyway, realizing that the vintage may have greener fruit or traces of unwanted botrytis or more alcohol than they would prefer.  They may even call our attention to these “flaws.”  And I may agree that they are minor flaws.  Still, I would rather have wines from Bordeaux or Burgundy or Napa Valley that have minor flaws than to drink vintages that all taste the same.

I have previously defended commercial winemaking against the purists, and I have been critical of what I consider to be the excessive claims of some natural winemakers who brazenly try to claim a moral high ground.  I love a variety of wines.  My preferences run to table wines that have a crisp finish, are low in residual sugar and have some savory qualities (whether they are due to bugs or the natural characteristics of the grape variety).  But at the same time, I can appreciate and accurately review a wine that I personally wouldn’t purchase because it isn’t my style.

Perhaps that’s my flaw.

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