Friday, December 18, 2009

Wine Flaws

After having a Pinot Noir a few weeks ago that had wickedly aggressive acidity, I've come to think about what constitutes a wine flaw. This was a Pinot I've tasted before, and at least in the tasting room context it was much more harmonious. Maybe I just wasn't paying attention that day and was seduced by its incredible aromatics. Or maybe some bacteria or yeast went to town and caused the acid in that one bottle to go nuts.

In this context, I'm thinking about bottle flaws, the stuff that goes wrong after the wine goes into the bottle. When entering notes into Cellar Tracker, one has the option to tag a bottled as flawed. I didn't do this for this Pinot, though. I wrote that it smelled good, but had mouth puckering sourness. I'm aware there are a variety of "technical flaws" like volatile acidity, overwhelming Brett and in-bottle fermentation. But to be honest, in a communal setting, I don't think a wine should get a pass for these sorts of flaws. If it's corked or heat damaged, that's beyond a vintner's control, and that's a flawed bottle. Technical flaws point to a flawed wine.

It's the latter case where I think consumers should take a stand and describe or rate a wine as they experience it. A lot of vintners seem willing to compromise consistency in order to pursue stylistic goals, whether its minimal sulfite addition or ultra ripe fruit with a high pH reducing the efficacy of sulfites. I'm sure there are also cases where the vintner simply doesn't know his wine in unstable or has been careless at some point. For example, if a winemaking choice or mistake leads to every other bottle going overwhelmingly Bretty, a vintner shouldn't get a pass. Unless Brett was the vintner's goal, it means the wine was not stable going into the bottle.

The communal aspect is important. A major critic has to be careful about trashing a whole vintage based on one bottle. But we as consumers can give feedback on a bottle by bottle basis. One neg rep isn't the be all end all. Many honest consumers eventually will determine whether there was an isolated problem or a systematic one, as was the case with the Sierra Carche controversy.

Anyway, this is just something to think about. If you browse Cellar Tracker ratings, you'll sometimes see bad bottles of highly rated wines given a pass as flawed for non-bottle reasons. I don't think it always occurs to people that the wine was rated very young, and often a producer may have a limited track record with respect to how their wine holds up. The very things that make it exciting young--effusive ultra-ripe fruit, new oak, residual sugar, low acidity, ultra soft tannins--may be compromising its long term stability. Critics guesstimate how well a wine will do in the bottle, but it's up to us as 'end users' to take the actual data.

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