Comments made by Clive Coat, MW (Master of Wine)
Clive Coates was for 20 years, a wine merchant, then published a wine magazine for 21 years. He then wrote 3 books on the Wines of France, then 3 on the Wines of Bordeaux, and finally 3 books on the Wines of Burgundy. He now lives in Burgundy. He contributed some thoughts on the subject of new versus old wines in a monograph entitled: “In Appreciation of the Age of Wine” published by the International Wine & Food Society, of which he is a long-standing member, as am I. The monograph was edited by my friend, Michael Broadbent, MW, of London, England.
Entitled, “How Fine Wine has Changed since 1980 – A Personal Viewpoint” – with permission from the author.
“There are a number of explanations as to why New World wines are better than 30 years ago: the vines are older; the wines are better made; modern methods enable greater control; tannins are more sophisticated; and today producers can use their experience to understand which grape varieties suit which specific soils and climates. Thirty or forty years ago, these wine regions were largely in their infancy. It would be surprising if great progress had not been made. Naturally, as always, the vast amount of wines produced is made for drinking within the year after vintage if they are white wines, or within 5 years if they are red.
In my view California is an infuriating exception. And much of the blame for this must lie with certain of the media. While there are plenty of estates – Ridge is a shining example – where wines are conceived within the context of what California can do best, elsewhere wines have been produced that try, and fail, to be French look-alikes. More recently we have impossibly concentrated, tannic wines, high in alcohol and low in acidity, and empty of elegance. What I fail to understand, with my European palate, is why these largely California Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines attract such high scores. Many are made in very small quantities and sell by allocation for mega-bucks. Not only have I drunk them – or at the very least sampled half a glass before pouring the rest of the bottle down the sink and switching to my house wine – but I have even participated in the creation of a blend of one of them just prior to bottling. Undrinkable then, monstrously astringent a year on. Equally monstrously astringent, but by that time dried out, 15 years later. I much prefer the Zinfandel s and wines from the “Rhone Ranger” producers. Here you can at least expect balance, indeed even finesse.”
“The average quality of top Bordeaux has never been better. But too many wines are too high in alcohol, too low in acidity, and perhaps too big for their boots. The delicacy has gone. I find the harmony, the finesse and the signature of their terrior – not to mention the food friendliness – has been cast to the wayside too. They all taste the same. I hope I shall be proven wrong, but I fear they will not last as successfully as the wines I was brought up on.”
(Editor’s note: The Rhone Ranger is Randall Grahm, Founder of Bonny Doon Winery in California)
I will table any discussion of the motivation of those involved in this change in style today. Perhaps later. I will probably leave this subject, for now, but I hope my recent comments and those of those real experts has aroused your awareness of the differences in wines on the market.
– Charles R. Thomas, M.D.