A grouchy look at the world of wine

The Critic's Choice for this week is the non-vintage Dimetane-DC, which offers an excellent concentration of sweet black cherry flavors even though it's a bit deficient in alcohol.

The codeine does soothe the throat, however.


Yes, there's nothing like a stretch of bronchitis to mess up some finely drawn tasting plans. There's something about a high fever and a raspy throat that diminishes the appeal of a hearty Rhone just a tad.

Still, such a condition is ideal for sitting in bed concocting cranky opinions about wine. You want lyrical notes about the delicate nuances of an elegant young Fleurie? Scram! But if you're in the 6p6,7l mood for some old-fashioned Christmas grouchiness, come sit by my garbage can, grab a peanut butter and sardine sandwich on moldy rye and I'll tell you what's wrong in the world of wine:


*Has something funny gotten into the water in the Napa Valley or what? The place is already filled with bozos who are charging preposterous prices for their wines in order to maintain their Life Styles of the Pompous and Pretentious. But at least they used to wait for at least one hyperinflated review before jacking their prices up to the levels it has taken Bordeaux First Growths centuries to achieve.

Now, reports the Wine Spectator, Gil Nickel of Far Niente Winery -- notorious for the ugliness of its labels and the Versailleslike opulence of its grounds plans to introduce a Sauternes-style dessert wine called Dolce that will cost $100 a bottle when the first vintage is released next year.

Hey, Gil, how about earning a reputation first -- then charging the big bucks? That's how the really classy guys of Napa -- the Wagners of Caymus, the Barretts of Montelena, Bob Mondavi and Joe Phelps -- went about their business. As for Dolce, I can't help but wish it a quick trip to the $3 bargain bin.

*Speaking of the Wine Spectator, would somebody please check these guys into the Geraldo Rivera Clinic for the Terminally Egotistical? In the latest issue, two intrepid Speculator writers presume to review the 1990 German vintage of wines that "come from what we consider the leasing wine estates."

"If you keep to the estates we listed, you are less likely to be disappointed when buying a bottle . . ." sniff James Suckling and Stuart Piggott.

Well, excuse me, gentlemen! Let me introduce you to Karlsmuhle, Merkelbach, Willi Schaefer, Toni Jost, Donnhoff, Strub and Schloss Castell -- among a host of other excellent estates that made stunning 1990s. Next time, rather than steering consumers away from wines you didn't taste, maybe you could just admit you didn't get around to tasting them all.

And while we're at it, what's this bull mucus about the great Rheinpfalz estate Muller-Catoir being an "unheralded superstar" that "no one had ever heard of on an international scale" before the Wine Speculum got there? Maybe they missed the December 1989 Wine Advocate citing Muller-Catoir as one of the "top wine producers of 1989."

*How depressing it is to read about these cattle-show tastings at which hundreds of people cram into a banquet hall to taste (supposedly) some of the greatest and rarest wines in the world.


It's such a waste. The fact is, we human beings are smelly creatures, and when you pack several hundred of us into a hall, the likelihood that a taster there will be able to appreciate the subtleties of a great wine's bouquet is nil. I'm surprised reputable producers agree to take part in such desecrations.

Yes, wine is best enjoyed with other people -- but not hundreds at a time.

*It would be nice, just once, to be able to order a bottle of French wine in an American restaurant and to have a server who does not ask that you point it out.

*It would be doubly nice to order a chardonnay in a restaurant and to have it served a little warmer than the freezing point of nitrogen.

*I'm beginning to think it's time to require expiration dates on certain wines, such as white zinfandel, Beaujolais Nouveau and California chenin blanc. These wines are almost as perishable as milk, but most retailers seem to think they are immortal. The next time I see an orange-brown, three-year-old "white" zinfandel on a store shelf, I'm likely to hit the store owner with the bottle. No wine-loving jury would convict.

*Yes, there is compelling reason for women to be especially careful about what they eat and drink during pregnancy, but can anybody produce one scrap of evidence that one or two glasses of wine with dinner a couple of times a week will cause any harm whatsoever to the baby? If that were the case, the entire populations of France and Italy would have the intelligence of game show hosts.


If one woman prefers to abstain totally during pregnancy, that's just fine, but anybody who gives her equally pregnant sister a hard time because she has a glass of zinfandel with her pizza should have a bowling ball strapped to his or her abdomen for nine months or so. (For nagging husbands, two bowling balls, 18 months.)

*Ernest and Julio Gallo certainly are pioneers of the California wine industry, and their varietal wines are steadily improving, but before we canonize them, shouldn't we ask them to divest themselves of such morally loathsome products as Thunderbird?

xTC *If a restaurant has four-star pretensions, the Champagne-by-the-glass should be real Champagne. Codorniu doesn't cut it.


That felt wonderful. You can build up a lot of bile during a week without wine.

Now purged and purring with goodwill, I wish a merry Christmas and happy new year to all! (Except, of course, to any wine producer who filters pinot noir, but that's another column.)



1991 Robert Pecota Gamay Beaujolais, Napa Valley, $6.99

This nouveau-style California red isn't quite the same as Beaujolais nouveau. It's better. Its rich, full, rounded, exuberant black raspberry fruit is sheer, uncomplicated joy. Serve cool and drink it up over the next three months, with food or by itself. Moderate availability (wholesaler, Franklin Selections).