Sometimes I feel like a hypocrite, though unintentionally. I write (and truly believe) that wine is better than ever, as do many of my colleagues. What I mean is that there is an astonishing, quite wonderful array of wine out in the world, from new places and people—Portuguese red table wines, some Spanish whites, Greeks of all sorts, southern Italian whites (especially from Campania) and reds from Puglia, Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica, a wide variety from southern Rhône, new blends from South Africa, and on and on. We’re past the poor sanitation and restrictive traditions that made so many wines of the last generation such a gamble, to put it kindly. But what have we moved on to?
Here’s what I poured down the drain last night. Three 2004 Brunellos di Montalcino (dense, fruitless, hyper-extracted, no Sangiovese character, gracelessly alcoholic at an alleged 14%): Colombaio, Renieri, and San Filippo “La Lucere;” 2005 Cesari Valpolicella “Ripasso” Bosan (brawny, more like Amarone, character lost in tannin and alcohol); 2005 Chateau de Cazeneuve “La Sang du Calvaire” from Pic St-Loup in the Languedoc, a blend of Syrah and others, but weighing in—heavily—as just a big, tough, pleasureless red (and a surprise, usually reliable). As dinner was ready, I settled for a 2006 Mitravelos Estate Agiorgitiko from Nemea in Greece, nothing special, but with some fruit showing, and palatable, with 13.5% alcohol and discernable but not domineering oak.
I don’t think any of them would ever have come around, even with all the time in the world. They seem to be, as South African winemaker Anthony Hamilton Russell recently said at a panel discussion in London, in that over-ripe style that is “destined to be stillborn.” People blame global warming, the American market, Robert Parker, “international style” (i.e., the American market), and show-off winemakers, but in the end, the cause is less important than the effect—joyless wine that’s difficult, if not impossible to like, regionality and the integrity of terroir shot all to hell, and an oversupply at the glass-recycling plant. There’s a lot of lip service around “food wines” these days, but evidence on a large scale is, sadly, elusive.