Coke Roth

Try unrecognized wines from bad years

Heartiest congratulations on reaching the last page; promising to be filled with folly rather than substance. If you opt to bore yourself with my typically self-indulging column, please accept my thanks in advance. I want to keep my columnist gig because, among other things, I make a huge amount of money by weaving this tapestry of cosmically boring wine-speak.

As I read my past columns, I've come to realize I consistently set forth circular, beguiling text, and the confused editor begrudgingly capitulates. You may have heard of the popular California winery and their tasty wares, Folie à Deux, named after the induced psychotic disorder where a crazy person (me) convinces a normal person (the editor) that he has the problem. Well, folks, if you are reading this edition of the Grapes of Roth, the editor has been sucked in again.

All of us succumb to the social tension of others in some form. Even the strongest of us buckle when someone brings out the expensive wine…the “Reserve”…the wine that got the 93 instead of the 92 awarded by some largely self-proclaimed wine pundit. We hip-check the host and elbow the spouse to get just a smidgeon more than our share of the tête de cuvee. Mea culpa.

We can’t wait to try the 2006 because someone, someone that we have never met, someone without further credentials other than someone else said they were a wine guru, said it was a great year, or that it would pair splendidly with a roadside taco. By no means am I stumping for you to ignore the ’06, I merely implore you to stay objective on whether you actually like it.

Years ago I was judging the Okanagan, British Columbia, Wine Competition, just probably the most beautiful place on the globe (take my advice…go there), and one of the learned judges predicted that the 35 or so Chardonnays would disappoint due to them being from a “bad year.” A couple of the judges bowed in allegiance, until it was noted that we had 3 equally proportioned vintages in the flight.

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The bad-year/good year thingy seems to be largely occupationally dependent. The grower measures a good year on tonnage/price, the winemaker based on a few chemical indicators, the wine critic on subjective taste, and the retailer on what sells.

All columnists for Wine Press have the opportunity to judge wine at competitions. Vindication of my thoughts and clinical humility gain credence on this “make up your own mind” rant when you sit on a panel with a flight of 40+ wines, with an $85 wine nestled between a non-vintage bag-in-box and a $6.99 value brand from a quantity-focused area. While the expensive wine may display virtue, the judges often like the wine you walk past when you are shopping. Sometimes you get what you pay for when you avoid using price as an indicator of quality.

Fellow Wine Press columnist Dan Berger has most correctly noted that initial universal vilification of a year or a wine region is largely bullpucky. I am with him. I find that even when I, a self-proclaimed hedonist of all foods (except kimchi) and beverages (except mead) stump for a wine, non-family members actually sometimes listen….” tell me what I like, Coke”….poor souls.

In 1980, my pal Mike Wallace from Hinzerling Vineyards in Prosser, Wash., had a 1978 Cabernet Sauvignon in regular and reserve. When I told him I much preferred the regular, he wielded powerful words for all to remember: “A reserve doesn’t need to be better, it needs to be different.” Price tends to obscure our mental ledger; giving weight without necessarily giving substance.

Some wine critiques and members of the unwashed think a wine has no virtue unless the alcohol is blisteringly high and you need to hit the bottom of the bottle to get out a glass. My lovely wife and I grilled a nice steak, with which I tried a few of the bold reds, a Cab, a Merlot and a Sangiovese, and went into uncharted territory with a Rosé and 3 whites; a Sauvignon Blanc, a Chardonnay and a Riesling. Hands down, the Riesling went better, in my humble opinion, with the steak… go figure. It was from a questionable year and I could not locate any critical comments either way, so my mind was open to enjoyment. Counterintuitively, the wine sang harmony with the food, at least in my mouth. And my opinion is the best I know of.

I gotta tell ya, I struggle with this food/wine marriage/pairing thing. If water weren’t full of chlorine, fluoride and freshly-deceased bacteria, I might…might…prefer water to wine with a meal instead of wine that is bold enough to invite a cigar to go outside and wrestle.

My pal, Jeff Gordon from Pasco, Wash., Gordon Estate Winery recently pointed out how well his Gewürztraminer Ice Wine went with….sausages. I tried his other reds and whites, and the sweet wine counterintuitively worked amazingly well, and it might work for you.

By now, the editor is making a therapy appointment, and my 900-word statutory limit is complete. I just hope I learned something by writing this exercise in legal misconduct…

For those of you still awake, I thank you for reading this literary model of clarity on wine, where I have attempted to set forth the consistent and paramount message to try the unrecognized wine from the bad year, with friends and food, in moderation, frequently. Thanks for the money.

This story was originally published May 24, 2016 12:00 PM.

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