Download &
print (pdf)

Bah Humbug

Bah Humbug to wax closures of Pinot Noir bottles. Wax closures are pleasing to the eye and give the wine packaging a desirable flare and sophisticated aesthetic and maybe even a presumption that the wine contained therein is special. That said, wax closures are a pain in the ass to deal with. After driving a worm through the wax to open a bottle, the wax invariably fragments, sending pieces everywhere including to the wine when the cork is finally liberated.

Bah Humbug to alcohol percentages on labels in such a tiny font that they defy readability except for those young people gifted with 2015 vision. The TTB requires that alcohol content appears on the label no smaller than 1 millimeter and no larger than 3 millimeters. I urge wineries to put the alcohol percentage somewhere on the front or back label in a size font with enough contrast to easily read. While you are at it, can you please put the “honest” alcohol percentage on the label?

Bah Humbug to heavy glass Pinot Noir bottles. Wine writers hate them, sommeliers despise them, and I truly dislike them. They don’t fit into most racking and they are unwieldy to pour from. Lifting cases of heavy bottles can lead to serious back problems (a case of heavy bottles weighs about 43 pounds) and cases of heavy bottles are more expensive to ship. Glass represents anywhere from 50 to 73 percent of a winery’s carbon footprint and switching to lighter weight bottles can not only reduce the carbon footprint but save wineries money. The popularity among wineries of heavy bottles of Pinot Noir is loosely based on the perception that consumers will consider the wine contained therein of higher quality and worth the often higher price. I don’t believe wine buyers pay much attention to this and wine critics are not impressed or influenced by massive bottles and huge punts.

Bah Humbug to generously oaky Pinot Noir. It is true that no one is certain what Pinot Noir is supposed to taste like, but I seriously doubt that oak is high on the list. I cannot think of drinking a Pinot Noir in the past and wishing the wine had more oak. Bo Barrett, winemaker at Chateau Montelena once said, “New oak is like garlic or chili in cooking. If you use too much of it you will kill the flavor.”

Bah Humbug to the explosion of scores of domestic Pinot Noir at or above 90 out of 100 points, the result of so-called “creeping grade inflation.” It seems to me that every winery I know of has a Pinot Noir that has scored 90 or above by some publication or wine writer. Some wineries even have the audacity to quote a high score without even giving the source of the score. The October 15, 2020, issue of the Wine Spectator featured California Pinot Noir. The magazine’s head reviewer for California Pinot Noir, Kim Marcus, reviewed more than 600 wines (mainly 2017 and 2018 vintages) and found that 375 wines reached 90 points or higher (63%) and 36 wines scored in the 94- to 95-point range. Wine writers have pointed out that this grade inflation decries the 100-point scoring system because so many wines are considered superior. One caveat is that some of this grade inflation can be attributed to the increasing quality of California Pinot Noir. I am the first to admit that emotion and excitement that overcomes me when I truly find a desirable Pinot Noir leads me to award a high score. On the other hand, reviews of wine that disappoint me are not even published in the PinotFile (in agreement with the producer). This escalation of scores is all the more reason to avoid chasing high-scoring wines and instead pursue a producer with a broad work of excellence.

Bah Humbug to consumers who equate price with quality or quality with price. They believe the best Pinot Noir costs the most and vice versa. It is true that you get what you pay for and my 2020 All-American Pinot Noirs ranged in price from $36 to $145 with a median price of $76 and a mode price of $65. While Pinot Noir is expensive to farm and produce making many of the highest quality Pinot Noir wines expensive, many modestly priced wines can offer equal enjoyment. My suggestion is to gather together several wine drinking friends, bag a dozen Pinot Noir wines priced from $10 to $100 and taste and rate individual preferences blind. If you can’t bear to do it with friends, do it by yourself with your dog by your side because he will be oblivious to your embarrassment.

Bah Humbug to those who are reluctant to trust their own palate. If you like it, then it is a good wine. There is no accounting for taste. As wine importer Neal Rosenthal has proclaimed, “Your taste is your own. Your patrimony. You play with it as you play with your hands.” Wine critics, including the Prince, can enhance and direct your wine experience, but they cannot be your wine experience. There are few really bad domestic Pinot Noir wines from reputable sources on the market today. The consumer should be more concerned with differences than what is good or bad. In this same vein, avoid drinking labels. As UC Davis Professor Dr. Maynard Amerine once said, “It is not the year, the producer, or even the label that determines the quality of the wine. It is the wine in the glass, whatever the label or producer or year.” Perhaps we should look to women for guidance. Women don’t care what men think. They do not drink a Pinot Noir because men like it or because it scored 95/100. They drink it because it tastes good.

Bah Humbug to uninformative, lackluster winery websites. Wineries should disclose on their website as much information about themselves and their wines as possible. Pinot geeks clamour for it and wine writers need it. Provide copies of all wine labels since these visual images help the consumer to connect and assist the wine press in spreading the winery’s image. Include descriptions of all wines with truthful information about the style of the wine and how it tastes. This information is more important than a score. Include an e-mail address for contacting the winery owner or winemaker for questions. Keep the information current.

I don’t want readers to get the impression I am a scrooge and the Bah Humbug mentions are not meant to be taken too seriously. Pinot Noir has been the glue that has held us together during the gloom of 2020. Continue to support your favorite producers of Pinot Noir and look forward to a bright 2021.

Previous article:
Pinot Noir Labels That Catch the Eye
Next article:
Punt Tales

Print entire newsletter