Last week's post about California wine's unimpressive performance during my panel's judging at The Dallas Morning News-TexSom wine competition elicted a fair number of comments and emails; hence this followup. Because I wasn't the only one who thought he saw something going on at The Morning News judging. More, after the jump:
"Other members of the panel may disagree, but I think we went into the cabernet-sauvignon class thinking it would be more favorably impressive overall," Dunne wrote on his blog in a post called "Reality Check for Napa Valley." "Our gold-medal cabernets -- as well as several silver-medal winners -- generally were praised for the generosity of their fruit, their deft integration of oak, their firm spines, and their roundness and accessibility. ... At the other extreme, 44 cabernet sauvignons got no medal at all. If I were a Napa Valley winemaker, this is the figure that would concern me most. Why such a disappointing showing by nearly half the field? Few of the wines were clearly flawed, but those that got spurned almost without exception were off balance - tannins were too showy, oak was too dominant, the heat of alcohol too searing. Where notes of eucalyptus and mint might appear, we found instead stalkiness."
Significantly, Dunne's panel included two winemakers and a retailer, judges who are typically more generous than wine writers. That they came to many of the same conclusions as my group, which was made up of three writers and a winemaker, speaks volumes about California wine. Granted, this was a far from scientific analysis, and these are results from one competition seen through the eyes of two people. But it is important, I think, because Dunne and I independently came to more or less the same conclusion.
And I do think there is a conclusion to be drawn from all this. The last three vintages in California were not their usual, this-is-the best-place-in-the-world-to-grow-grapes kind of perfection. They were, as winemakers like to say, challenging: Colder and wetter than normal, which is weather that doesn't lend itself to the style of wine that California has made for the past decade or so -- the showy, flashy and balance be damned wines that Dunne's panel didn't reward.
This means, as one Napa wine executive told me after my post ran, that his region's winemakers will have to be more flexible and be willing to adapt to what he called the "tough weather that really runs through the 2009, 2010 and 2011 vintages." Which is something that they haven't had to do in a long, long time.
But this does not mean that it is time to write off California (and I don't know why anyone would think I did -- or ever would). My pal Alfonso Cevola, on a recent visit to Napa, reminded all of us what California has been and can be:
To surround oneself with the wines of California and to see and taste the evolution, as we did last week, going back 50 years, one can always claim to prefer other wines. But one cannot deny that California has made giant strides in their quest to make the world’s greatest wines. There is so much pride and power and passion in the wines from my home state. I feebly sputter, from the bottom of my heart how proud I am to be living in this moment and to witness it.