Balance in Wines is not Required for Status
Gaining entrance into the world’s most exclusive wine society is expensive, but there are no dues, no silly rituals to undergo, no costumes festooned with gewgaws, no gold medallions to polish, no bacchanalian icons requiring genuflection. Not even balance in wines is required.
All it takes is a sealed case of some very expensive and already-famous wine, preferably red and preferably impossible to get.
One you get it, you do not drink it. In fact, you do not open the box it came in. Sealed cases have much more cache than ones you actually drink.
The secret is to have an unopened box of something so special that other wine collectors will drool when you tell them you have it. It must be a wine that others want, and thus is a wine that scores very high with one of the “in” wine reviewers. These reviewers are celebrities in their own right, not necessarily experts. And many would not understand balance in wines if it were served on a scale.
Such wines are always loaded with raw power and richness, something so incredibly dark and powerful that aging the wine is essential — preferably past the time when you yourself will be able to enjoy it, senility having set in some years earlier, rendering both wine and drinker without balance.
This is not a joke. This is the way many of the world’s newest wine collectors, for whom collecting became a sport a decade ago, actually live. They got the go-ahead for this lifestyle by reading wine journals that rate wine on a numeric basis and say when, exactly, the wine will be ready to drink.
Any wine that scores high enough qualifies as an entrance to the club, as long, of course, as the wine is $100 or more a bottle. And it is a wine that cannot actually be bought unless bribery or pictures from the company picnic are involved.
Once you have your case of something, your bragging rights are equivalent to owning a new Saleen. But beware: wine bragging rights have a half-life of something like two hours. After that, it’s time to go searching around for something else. It’s a never-ending cycle and leads to a lot of unopened cases of red wine piling up in the garage, next to the leaky water heater that has needed a repair since shortly after your latest hobby began.
Balance in Wines is Required for Enjoyment
Then there are people who care not for numbers, and therefore do not have to worry about the price of what they buy. What they buy rarely gets a high score and thus remains affordable. Such wines often goes nicely with dinner. They display finesse and balance.
And how do they find these wines? It’s simple. These are people blessed to have been born with palates that simply cannot appreciate weight, power, richness, intensity, hedonistic concentration, and other such wines that are “collectible.” They, instead, are looking for subtlety and balance in their wines.
These are folks who like wines that taste like grapes, not raisins or trees.
They appreciate how certain delicate flavors and tastes work with the food they are eating, for that is pretty much all they do with wine: serve it with meals. They do not stage elaborate “tastings” of very old (i.e., dead) wines; they do not stage “tastings” so they can fawn over the latest 16% alcohol “fruit bomb.”
The wines that appeal most to those who appreciate delicacy are usually made by the same wineries, year in and year out. Many of these are long-established houses with a sophisticated (but dwindling) clientele. A handful of these are producers who focus on structure more than weight; others are newer and try to develop a patron list of people who appreciate how their wines work with dinner.
In Napa Valley, there are a few wineries that still make wines with the balance to work with food. Napa’s stylistic heroes include Stony Hill, Trefethen, Frog’s Leap, Stag’s Leap, Freemark Abbey, Robert Sinskey, Clos du Val, Grgich Hills, Chimney Rock, Silverado, Mayacamas, Chateau Montelena, and Corison.
In Sonoma County there are Dry Creek Vineyards, Geyser Peak, Quivira, Moshin, Rodney Strong, Kunde, Dutton-Goldfield, Halleck Vineyard and at least a dozen more.
And there are others in other areas of California.
Not every wine produced by each of these wineries is delicate, but these houses produce wines of balance more often than others who aim to make two-by-fours with sledgehammer status. And not every house that focuses on delicacy is listed here. There are others, some of them much smaller, with less availability.
Those who aren’t sure of the style of a particular wine should ask a well-informed wine merchant, and if the answer comes back, “Well, that wine got a 93 and is powerful, rich, etc.,” put it back and look for something with less than 14% alcohol.
Chances are your dinner will be benefited.