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September 30, 2009

09, Wine and Spirits Top 100

While I often question the purpose of these lists, the truth is, they're very necessary. And maybe for me the problem's never been that they exist, but instead why. When I first started in the wine business, I was greener than some of the chardonnays I would come to love, and so blanketed myself in that cold alleyway of wine knowledge with reams of wine mags. At the time, this blog was loosely called a zine. And, even knowing nothing, I knew some things could never make sense. I had famous blunders myself--once loudly proclaiming in a crowd of real live people that no Champagne in the world could challenge the world's best, um, beer. You had to give it to me. The little kid had heart. You don't teach heart. But you could, apparently, teach damp, moldy soullessness, then known as "Perfection in Piedmont," the November 30, 2003 issue of Wine Spectator magazine. The accessible, wildly perfumed vintage may very well have been perfection, but it was that all-or-nothing attitude that I took issue with. And though Mr. James Suckling knew an awful lot more about wine than I did, the two of us had the same fatal flaw. We would stop at nothing to, in the words of Dave Chappelle, just keep it real. But wine is a university of passionate ideas, tangential tracks united by the major that each one, though fallible, is worth pursuing for at least a few years. So I come to hate these haughty, often self-righteous lists for starting to suggest that maybe everything's not worth trying. Here are your 90-point wines, make pot roast with the rest. But we ultimately need some direction, provided our egos would exercise discretion. You don't want to buy every wine. And my accountant won't let me. It's why wine blogs, for all their failings, have done so well these past few years. Why even books polemically against the canonized rating systems themselves guide readers into purchasing specific bottles. So the that is just fine with me. We're not going to ever get around writing about wines. If a great bottle of wine should come with one accessory, it is not a corkscrew or VacuVin; it's a pencil, or maybe one dusty teletype as a nod to the modern age. And so naturally we'll rate them. But why we're doing this has to go past looking for headlines or trying to fill that void inside of us that looks for just one thing in this ridiculous world to be completely perfect. It's why I like almost the sheer surprise with which Wine and Spirits approaches its blind ratings, and the subtle gesture it makes by acknowledging not just the world's best wines, but the world's best wineries. Watching publisher Joshua Greene drink Cristal, a Champagne I've lauded beyond its PR successes as one of the greatest things in this universe (better, even, than beer), I couldn't help but notice how little he could talk about the wine and how much he and Gary Vaynerchuck talked about other things--rating systems among them. Unlike other tastings in the segment, the Cristal was a conduit for conversation--so good (Mr. Greene declaring the 2002 one of the four "perfect" wines he's ever had) it actually fell into the pastoral. As normally as there was a camera in front of them and a wall behind, these two men were drinking Cristal. And, oh yeah, it's perfect. And still Mr. Greene couldn't bring himself to call it the "best." Instead, he concluded, "this is the best--not the best--the most elegant and energetic wine that they make." What a tremendous reason to fall in love. This isn't how you talk about a wine; this was how you talked about Sophia Loren. It took a couple days of reading this to myself, but that may very well be my point. How can we look for wines to wow us with their 100-point personalities when the truly great wines of this world hardly ever speak so loud? Instead, they blend themselves into our surroundings--amaze us, no doubt, but in the way the final stroke of a brush completes a painting, the final reverb chord a score. And back to one. Wine and Spirits' list this year includes many of my favorite wineries, including L'Ecole No. 41, Krug, Ogier, Movia, Bruno Paillard, J.J. Prum, and Andrew Will. The issue hits stands October 13, and I intend to spend that fall night completely wrapped up in it.


Blogger Shea said...

Beautiful post and very insightful. I think you are bang on - 'perfection' bears a striking resemblance to the inability to express - with silence becoming more meaningful than a rating. Perhaps these are symptoms of wonder.

11:41 PM  
Anonymous Joshua Greene said...

Enjoyed reading your post. I'm doing a presentation on 100-point wines in Brazil next week, and will definitely refer to some of your comments! Hope you get to try the 02 Cristal Rosé sometime. It's pretty astonishing wine.

8:11 PM  
Blogger 750 mL said...

Hey, just let me know when you're free, Josh :). Thanks for writing and good luck on the presentation.

10:25 AM  

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