Embrace your bad taste

De gustibus (or lack thereof) non est disputandum 

By Panos Kakaviatos for wine-chronicles.com 

30 September 2015

I recently joined a wonderful tour subsidized by Vini del Trentino, or the Wine Consortium for Trentino, with a group of international wine educators and writers who had flown in for three days of tastings and cultural discoveries, the details of which will be the subject of a future blog entry.

We came from Israel, Lithuania, Denmark, the UK, Poland and the US among other countries. We tried many types of wines from Trentino – from the rather recent plantings of Müller-Thurgau in high elevation sites (mixed results, but that’s another story), to mid-slope plantings of (red) Marzemino, which was particularly fine at Cantina D’Isera, where I purchased some bottles.

We all got along rather spiffily until our third and final dinner on Saturday 26 September, at the gorgeous Casa del Vino restaurant. After going through various stages of the meal, the evening disintegrated into discord over a supposedly famous wine called San Leonardo, a Bordeaux blend made in nearby Avio.

Well, maybe not supposed. It is available worldwide as an Italian Bordeaux blend: all you need do is look it up on wine-searcher and ascertain from that source that the average price for the vintage 2008, the subject of this posting, is $55 (US).

While fellow tasters like Quentin Sadler of the UK had never heard of it (neither had I), others were ecstatic and elated over being served this alleged nectar of Italian gods.

I am hardly an Italian wine expert, so was equally looking forward to trying it.

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Manna from heaven or biblical plague?

This 2008 vintage blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Carménère proved to be indeed Manna from heaven for some. In a Facebook posting, one participant admired its precision and elegance – and said it was “a pity” that others in the group could not understand that. Audrey Hepburn wine?

For others, including Quentin and myself, it was not quite the 10 Plagues of Egypt, but in that direction. Some of us were left indifferent, while one participant complained about too many expensive Bordeaux blends being made … outside of Bordeaux.

What was wrong with the wine? Or, rather, how could I possibly not understand its clear precision and elegance?

For one thing, it had a harsh – even burning – finish. I tried to explain that the initial aromatics were tertiary and quite pleasing: with cigar box, truffle and wet earth. Indeed, it smelled like a wine that was quite older than 2008. On the palate, it began well, but I and others noted that it lacked enough ripe fruit or concentration to stand up to the rough tannin – and especially the harsh finish. It felt like 14.5% alcohol, but it only had 13%.

Quentin said that he finds far more pleasure in far less expensive Bordeaux cru bourgeois from the flattering 2009 vintage, which would typically have more alcohol, given the healthy amounts of Merlot in many of these wines, but with far better balance than the San Leonardo.

A discussion about “how Bordeaux used to be made” ensued.

“You cannot find Bordeaux like this anymore,” proclaimed one participant, admiring the Italian throwback.

“What a relief,” I thought.

Readers of my blog know my taste: I am hardly an ally of most modernists and even join the Anti Flavor Elite sometimes.

Sure, the San Leonardo 2008 that we tried was hardly a modern sleek style too often encountered in Bordeaux today. But that did not make up for its deficiencies. Maybe the people who liked it appreciate the harder examples of Bordeaux from the 1970s? Don’t get me wrong, I am a fan of many 1970s Bordeaux, but not those that lack charm and have hard tannins. Well, some people get my drift.

I wondered, and asked myself many questions, especially this one: How could so many experienced and passionate wine lovers disagree so much over the merits of a single wine, tasted at the same time – and from the same bottle?

Take for example noted Danish wine author Nana Wad, who very passionately adored the wine. This could have been a great wine oriented episode of the Twilight Zone. But then calm returned, more or less. Nana, in classy fashion, raised her glass to say cheers to me in spite of our difference of opinion.

I gave up trying to understand, and embraced my bad taste, realizing that “objective” evaluations of wine are often a crock of shit.

One man’s “precision” and “elegance” is another’s lack of ripeness and a hard finish. And each person is absolutely sure of his conviction, so much so that the other side must have a bad sense of taste.

So here’s to bad taste.

And here’s to trying other vintages of that wine. Maybe it was just the 2008 that sucked.

Meanwhile you can read my harvest report on Italy, based on live reporting from Trento, and published by Decanter.com.

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2 Comments on “Embrace your bad taste

  1. I have not yet tasted 2008 vintage, but I had 1991, 2001, 2004, 2006,2007 From San Leonardo. I have always found a Wine of Great elegant and Class, a Bordeaux blend with a Clear North Italy footprint in terms of acidity
    I am courious to taste 2008 to compare with your notes. Regards

    • Thanks for your reply Franceso. I would be interested in your notes on the 2008 as well. And look forward to trying other vintages of the wine.

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