Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Friday Report: Dynamite Silvaner

Wine of the Week

2009 Castell-Castell Franken Silvaner Trocken ($13). I can't remember the last time I raved about a Silvaner, because the chances are I have never before raved about a Silvaner. Typically Silvaner, aka Sylvaner, has all the distinctiveness of a Trebbiano... yeah, right. But this wine is simply delicious - spicy, tangy, crisp with flavors of grapefruit and green apple skins. We had pork ribs, sauerkraut and stuffing last night with it - with lots of fresh and dried herbs floating around - and the wine was superb. It was also great without the food. Did I say I liked this wine?

Sermonette of the Week

For years, we wine writers have been reporting that red wine producers have changed their styles to accommodate the fact that no one cellars wines for years anymore. Under this story that we've been telling - and if there is anyone who can document they've been telling a different story, please step across the dotted line right now - wines are being made kinder and gentler so they can be consumed immediately.

It's finally gotten it through my dense brain that this is all a fraud! While we have fewer under-ripe grapes, and while the tannins are perhaps a tad more friendly, red wines from the primary regions are just as big and aggressive as they ever were - plus they have more alcohol (not necessarily a sin in my book).

The only difference is that we all - from winemakers to wine writers - have been telling people that the wines are mellower. And they're not! I don't think anyone has been dishonest on purpose; we've just believed what seems to be intuitive.

Time to trot out credentials: I've been drinking serious reds seriously since the mid-1970s - that's 35 years of somewhat sober observation - from Napa's tannic monsters to Medoc's annual primeurs tastings of barrel monsters. Last week, I reported on recent tastings of Amarones, Argentine Malbecs and Barolos - and those wines were just as big as they were 30 years ago. Not as funky with buggy big barrel aromas as in the old days, but every bit as big as what I was tasting decades ago.

Now listen to the mantra the winemakers chant: "This wine is drinkable now, but it will last another 10 years." Voice from the crowd: "Maybe 15!" Hell, these wines will still need to be decanted 20 years down the road.

This isn't a complaint. I love the way that big reds are being made. I love to taste them right out of the barrel when they are like riding a wild horses. And I love tasting them 20 years later when they are smooth and sophisticated.

Wines may have actually gotten bigger over the past 30 years, but we've convinced ourselves that they are "much more accessible" than in the old days. They are not. They may be cleaner. They may be fruitier. They may be fresher. They may even have smoother tannins - although generally not. But they are just as concentrated, as extracted, as alcoholic as they ever were. Certainly that is the case in Medoc, where some older vintages - before good vineyard practices and global warming - were downright anemic.

My point is: I like the way big reds wines are being made. Let's just admit that they are as huge as they ever were. We're just eating them younger than we used to.

Until next time....

Roger Morris

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