18 November 2007

Extra, extra

Gramercy Cellars 2005 Syrah “Lagniappe” (Columbia Valley) – Lush and ripe, but overly toasted and too buttery, with a texture like well-worn velvet throws on a long-used sofa. Turns sickly in the finish. A shame, too, as there are a few promising aromatics hanging about. (9/07)

10 comments:

Greg said...

Interesting that you would call this wine over oaked and too toasty. The entire lot was aged in 4 year old neutral barrels. I can hack a bad review, no problem, but I would hope that a “professional” wine writer who criticizes wines in the way you do would be able to identify new oak aging or lack of it. I teach wine tasting all over the country. Feel free to come by and learn how to taste sometime. You need it.

Greg Harrington, MS
Owner/Winemaker- Gramercy

thor iverson said...

What, the much more hateful and ridiculous email you sent me wasn't enough?

What's "interesting" to me is that you've twice complained (in the email and again here) that I've called your wine oaked, when in fact I've done nothing of the sort. The word "oak" doesn't even appear in the tasting note, nor does "wood." And if you'll look at the other notes from this tasting, you'll see that when I identify the presence of new oak, I do so quite explicitly. A less overheated reader might draw the obvious conclusion, but since you're determined to be angry and insulting, I guess there's not much hope of that.

As you well know, even neutral barrels have an organoleptic influence on wine. If they didn't, you wouldn't use them, you'd use INOX. Now, you may not be particularly sensitive to that character (which, unlike you, I will not extrapolate as some sort of personal or professional failing on your part; even an MS can have a blind spot, and I've tasted with a lot...MWs, too, since I've done most of the necessary study for the latter), but I am. I get it all the time from wines done in neutral casks...Alsatian or Sancerrois pinot noir, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, the infamous Sandrone Dolcetto d'Alba, Pride Viognier, and the list could go on and on. And I tend to identify it as toast...not the same as barrel toast, which I tend to note as a burnt or caramelized character, but toast nonetheless. If you don't, then you don't. But if I thought your wine was oaky, I would have said so. And then I would have confirmed it before putting the statement in print. Since I did the latter by visiting your web site, and let the note stand as written, you now have a second reason to doubt your interpretation of my note.

Since the basis of your complaint rests on a foundation that doesn't exist, there's really not much else to say. And the rest of your response is beneath comment, really.

Greg said...

Interesting your reaction when you get a bit of your own medicine. My email and post was after an extensive review of your site. If anyone is “hateful, ridiculous, angry and insulting” it is you Mr. Iverson. I was simply closing my comments similarly to how you closed yours in the Washington Review - “I wish all those involved luck. They’ll need it.”

You trash wines recklessly and without regard to the effects of those involved. Have you looked at the tone of your reviews? You say you demand respect, but you give none to the wines and producers you review. A bad review is one thing (and like I said, I am not complaining at all that you didn’t like my wine), but worlds like “horrid,” “nasty,” etc are themselves hateful and angry to the producers who work for years to put a wine on the market. These producers do not deserve this treatment. Have you ever made wine and nursed it for years before putting it all on the line in the market? Why is this type of review needed if not to drive eyes to your site?

And I 100% stand by my comments, in email and post. I do not think you are a good taster and my tone simply matches yours. Describing wines aged in neutral oak as “overly toasty” is simply incorrect. Perhaps you feel these words adequately describes what you are tasting, but all the wine professionals I know interpret “overly toasted” as the winemaker’s over use of new French oak.

thor iverson said...

Actually, Greg, I welcome criticism, no matter how harsh. If I didn't, I'd delete your comments, not respond to them. But I do hold out hope that those issuing the criticism will be truthful what it is that's actually bothering them. Because here, as in your email when you accused me of having a "harassing tone against our state” (a patently ridiculous thing to say) what seems to be bothering you goes well beyond whether or not "overly toasty" means "oaky," and seems to be a general complaint about my writing and my tone. If that's what you're upset about, please do me and yourself the courtesy of being honest enough to admit it without hiding behind something else.

To dispense with the auxiliary issue, then...you and I obviously know different sets of wine professionals. That "toast" necessarily refers to the aromas imparted by new oak is taught neither by the WSET nor the IMW, nor is it a statement with which all winemakers agree. Just a few weeks ago, for instance, I was tasting with a producer in Piedmont who was complaining that his seven-year-old barrel was still marking his nebbiolo more than he wished, and in fact “toast” was the exact term he used. Toast (and other wood aromas) can indeed be imparted by what you refer to as "neutral" barrels, which of course is a misnomer because -- again -- barrels aren't ever neutral; if they were people would just use glass-lined INOX and the like. Guaiacol can come from old barrels, just in lesser quantity than it comes from new. Toast can also come from certain lactones, lees stirring, botrytis, autolysis done in unusual conditions, and other sources. The sensory experts with which I've studied disagree with your narrow interpretation, but of course you're welcome to use language any way you wish. It's a shame that you won't accord me the same opportunity.

As for the rest...to put it bluntly, I will continue to write in a way that pisses you off, just as you should feel free to make wine that I don't think is very good. It is, after all, a free country.

To take your criticisms piece by piece:

You trash wines recklessly and without regard to the effects of those involved.

Actually, on the occasion that I "trash" wines, I do so with forethought and careful consideration. I'm not sure if you'll think that's better or worse. But you're wrong about whether or not I'm concerned about the "effects [on] those involved." I am. But I'm a writer, and occasionally a critic, and thus the people with whom I am concerned are readers and my own ethics, not to mention the necessary but fundamental honesty of the field. It is not my job to be a cheerleader for the industry or any subset of it. This is the role and duty of any critic, in any field, and you do your own measure of disrespect to that endeavor by suggesting that it should be any other way. If you want support, hand-holding or soothing words, hire a therapist. If you want cheerleading, hire a PR firm. Neither is what I do.

Have you looked at the tone of your reviews?

Yes. Frankly, I've toned it down a lot from my brasher early years. I’m sure you would have been just devastated at one of those reviews.

You say you demand respect

I don't say that I "demand respect"…yet another instance of you making things up and then claiming I've said them in order to argue against them; a classic straw man debating technique.

but you give none to the wines and producers you review

Actually, I give them immense respect. I treat them honestly and fairly. I don’t lie to or about them. I have enormous respect for the impulse to make any product and share it with the world or subject it to the world’s judgment. But of course, you don’t actually mean “respect.” You mean that I should not be negative. That’s not respect. That’s cheerleading. And that’s not my job. I don’t even own pom-poms.

worlds like “horrid,” “nasty,” etc are themselves hateful and angry to the producers who work for years to put a wine on the market. These producers do not deserve this treatment

But “these producers” are not being called horrid or nasty, and aren’t being treated in any way at all. Their wines are. I’m sure the winemakers and winery owners are, like most I’ve met and tasted with, wonderful people. That has nothing to do with the quality of their wines. As for what they “deserve,” I would think they deserve an honest response. I could follow the path of far too many writers and simply blow smoke up the asses of all and sundry, but that’s still the job of a PR agent, not an honest wine writer, and certainly not a critic. Since I’ve already made this point at much greater length, however, I’m going to short-circuit this discussion and simply point to this, where the lineup of turgid essays say it better than I’m going to in this space.

Have you ever made wine

Yes. It sucked. I have no qualms about saying so. Thankfully, I’ve gotten the opportunity to help people who make wines that don’t suck, and I think I’ll leave it to them in the future.

Have you ever made wine and nursed it for years before putting it all on the line in the market?

Have you ever written an article, nursing and nudging it to what you consider perfection, only to have an editor ravage it or readers write vituperative responses to it? I have. And you know what? The editor is just doing her job. And the readers are free to say whatever they want. It’s part of writing. And it’s part of winemaking. If you don’t want anyone to comment on your wines, don’t let anyone else taste them. And if you want to control what people say or how they say it, there are plenty of jobs where you can do that…from editor or publisher right on up to dictator.

However, here we have something different. Here, thanks to the magic of the internet, you get to answer back, and then I get to respond to your answer. And we have a discussion. Or an argument. But it’s all out here where people can see. Again, were hostile to criticism itself, I’d have just erased your post (the functional equivalent of what you asked me to do in your email, when you wrote “please feel free to not try my wines in future releases.” But I’m not hostile to the criticism at all. I do, however, reserve the right to address it. And for what it’s worth, I thank you for the opportunity to explain these points further.

Why is this type of review needed

“Need” is irrelevant. For that matter, wines aren’t “needed” either. This is an elective process in which we are participating. You’re making an optional semi-luxury good by the standards of the vast majority of the world. And I’m writing something useless to that same vast majority. Since “need” is irrelevant to either practice, it has no bearing on this point.

“if not to drive eyes to your site”

Not something with which I’m concerned. If I wanted to cause controversy for the sake of controversy, I’d have put it in print, not hidden it on this site.

I do not think you are a good taster

That’s fair enough. I’m unsure if you’re a good winemaker or not, so I guess we’re somewhat even.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
thor iverson said...

If "anonymous" wishes to criticize, "anonymous" can sign his or her own posts. And identify the glaring error that seems to have agonized him or her, since my writing is oh-so-rife with them.

Anonymous said...

Thor:

Here's the thing, I probably would never have found your blog except that another blogger used this exchange as an example of how not to respond to a negative review.

WallaWallaWineGal

thor iverson said...

To be fair, I'd like to take back some of what I wrote as well. But I said it, and though I have the power to edit, I'm not going to; better to let the whole thing rest as is, so we can all sit back and revel in the ingloriousness and pettiness of it all.

It's true that this is not the way to respond to negative reviews, and I doubt Mr. Harrington will make that mistake again (I know that he's refrained from commenting on quasi-negative comment on erobertparker.com, and wisely so). But as a highly opinionated person, I do understand the impulse. Of course my ongoing regret is that when I visit Washington wine country, I'm going to have to come in under a pseudonym...and possibly in a disguise as well. The fake moustache will make it hard to taste wine, I think.

But thanks for visiting, anyway. ;-)

Greg said...

I would love for you to come to WA wine country. And I say that with all seriousness and respect. I would love the opportunity to personally lead you through a barrel tasting of my wines. Hopefully then we can better show you our style - austere, earth driven, with limited oak influence.

And we can then drink a beer and laugh about the whole thing.

thor iverson said...

You forgot the part where we join hands and sing "Kumbaya" around the campfire.

The beer sounds good, though.

I will most definitely take you up on this, at some point.