Something bothered me yesterday on another blog. Describing an interesting, critical alternative to the 100-pt system put forth by a group identifying themselves as "In the Pursuit of Balance" (IPOB), W. Blake Gray quoted Raj Parr, wine director for Michael Mina's restaurant empire. Parr is perhaps best known for his stance on not selling pinot noir or chardonnay that have more than 14% alcohol at his RN74 wine bar in San Francisco. Parr is also the co-founder of IPOB. He started IPOB to promote dialogue around the meaning and relevance of balance in California pinot noir and chardonnay. That in and of itself does not bother me. I actually support that goal.
But Gray quoted Parr saying, "Hopefully one day we won't have a tasting because everyone's going to
be thinking the same way ... we do want to talk
about how we can get better. Hopefully there will be more awareness
that there is something else out there, that it's not just fruits" (emphasis added). I am all for trying to make better wine and having an open dialogue about how to do so. However, the idea that better means everyone thinking the same way bothers me.
I personally don't find boozy pinots and bombastic chardonnays the most appealing wines, but many people do. Who is to say that all new world pinot noir should be a certain style? I realize that IPOB isn't about just low alcohol wines, but a general concept of balance. IPOB defines a wine as balanced "when its diverse components – fruit, acidity,
structure and alcohol – coexist in a manner such that should any one
aspect overwhelm or be diminished, then the fundamental nature of the
wine would be changed." Yet, the scales of measurement, when it comes to balance, is different from palate to palate.
I like the idea of the IPOB seal of approval for assisting consumers in finding wines of a certain style. Consumers simply cannot taste hundreds of wines to find a style of wine they enjoy. Any method of providing information they can utilize to make purchase decisions is a useful tool. Just as a 98-point score from Parker usually signifies a certain style, the IPOB seal means something. I can support that idea.
But I refuse to believe that better means everyone thinking the same way. I know a winery that produces massive red wines with lots of alcohol and volatile acidity (their whites are also usually oxidized). I'm not a big fan of their wines (for obvious reasons...) and I've mentioned to them that I find them flawed. But many of their customers enjoy that style of wine. They don't change their wines because the owners themselves and their customers like drinking those styles of wine. For them, those wines are balanced. Burgundian-style pinot noir might seem acrid and thin to them. Now please don't think that I am advocating for flawed wine, just that diversity is perhaps the single greatest attribute to the wine world. There truly is a wine for every single palate on the planet. A 16.5% abv pinot noir darkened with Mega Purple has a place in the market place. There is also a place for the IPOB-approved wines. That's what makes wine so special in my eyes.