Are massive wine tastings valuable; Matt Kramer: "Yes" and "No".

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Are massive wine tastings valuable; Matt Kramer: "Yes" and "No".

Postby Bob Ross » Wed May 10, 2006 11:24 am

Kramer remains one of my favorite wine writers; it's a joy to be able to read him in the New York Sun. Today's column discusses Bipin Desai's recent wine weekend:

18 vintages of Clos Ste. Hune were offered, from 2000 to 1971 along with 16 vintages of Cuvee Frederic Emile, also from 2000 to 1971. With 34 rieslings in an evening - and not just any rieslings, mind you - this wasn't your average suburban wine and cheese affair. (Actually, no cheese was served at all, which was a pity.)

Apart from the obvious bragging rights, are tastings such as this really worthwhile? The answer is a grandly equivocal "yes and no." I've done these sorts of tastings before and have always walked away simultaneously awed and depressed at the extravagance of tasting (and spitting out) so many magnificent wines that each deserve a contemplative, lingering dinner of their own. Instead, they're herded into a beauty contest where their merits are bloodlessly, methodically examined with clinical remove. It's like a conference on lovemaking with a forensic pathologist as the keynote speaker.

That acknowledged, these tastings do offer insights. For example, it was striking to see not just the sublime quality of these two wines over a span of 35 years, but to recognize something exceedingly rare in today's wine world: The style of these wines hasn't changed an iota.


What do you folks, think. Are wine weekends worthwhile?

I've loved doing them in the past, but as time goes on, I enjoy spending three or four hours with a great wine, following its development in the glass on two successive evenings. I suppose I'll go to a few more mega tastings -- but I'm not sure when.

Regards, Bob
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Re: Are massive wine tastings valuable; Matt Kramer: "Yes" and "No".

Postby Thomas » Wed May 10, 2006 11:42 am

As you might have suspected, Bob. I have lately sworn them off.

In fact, not too long ago I wrote a column on wine tasting etiquette. I listed my fifteen rules, the first and last of which are: after you receive your pour, get out of the way ;)
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Re: Are massive wine tastings valuable; Matt Kramer: "Yes" and "No".

Postby Hoke » Wed May 10, 2006 12:36 pm

As with Mr. Kramer, I'm mixed in my response to these grand tastings.

At one level they are darn near irresistible: the opportunity to taste such a stellar array of wines, and to learn the variations of vintage and style over a span of years, to learn how these wines age (or don't), is an incredible experience.

But.....and it's a large and looming but...any time you put fifteen or sixteen great wines together, it instantly becomes more about the event than any individual wine, and ceases being a primarily sensory experience as it should be, and becomes more a learning experience. So while the "brand" is becoming perhaps more distinguished and impresive (how can one fail to be impressed at so many Cuvee Frederics?), each wine becomes less distinguished and impressive. Instead of being a singularly spectacular evocation, it becomes merely one in a series, with the inevitable comparisons from one to another, and the even more inevitable establishment of hierarchy.

So while I would salivate at the idea of tasting 15 vintages of these wines (who wouldn't), I would be reluctant to go to such a tasting nowadays. I don't want to relegate such wines to a 'learning exercise'. And in this way, when I do have a Cuvee Frederic (or whatever) all by itself, that wine is a singular, incomparable bottle (and event) for me, and not to be compared with any others.
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Re: Are massive wine tastings valuable; Matt Kramer: "Yes" and "No".

Postby Bob Ross » Wed May 10, 2006 12:42 pm

Thomas, is your article available? I'd love to read it.

Thanks, Bob
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Re: Are massive wine tastings valuable; Matt Kramer: "Yes" and "No".

Postby Bob Ross » Wed May 10, 2006 12:43 pm

Thanks, Hoke. You put that so well. I'll re-read next time Janet urges me to go to another "Grand Tasting".

Regards, Bob
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Re: Are massive wine tastings valuable; Matt Kramer: "Yes" and "No".

Postby Paul B. » Wed May 10, 2006 3:05 pm

Bob Ross wrote:Instead, they're herded into a beauty contest where their merits are bloodlessly, methodically examined with clinical remove. It's like a conference on lovemaking with a forensic pathologist as the keynote speaker.

Bob, it's exactly this sort of thing that I don't like personally. I simply don't believe in the quantification of enjoyment - this writer put it extremely well.

A vertical tasting here and there is fine for its instructiveness, but even there I find myself wanting to spend an hour or so with any given wine. Rushing things and getting clinical are just the opposite of what wine appreciation means to me.

Just my 2¢.
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Re: Are massive wine tastings valuable; Matt Kramer: "Yes" and "No".

Postby Florida Jim » Wed May 10, 2006 3:33 pm

I like Kramer, too. And I hear he's a pretty accessible fellow who, if you call him (and he's not rushing off somewhere) will talk your ear off.
I also think his point is well taken.

The best way to enjoy the wines he mentioned is one bottle at a time, with dinner.
In the absence of 'best,' I would still sign-up for the tasting he talked about - for the very reasons he and Hoke speak of.

You can't always get what you want . . .
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Re: Are massive wine tastings valuable; Matt Kramer: "Yes" and "No".

Postby Jenise » Wed May 10, 2006 5:03 pm

I've never been to one of Bipin Desai's extravaganzas but someone I drink wine with somewhat often has been to a number of them, and so tedious are her accounts of these that the sense of wonder I'd built up reading other people's reports has been all but destroyed. Rather than having come away from them with a greater appreciation for X wine and an informed sense of what's possible, she seems to have come away with adulation and coveting for the top-ranked wines and disdain for all the rest. Referencing Matt's beauty pageant analogy, it would be like describing Miss America plus her four runners up as 'beautiful' and the other 45 contestants as 'a bunch of dogs'. I'm unable to tell how much is the event itself and how much is my friend's personality, but if these events attract people like her who treasure some arbitrary notion of technical perfection in wine and trash all that fail even marginally to meet that--that would seriously devalue the experience for me.

Especially if I had to spit. :oops:
Last edited by Jenise on Wed May 10, 2006 6:47 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Are massive wine tastings valuable; Matt Kramer: "Yes" and "No".

Postby Dale Williams » Wed May 10, 2006 5:44 pm

As to this kind of formalized grand tasting, I've never been to anything quite like that. Closest I've come is one Executive Wine Seminar (a friend who is Brazilian invited me as his guest to a South American tasting) and one of Daniel Johannes's dinners at Montrachet (some friends chipped in an gave me 2 tix to a Niellon dinner). Neither is as massive as indicated- I think both had 12.

Of course, my more or less monthly Bordeaux dinner can hit 20 or so wines depending on theme- and so can other offlines. And yes that means that one can't spend as long on the true beauties as maybe they deserve. And truly I DO love spending a night with just my wife and one bottle. But that doesn't mean one can't enjoy and appreciate many (and occasionally many many) bottles.

Certainly it is possible to turn any event into a soulless exercise in academic analysis, but even though my Bordeaux group is pretty serious we have a hell of a good time, and do truly appreciate the good wines.

As to Jenise's friend, there are some of those in every crowd. But there are also those who revel in finding the less-heralded vintage or wine that overperforms. The best thing for me about big tastings is the chance to find wines that I (not Robert Parker or anyone else) think are great, and then go buy them! At an '86 tasting I was glad to taste the Haut-Brion,Margaux, & Lafite, but the excitement was the 'Talbot. Which I could afford to find and save for a long dinner with my wife.
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Re: Are massive wine tastings valuable; Matt Kramer: "Yes" and "No".

Postby Bob Ross » Wed May 10, 2006 5:45 pm

Kramer's personality is always on display in person from what I've seen. He speaks at the week end long extraveganzas that Wine Spectator puts one, speaks for a couple of hours and then bails out -- all the rest of the WS folks are on display for all three days -- speaks on out of main stream topics, and every single year is rated the favorite presenter of the event.

He bubbles, he talks too fast, he's passionate, he's an absolute joy to listen to.

Regards, Bob
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Re: Are massive wine tastings valuable; Matt Kramer: "Yes" and "No".

Postby Hoke » Wed May 10, 2006 6:08 pm

Dale:

There are all kinds of "Grand Tastings". You can find versions of them pretty much all the time. The most egregious ones, and the ones I was specifically speaking to in my previous post, was the type cited by Kramer, that of the Bipin Desai mode.

Some wine events are, as Kramer alluded to, orchestrated for bragging rights. They are simply for the aggrandisement of self, as in "Look how I was able to accumulate all these wines". And usually, almost always, they are accompanied with exclusive invitation lists which more often than not have to do with large sums of cash.

If you're talking about a grand tasting where several different purveyors are displaying their wines, and you can selectively browse through the tables of Trimbach, or top-flight Bordeaux clarets, or such, then I'm perfectly fine with that. It gives you an opportunity to sample through, make some assessment, and guide your buying decisions (or your drinking decisions if you already have the wines in question).

But if you're talking about a tasting that reeks of excess, that shouts "You probably don't have all of these, but I do.".... well, then, while it might hard to resist such an event, there are things about it I would resent. But then, I never much liked sitting in anyone's trophy room while being entertained with how he bagged the various and sundry dead animals on the wall.

That's the essential difference to me anyway.
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Re: Are massive wine tastings valuable; Matt Kramer: "Yes" and "No".

Postby JC (NC) » Wed May 10, 2006 6:35 pm

I would rather have fewer fine wines and not be spitting them out (which I don't do anyway--if anything I pour some into a collector vessel but don't attempt to spit.) I did enjoy some tastings that benefited a charity following 9/11--at my favorite we had about 10-12 impressive wines from different regions (Burgundy and Rhone and Italian and Champagne, etc.)
They were different enough to not dull the palate. I have also attended a tasting of different vintages of Montrachet and Corton-Charlemagne at the Nantucket Wine Festival, but the number of wines sampled was probably ten or less.
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Re: Are massive wine tastings valuable; Matt Kramer: "Yes" and "No".

Postby Thomas » Wed May 10, 2006 11:04 pm

Bob,

I'll do a search and email you a copy of the article.
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Re: Are massive wine tastings valuable; Matt Kramer: "Yes" and "No".

Postby Tom N. » Wed May 10, 2006 11:30 pm

Bob Ross wrote:What do you folks, think. Are wine weekends worthwhile?

Regards, Bob


Hi Bob,

I have never been to this exact type of megatasting. I have been to grand tastings where you could pick and choose the wines you wanted to try from various producers. Also, to MoCool where you can do the same sort of thing. They have their merits. I like them, but after experiencing them I find I have to pace myself, and unless a wine is truly exceptional, my palate seems to get numb :? after 10 wines or so. So, I am very choosy about the large tastings I go to, and when I do go, I choose the wines I try fairly carefully. I still enjoy wine best one bottle at time with dinner, or several bottles with family and friends at a special dinner the best. Grand tastings are fun but not the optimal way to taste wine for me. They tend to be as much social as wine tasting events.
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Re: Are massive wine tastings valuable; Matt Kramer: "Yes" and "No".

Postby Jenise » Thu May 11, 2006 12:37 pm

JC said: I
would rather have fewer fine wines and not be spitting them out (which I don't do anyway


JC, men can spit across the room as proof of their manliness but us girls must choose between sobriety and daintiness. Me, I just take very tiny sips. [/quote]
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Re: Are massive wine tastings valuable; Matt Kramer: "Yes" and "No".

Postby Mark Lipton » Thu May 11, 2006 1:06 pm

Bob Ross wrote:What do you folks, think. Are wine weekends worthwhile?

I've loved doing them in the past, but as time goes on, I enjoy spending three or four hours with a great wine, following its development in the glass on two successive evenings. I suppose I'll go to a few more mega tastings -- but I'm not sure when.


Nice alliteration in your query, Bob! As to the question, I largely agree with you. Firstly, not being ITB, my experience with large-scale tastings comes from things like the ZAP "Big Event," big retailer tastings and the grand Tastings at a few wine-related events like the Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta. I find limited value in these events: exposure to many different wines, some of which I might not try otherwise, but crowded conditions, difficulty getting to a spit bucket and pressure to take notes quickly. Then, there are thematic events done at a more leisurely pace, such as winemaker dinners where 6-20 wines might be sampled. These are more my style, but still more for education than outright enjoyment. Finally, there are dinners where wine is served. Those are, without doubt, my favorite events as they provide me with the chance to sample a wine over long periods of time, the chance to try it with various foods and the chance to relax and socialize while drinking wine -- the ultimate reason why I drink wine, after all.

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Re: Are massive wine tastings valuable; Matt Kramer: "Yes" and "No".

Postby James Dietz » Thu May 11, 2006 2:44 pm

Matt Kramer has a regular column besides WS?? I have to find that... I really like his sensibility...
Cheers, Jim
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Re: Are massive wine tastings valuable; Matt Kramer: "Yes" and "No".

Postby Bob Ross » Thu May 11, 2006 3:03 pm

Jim, the New York Sun online version is a real bargain at $35 a year. Kramer alone is worth it to me, but they have a great deal more on offer:

https://www.nysun.com/subscribe.php

Regards, Bob
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Re: Are massive wine tastings valuable; Matt Kramer: "Yes" and "No".

Postby James Dietz » Thu May 11, 2006 3:09 pm

Bob.. thanx for the link.. I'll check it out.. he is, IMNSHO, one of the best writers out there..
Cheers, Jim
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Re: Are massive wine tastings valuable; Matt Kramer: "Yes" and "No".

Postby Bob Ross » Thu May 11, 2006 4:51 pm

"A vertical tasting here and there is fine for its instructiveness ..."

I've been remembering a fascinating tasting I attended in Cleveland three or four years ago, Paul. Probably 200 wines over two days, most of them the types of wines you often champion. Many of them made by home wine makers. Even sat in and judged on a learner's basis for several hours. [My comments didn't count -- I was able to compare my ratings with the experineced judge's later.]

It was a great experience, and I actually can remember two or three very unusual wines, a "wheat wine" in particular, and a Chambourcin from Pennsylvania that blew me away.

I wonder though, much as I enjoyed the experience, if I would repeat it. There have been five AWS general meetings since, and I haven't been tempted one whit.

Regards, Bob
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Re: Are massive wine tastings valuable; Matt Kramer: "Yes" and "No".

Postby Bob Ross » Thu May 11, 2006 4:58 pm

"[S]he seems to have come away with adulation and coveting for the top-ranked wines and disdain for all the rest."

I wonder if that's because she went to too many of them, Jenise, or some other reason. I know that I started to get into that mode over Burgundy -- I went to six straight Burgundy extravaganza over six years -- as Robin once said, Burgundy with a fire hose. DRCs, lots of 100 point wines, wonderful food, great company, great fun.

But after awhile, I found it hard to drink a $35 Oregon Pinot Noir -- didn't seem worthy of my lofty taste buds, or something. You can imagine that once I found that attitude creeping into my thinking, I stopped going to Daniel Johannes's yearly Burgundy blowouts.

And now the James Beard folks go and call him the wine guy of the year. Goes to show you how strangely our minds work. :-)

[I still like his wines, but better one bottle over two or three hours.]

Regards, Bob
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Re: Are massive wine tastings valuable; Matt Kramer: "Yes" and "No".

Postby Bob Ross » Thu May 11, 2006 7:21 pm

"Grand tastings are fun but not the optimal way to taste wine for me. They tend to be as much social as wine tasting events."

You know, I think you've put your finger on one of the two great appeals of these events for me -- it's the people, dummy, not the wine.

And, an baser motivation -- that sick collector instinct that makes me want to taste a wine from every US state -- 46 and holding -- I've broken myself of that pursuit, thank goodness.

They are fun for the people and you tend to meet really wonderful people at these events. I wonder if wine lovers generally aren't nicer on average than other people. At least at Grand Tastings?

Regards, Bob
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Re: Are massive wine tastings valuable; Matt Kramer: "Yes" and "No".

Postby Bob Ross » Thu May 11, 2006 7:57 pm

I like that sort of tasting as well JC. One of the best in my area is at a restaurant called Park and Orchard. They have a tremendous wine list, especially strong in Burgundy. Buddy, one of the brothers who owns the place, puts on regular tastings of 16 wines, separate glasses for each wine, and we spend three hours with them, including dinner.

Plenty of time to see how they develop and compare them -- and plenty of time to chat with people as well.

Regards, Bob
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Re: Are massive wine tastings valuable; Matt Kramer: "Yes" and "No".

Postby Bob Ross » Thu May 11, 2006 7:59 pm

I'm with you Paul. Thanks for posting your perspective. Regards, Bob
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