Criticism is one of those things that can be as hard to pin down as the object being critiqued. I look at, say, writing on film through the twentieth century and it seems to trace a path from James Agee to Cahiers du Cinéma, then from Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris to… Roger Ebert. In other words, from interdisciplinary critics with an awesome sense of cultural perspective, to an explosive bunch of enthusiasts turned filmmakers intent on discussing film in new ways, to a few iconic, fiercely intellectual writers with hugely influential views on cinema to… thumbs up, thumbs down.
So my narrative is deliberately misleading, as I’m sure there has always existed a plebian form of criticism the purpose of which is mostly to act as a guide for consumers, and that’s ok. There’s a place for it, and I admit that I read Roger Ebert (he worked with Russ Meyer, after all). But as a film nut, I reach for Kael, or Sarris, or the few contemporary icons like Paglia to get my critical thrills. And there seems to me a dearth of writers at the moment who work within an intellectual framework accessible to those without University educations in French Theory (apologies to those readers, and I know you’re out there, with University educations in French Theory) yet whose intent is to progress the conversation on film, rather than to make undemocratic calls on what is worth seeing and what isn’t. And, further, this causes me to wonder whether something like wine, an agricultural product (albeit a rarified one), ought to be discussed in the same manner. It rarely is, and I’d answer immediately “no” based purely on the simplicity of the object, except it goes against my instinct to reduce something created with such deliberate intent, even if from basic raw materials, to equally basic critical terms.
Clearly because I have too much time on my hands, I was wondering about this as I opened the 07 Woodlands Margaret. I’ve read a few reviews of it and they have ranged from utter raves to more measured praise. I wondered on what side I’d fall. Would I love the wine and tell my long suffering readers all about it? Or would I be vaguely disappointed, forced into wondering how I might express this disappointment without being obnoxiously presumptous regarding my own discernment?
Neither, as it turns out, because what interests me about this wine are notions of style, which are perhaps the most subjective, problematic aspects of wine, and consequently the most interesting to me. Wines like this demand to be discussed in critical terms far removed from thumbs up, thumbs down. In an acknowledged good (perhaps great) vintage in Margaret River, producers might no doubt take their pick of how to approach their winemaking. So, it’s especially provocative to taste a wine like this which is determinedly light and delicate, perhaps even marginal in terms of weight and ripeness. It’s almost outrageously aromatic, and as such it is appealing, but the aroma profile is so gamine that calling the wine sexy feels like a form of vinous paedophilia. Very high toned aromas of cedar, gravel, red fruits, bubble gum and flowers. A very slight green edge that seems half varietal and half unripe.
The palate starts in fine form with a nice rush of oak and floral fruit. Light to medium bodied; at least, it appears it will pan out that way until the middle palate seems to die a little death just as you’re wanting to experience petit mort. Even lots of swirling can’t coax much additional substance from the wine, so I’ll need to be satisfied with a marginal sense of dissatisfaction as I taste complex fruit flavours with a nice jammy edge (the Malbec, perhaps?). There’s plenty of acid and very fine, drying tannins so, structurally, we’re in fine territory. Nice long, light, delicate finish.
I’ve no doubt this is the wine that was intended to be made, so drinking it isn’t so much a question of evaluating achievement as it is challenging one’s concept of what Margaret River Cabernet should be. It’s so lean and etched, one can’t help but admire the detail. It reminds me of Kate Moss when she first hit the scene; impossibly thin, with the most beautiful bone structure, yet ethereal to the point of appearing sickly. I wonder if resonant beauty, the sort that makes you fearful and lusty at the same time, needs a bit more flesh on its bones?
Sounds good, think my bro may have some too. My guess is the jam would come from the Malbec but I’m more edcucated in French philosophy than wine (I had a petit mort yesterday afternoon, very relaxed at the end was I).
Like where your coming from on problematics of wine writing, totally interesting to me.
Some great descriptors! (“vinous peadophilia anyone?” may well be asked if I ever get the chance to offer this wine to a guest)
And I dated a heroin chic 😉
Right, so in summary we are in exact agreement on this wine. That’s the most important bit 🙂
I contemplated writing this tasting note without mentioning the wine at all.
But yes, your note reflects my experience also. So much that’s good in there but, given its flavour profile, it I think it is just a shade too lean at the moment to be really satisfying.
There exists a certain, intriguing similarity between fine wine and fine film, and it revolves not around what exists in both, but what is left out.
It’s a challenging characteristic to define in a tasting note, but it holds unending appeal for me, in wine and film. This wine, in particular, carries some of that hidden appeal – The beauty of what isn’t there.
It’s an element, however, that is so hopelessly subjective & often fleeting, that I find that articulating it inspires a sort of existential dilemma – which simply has no place in a tasting note.
This is an excellent tasting note though Julian – Australian wine needs more thoughtful and provocative discussion.
I know what you mean, and I was only half kidding when I suggested this note almost emerged without mention of the wine. 🙂 Which is kind of cheeky, but the point I’m trying to make is that wine can be a really interesting starting point for a much wider-ranging conversation, in addition to a beautiful, sensual end point.
At the same time, there’s a place for focused wine evaluation too. Personally, I enjoy both.
I guess it all depends on your definition of a tasting note though Andrew? 🙂
I am suddenly struck by the notion that this is the vinuous equivalent of AutoTune.
This commentary reminds of an article by Terry Theise where he said ‘We’ve become so besotted by our demand for impact that we’re forgetting how to discern beauty.’ Put another way, music doesn’t need to be loud to be good.
You make a pertinent point — while I was tasting this wine, it crossed my mind whether a lack of intensity or thrust is, in and of itself, a fault. I think not. It comes back to balance and a sense of appropriateness.
To extend your musical analogy, some wines are like Bartok: his music demands a certain level of volume to become cohesive, and it’s just not fully satisfying without that volume, despite the elements being fascinating and beautiful in isolation. Other wines might be more like a Mendelssohn miniature: perfectly formed and naturally low key, perhaps best appreciated quietly.
So, I think it’s about how all aspects of the wine come together. With this one, all the elements suggested a sense of power that never materialised.
Tasting this wine for the first time since 2009. It has filled out a little on the palate, which is welcome, yet retains the hesitant attitude it showed on release, which is not. The jammy, sweet-fruited aspect has stepped forward, which is tending to dominate the wine right now. Equally, hints of aged Bordeaux are sneaking into the flavour profile, a bit of cigar here, a bit of box there. I wonder if another few years will bring that side of the wine forward and, at last, the whole into some sort of satisfying balance. I hope so.
This is a very fascinating review. I will be trying a couple. This is a wine thst needs time, at least 5 – 10 years, I think.
Thanks! There’s no hurry at all with this wine, I think.