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?