An argument about air and time
How much do readers deserve?
Should the critic even bother?
by PHILIP WHITE
'Hey guys, tomorrow never comes,' was the headline in WBM - Australia's Wine Business Magazine.
This was hardly revolutionary. When Max Schubert was in semi-retirement in his little office at The Grange, and as their cellarmaster was charged with stocking the cellars of Government House and the State Bank, he would ring this writer excitedly to get up there to see what he'd discovered. He was swamped in bottles sent in by winemakers hopeful of making the legendary gubernatorial and infamous State Bank collections, and enjoyed playing games with them. Mud pies. He'd have an ordinary red open for some days, then add a little of another and more of something else, and from commonplace discount bin plonk, with a dash of something fresher and more opulent, concoct drinks much more satisfying and fascinating than any of their ingredients.
It was fun. And funny to learn how close most winemakers get without understanding how to go that extra few percent to cross from passable to perfection.
As with his beloved Grange, many wines actually bloomed as they inhaled air over a day or two. With the advent of the airtight sanctity of screw caps, such airing is an even more important aspect of understanding a wine, but that's only the beginning. In his WBM piece, my respected colleague obviously referred to very thirsty people whom one hopes rarely drink alone.
It's frustrating to be called a critic who always points high, especially given the number of bottles it takes to find one worthy of slotting in the heady scores above ninety: it's easy to fill a wheelie bin with empties in order to find two or three deserving of those outer-space nether regions. (The 'plus' characters that often follow the score are there to indicate a wine that will be more satisfying if given air or years in the cellar.)
Remember what we're talking about: The base ingredient in wine is ethanol, a powerful psychoactive depressant, lethal in large doses. Better winemakers dress this coarse relaxant drug in veils of gastronomic mystique: satisfying, almost hypnotic layers of sensory intrigue and confounding complexity.
This writer hopefully, perhaps naively presumes his reader will appreciate this ingredient in his recommendations, and strives to somehow relay some of his feelings and forecasts in each instance.