by Jeff Miller of Artisan Family of Wines (Seven Artisans, Sly Dog Cellars, Red Côte)This article by Steve Heimoff is pretty interesting:
“Why big is better (but just up to a point)” (http://www.steveheimoff.com/index.php/2013/08/27/why-big-is-better-but-just-up-to-a-point/)
While the article is well worth reading, I think that this paragraph kind of summarizes the main thought:
“The main thing I look for in a wine is power. There are synonyms for power: concentration, intensity, volume, size, mass. (These are all nouns; their corresponding adjectives would be words like intense, massive, powerful, huge, etc.). The more mass a wine has, the more likely I am to give it a high score.”
I’m not sure what to make of this. Do I agree with it? I’d have to say a little “yes” (there are certainly wines such as Petite Sirah where power is pretty damn important), but a whole lot of “no”. Not because I find power generally unattractive (though sometimes I do—see Pinot Noir), but because it certainly wouldn’t be my top pick.
If I had to name a top pick as the “main thing I look for” it would be balance. I think Heimoff, later in his post, kinda sorta acknowledges this when he discusses wines that maybe are “powerful” but in an “over the top”, unpleasant way.
But comparing “power” to “balance”, I can pretty much say that I have had a lot of wines that rated high in power rankings that I didn’t like, but I’d be hard pressed to think of a balanced wine I disliked.
Would I say I prefer a powerful balanced wine to a less powerful but still balanced wine? I guess I can’t give a definitive answer to that one. I guess as a general rule I would say “yes” if we’re talking about Cabernet Sauvignon or Petite Sirah, but “no” if we’re talking about Pinot Noir or Montepulciano.
But I’m probably closer to Heimoff’s views on the subject than many. Think of all the people who would opt for a light Pinot Noir (such as my wife) over a powerful Cabernet Sauvignon, or those people who really prefer a Pinot Grigio to anything else.
So when Heimoff gives a wine a 95 because he likes its “power”, there are many others who would pass on that wine altogether. For them its not a 95, or even an 85. It’s just a wine they would prefer not to drink at all.
One other comment from Heimoff: “The final step in my thinking process when reviewing such wines is, inevitably, this: Granted that the wine tastes clumsy now, might it age?” Even granting that this is an important consideration when very few wines are put down for any length of time, I don’t see how “power” really factors into this at all. It is true, as Heimoff notes, that an unpleasant young wine may be unpleasant because it’s hard and tannic (more likely to age will) or powerful because it’s just a fruit bomb (not at all likely to age well). But ageability really has way more to do with balance than power. A wine with reasonably good fruit, higher acidity, and higher tannin levels will do better over the long term, on average, than one lacking those qualities. But a wine that is moderate in those characteristics (with the exception of acidity, where higher acidity almost always helps aging) will probably do better still. Keep in mind that the first requirement for a wine to age well is that it survive (in the sense that it not fall apart and enter into wine senility). And, to meet that requirement, it is the things that are, for lack of a better term, preservatives, that count the most. Again, those are acid, tannins, and sulfur dioxide. If a wine has those things, plus enough fruit to not disappear as the years go by, then the chances of it’s aging well increase dramatically.
I have no doubt there are many wine consumers for whom “power” is important. For them, Heimoff may be a good guide. But, like pretty much everything when it comes to wine enjoyment, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.