He likes to provoke and in some cases I suppose his intent fails. Not all understands the purpose. You see, Dirk Niepoort can probably annoy more people than one if his incentive isn’t understood, which is to make you think and question a behavior. At a recent Master Class Dirk brought up a subject that was particularly interesting and which have raised a lot of questions in my mind; the fact that many producers premium wines completely differ from their portfolio in general.
When tasting through the assortment of a producer, in most cases we find a house style whether the portfolio consists of just a few wines or a dozen. Remarkably often though the top wine, the producer’s premium bottling, differs to such an extent that you will have a hard time guessing it’s actually the same producer. Why? Most of the times the reason is spelled oak. Oak in abundance. Fermentation in new oak. Aging in new oak. But also malolactic fermentation in oak. And grapes picked at a later stage in order to have a higher phenolic ripeness.
Dirk brought up the subject when visiting a wine producing friend in Austria. Several of the mid-range wines Dirk liked a lot – and found true to their terroir. As he said; “It felt like the winemaker had allowed the site, the soil, the surroundings and vines to speak.” Then in came the premium wine. An oak monster hiding all its origin, ripe fruit in abundance but on the expense of nerve, the acidity. Dirk said he didn’t like he wine at all and preferred the previous range by far. At first the winemakers present had been a bit insulted before one of them said that Dirk’s right and that he understood what he was trying to tell.
Old casks with the purpose not to leave oak flavors.
In a perfect world, a premium wine should be the ultimate expression of the house style of a producer. It could be the old vines, the best parcel, selected superior grapes chosen for this particular product. But the raw material intended for the top bottle should be treated as they would treat their other products – in general. That is, if you use seasoned oak for example, on the mid-range wines, do the same with the top wine. It will receive a place on the centre-stage thanks to the fact it really is the ultimate expression of the producer, not because it’s a freak show wine with such amounts of toasted new oak or late picked grapes that its purpose only can be assumed to be a point collector. Is this the top wine you really want to produce? Is his the ultimate expression of your passion or is it just crossing fingers for a high score from critics?
Not completely new but having an effect on the end product.
Premium bottlings isn’t a problem isolated to a specific country or continent. You will find it in France, in Italy, in Austria, in Spain, in Portugal, in Argentina, in the US, all over the wine producing world. More often though, it is the red wines suffering from the issue.
Again, why? To put it a bit harsh; anyone can probably do a strict selection, late harvest, buy the best oak, go for an extremely low yield, malolactically ferment the red wine in new oak, use the preferred yeast and end up with a super concentrated, oak driven berry ripe wine. Anyone can do that if the financial resources are there. It takes a skilled winemaker to understand I’m just the interpretor of the vineyards – and acts as one.
Personally I have a hard time thinking it’s a choice related to safety and being sure it will be sold. Or that it is based on consumer expectation. Are we consumers really that stupid and only wants to chew wood when we pay such high prices as many premium bottles command? Is it culturally related? No, in my world it’s simple; it’s the downside of flock behavior.
New oak barriques
So, when will we see more top wines which really is a trademark of a producer and the ultimate expression of a property? Your thoughts?
NB. Not saying this is an issue of all winemakers; just that it is of such spread I consider it hugely disappointing. There are several producers which deserves a lot of respect for their way of acting. A great example is Louis Jadot.