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THE UNDERGROUND WINELETTER: WHY WE ARE DIFFERENT

John Tilson • 6/16/18        Print This Post Print This PostComment Bookmark and Share

 

Historical Background

From the very beginning nearly 40 years ago The Underground Wineletter was different and spelled out very clearly our mission and how we planned on implementing it. Clarity and transparency were major objectives. In the last nine years since The Underground has been on line we have been publishing the old print versions of The Underground Wineletter in their entirety along with an updated review of each issue called The Retrospective Review (to read those issues click here). And along the way, beginning with the first issue we have put our objectives in print. Those first articles  are listed below and you can click on the titles to read them:

ONE WINEDRINKER’S OPINION: THE NEED FOR UNDERGROUND WINELETTER

WHY THE “UNDERGROUND” WINELETTER? ARE WE TERRORISTS?

When The Underground returned as an online publication I made the announcement in the following article:

THE UNDERGROUND IS BACK!

And after our third anniversary on line I wrote this article reflecting how we started, where we had been, and where we were going:

THE UNDERGROUND HISTORY AS WE BRIEFLY LOOK BACK AND THEN CONTINUE TO FOCUS ON THE FUTURE

And, now, after all these years, I again find a need to communicate as clearly as possible what The Underground is and, just as importantly, what it is not. Let me start with the latter first. We are not, never have been, and never will be a “numbers” publication. Wine is the only consumer product that I know of that is scored by a 100 point numbers system. And, it is largely an American phenomenon. I believe the reason is that America is late to the party in making wine and in participating in the wide spread consumption of wine. European countries, on the other hand, have been at it for centuries and even thousands of years. Americans, looking for a quick, one size fits all way to purchase wine, jumped on the wagon. It has become a huge commercial success as a way to sell wine to consumers looking for a quick fix. But, I think it makes very little sense. There is very little transparency and some the wine descriptions are just ridiculous.  I have written a lot on the subject of wine writing, the 100 point scoring of wines with questions about how it is done, and stupid nonsensical wine descriptions.  You can read those articles by clicking on the titles below:

VINOUS DRIVE-BY – IT’S THE DRIVE BY SIP-AND-SPIT

BIRDS OF A FEATHER…

THE STRANGE NEW WORLD

THE BIRDS ARE STILL FLOCKING – WATCH OUT BELOW!

BIRDS OF A FEATHER: LAUGHABLE WINE DESCRIPTIONS

DO WINE AND TOILET PAPER HAVE ANYTHING IN COMMON?

THE JUDGEMENT OF PRINCETON

DON’T GET YOUR KNICKERS IN A TWIST

TASTING WINE VS.  DRINKING WINE – IS THERE A DIFFERENCE?

A SHIFTING LANDSCAPE

WINE WRITING – WHAT IS IT?

STOP THE PRESSES! THERE IS A NEW SCORING SYSTEM!

DO IT YOURSELF WINE

HOW BURGUNDY IS TASTED FROM BARREL

STUPID WINE DESCRIPTION OF THE YEAR

YIKES! THE 1000 POINT WINE SCORE IS HERE

WINE TASTINGS – WHAT ARE THEY?

2016 STUPID WINE DESCRIPTION AWARD WINNERS AND MORE!

2017 STUPID WINE DESCRIPTION WINNERS

WHAT DO NUMBERS HAVE TO DO WITH IT?

What I advocated from the beginning of The Underground Wineletter was a brief description of wines tasted and a simple scoring system based on blind tastings (tasting wines without knowing their identity). Prior to the publication of The Underground Wineletter, my friends and I regularly purchased bottled wines which we tasted blind. Examples would be the current vintage of California Cabernet Sauvignons, Red Bordeaux, Red and White Burgundies, etc. We originally set out by averaging the scores of all panel members. But this tended to average everything out. When The Underground Wineletter was launched I was the one who would be responsible for doing the great majority of the writing, writing all the tasting notes, and getting everything published. Since my name was on everything I would write I told everyone that I would be the one who would have to stand by the printed opinion forever. As a consequence, I told the other members of the tasting panel that I would consider all opinions, but, at the end of the day, I would decide what to print. At that time, I also invited everyone to contribute their notes and opinions. Some did, but the great majority of everything that was written had my name on it and I stand by those opinions to this day (again, this is reflected in the Retrospective Review of every issue which is published with the old issues on the website). The opinions were at times very complimentary and positive and, at other times, very negative and critical. In those early days, wines were not as consistent as they are today. And some wines were just poorly made (underripe grapes, rotten grapes, and poor wine-making). Today as a result of improved viticulture (including riper grapes), more selectivity at harvest, and dedicated professional winemaking there are very few wines that are technically flawed. But, those wines have been replaced by manipulative winemaking and often overripe grapes which, while often getting great critical acclaim and consumer acceptance, are still  to me wines that I do not want to drink any more than I would drink the old poorly made wines. But the difference with wines today that I do not like is that I rarely write about them. I do not buy them. And, when I do taste them, I mostly do not write about them. In short, I do not feel that I need to do that (to read my thoughts about this click on this article  Drink What You Like And Like What You Drink).

 

The Underground Today

Now that the historical perspective of The Underground has been established, let me make it very clear what The Underground is today. My name is on all the wines I taste. Most of the wines tasted from bottle I purchase. I do not taste the wines blind. And I do not consult others to form my opinion. I try to buy wines that I think I will like and if I like them I write about them. If I do not like the wines I ignore them. What I like are wines made in a traditional manner and balanced with a harmonious blending of all components. What I do not like are over extracted wines, overripe wines, alcoholic wines, wines that do not truly represent the grapes from which they are made, and thin wines lacking in balance and flavor interest.  Today many high scoring “cult” wines fall into this category. This has resulted in my campaign for consumers to know what ingredients are going into wines and wine ingredient labeling. And, The Underground is virtually alone in this position. But this does not bother me in the least. I feel strongly that I am right and will continue to campaign for full disclosure of all the things going into wine and wine ingredient labeling.  You can read about my thoughts on this subject by clicking on the titles below:

WHAT IS WINE?

YIKES! THE TIDE MAY BE GOING OUT SOON! WHO’S SWIMMING NAKED?

WHAT’S IN YOUR WINE BOTTLE?

A PAIR TO DRAW TO & A GUIDE FOR WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN WINES THAT ARE FOOD FRIENDLY, BALANCED, AND CAPABLE OF AGING FOR AN EXTENDED TIME

ATTENTION ALL WINE CONSUMERS: WINE INGREDIENT LABELING IS HERE

POLYESTER WINES

WHERE HAS NAPA VALLEY GONE?

A SHOT OUT OF THE BLUE: WE HAVE A NEW ENTRY IN THE WINE INGREDIENT LABELING DERBY

ALCHEMY?… – ANOTHER REASON FOR INGREDIENT LABELING

ATTENTION ALL WINE DRINKERS: DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOU ARE DRINKING?

As a result of the evolution I have described, I find myself writing more and more about wines I really like. That is I write about the wines I drink. And, my scoring reflects this fact. That is, scores will always be good for wines that I drink.  And, just to follow the string, I find that I do not like to try to be too precise in scoring. In fact, for me scores are less and less relevant. What I try to do is describe the wine as accurately as I can. And, if I am using complimentary adjectives including some superlatives, you can bet that I am drinking the wine and not just tasting it. There are no sip and spits for me when I taste bottled wines. If I like the wine I drink it. If I don’t like the wine I don’t drink it (and it is never written up). And the more I like a wine the more of it I drink. Finally, I try to buy as many of the wines that I like the best as my wallet and storage will allow.

Currently, I am busy tasting and drinking 2017 rosés. My wife and I have been doing this for decades. And, the older we get, the more we love rosés. At first, we were in a minority. But, over the years, Americans have moved away from sweet pink wines (think White Zinfandel) and moved to dry rosés which have long been very popular in other parts of the wine drinking world (particularly France). And, because the rosés I am consuming are mostly ones that I really like and drink my scores reflect this. For me Outstanding rosés and even a larger and larger number of Extraordinary rosés reflect my taste and how much I like the wines. It’s that simple. And, those wine drinkers who have similar tastes will agree with me. And, for those who do not? No harm, no foul. Drink What You Like And Like What You Drink! 

In Vino Veritas,Sig

John Tilson

 

 

 

 

 

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