A Guide to Wine, Food & the Good Life


John Tilson • 12/17/16        Print This Post Print This PostComment Bookmark and Share

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Do you really know the wine you are drinking?  Maybe not. Consider this. Recently I received a note from an old friend who was trying to drink a cult Napa Valley Cabernet and he had this to say:

I am sitting here sipping a .. …… .. ……… It tastes like black cherry cough drops and is 15.6% alcohol, and it tastes it.

No one has followed the evolution of 20th and 21st century American wine more than you. You need to do an article titled “Where did we go wrong?, an autopsy on the death of American Cabernet Sauvignon.” I am serious. When did the decline start, who was responsible, who facilitated the decline, why did it happen, who perpetuates it, etc.?

I think you have the resources and knowledge to tackle this. No one else has done it. In a generation they have taken a delicious, world class dinner wine and turned it into a clownish aperitif wine.

Here was my response:

I guess my first question is why?  That is why continue to try to drink the kind of wine that you have now? I do not drink them because I do not like these kinds of wines!

I wrote an article about 2 years ago that was my version of what happened. Very interesting that you should bring up the subject now. Recently I was told by a friend who had just been in Napa that I was disliked by some people there. My response – so be it! I really do not care! All I have done is try to convey my thoughts on where we have gone wrong. And, if there are a lot of people who do not like it, then I know I am right!

This is reflected in the following articles:

Where Has Napa Valley Gone?
Caution! What’s In Your Wine?

Please take a look at these articles. And, there are several others as well. I think I have made my case. But, if you have any other thoughts on what I might say please let me know.

Always remember that The Underground Wineletter stands for the wine consumer. That is it. Period. If you know of any other publication that can say that I would love to hear about it.

And I would also add that The Underground Wineletter (which began in 1979) was one of the first publications to write about California Cabernets. We loved many of the wines and were responsible for creating a lot of demand for many early Napa Valley Cabernets (to read some of those early reviews click here). There were many gorgeous balanced wines that have stood the test of time and are wonderful wines to drink today. But, sadly, today many of the wines have changed, and I do not like them. They are too extracted, manipulated, out of balance, and overly alcoholic. Now I only write about the wines I like. I do my best to try to not even taste wines I will not like, but, if I do, I do not write about them. However, right now many people are making a lot of money making and selling manipulated high alcohol fruit bombs that get big scores from the 100 point boys who, in turn, make their living promoting these kind of wines (to read my most recent article on this subject with links to other related articles click here).

That is not The Underground Wineletter and that is not me. And, as I said, I do not like these kinds of wines. I do not drink them, and I do not make a living promoting them. Nor have I ever made a living doing The Underground Wineletter. I do The Underground Wineletter because I love lots of different wines, and I love what I am doing. And over the years, I have chosen to take the high road as represented by my motto “Drink What You Like & Like What You Drink”.

Nonetheless, I might do a bit more investigation into what happened to Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons beyond what I have already discovered.deep throat 2But, I need to gather a lot of information and talk to “inside” sources so it might take a while to find my “deep throat.” Stay tuned!

In Vino Veritas,Sig

John Tilson

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  • tew says:

    FYI, the two lines:
    Where Has Napa Valley Gone?
    Caution! What’s In Your Wine?
    comprise a single link that goes to the “Caution! What’s In Your Wine?” article. The “Where Has Napa Valley Gone?” is not linked.

    • John Tilson says:

      Thanks. It is corrected. You can also find articles by using the search function on the home page and for each category of article there is a list of all articles in that category in the left margin which will take you to each article.
      Enjoy The Underground!
      In Vino Veritas,

  • Grant Price says:

    Napa valley Cabernet, as you mean it, is functionally extinct, and has been since the mid- ’90’s. The handful of real ones left are drastically over-priced, and the rest of them are basically a parody of wine.

    I still have a cache of the genuine article, and enjoy one from time to time.

    The only good thing that came to us from this transformation is that I sold off my “cults” for enough profit to buy two cars and a bunch of great old world wine.

    Honestly, at this point, the climate is changing so quickly, that I wonder if Napa even COULD go back to the glory days, I am not so sure they could make the old style great wines even if they wanted to.

    As for visiting, it is Disneyland for rich pretenders, and it hasn’t been any real fun for a long time.

    • John Tilson says:

      Thanks Grant.
      I think you are right, but there are a handful left. The others do not have to pick such over ripe fruit and do so much manipulation. They do it to produce “designer” wines designed to fit the parameters of the 100 point boys who only give big scores to massive fruit bombs. At the end of the day, it’s all about money. I wonder just how many people actually drink these wines? And, yes that even includes the people who make them.
      Glad you profited from your foray into the unknown. I’m afraid too many others will stay to long at the party and not have a happy ending!
      Yes I think it is possible. It’s a little cooler at Ridge, but they are not looking to pick the ripest fruit possible. Along with minimal intervention is why Monte Bello is so consistently great.
      I still have some friends in Napa and visit on occasion, but to visit like we used to do in the old days is of absolutely no interest to me. I do not like most of the wines and I do not like the crass commercialism. Fortunately, there are lots of alternatives. In the Central Coast a lot of really good honest wines are being made. And, yes there are the manipulated fruit bombs as well. But there is an increasing supply of really good Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. As for Cabernet, I will drink my old ones and others like Ridge and Mount Eden. There are also a few in Napa, but very few.
      So it’s a bad news, good news wine world in California. It could be worse!
      In Vino Veritas,

  • Paul Nielsen says:

    Keep fighting the good fight, John.

    Merry Christmas!

  • Anonymous says:

    I totally agree with you on your what the hell has happened and reading between the lines I think you are referring to the Parkerising of the wines. That being said he does rate some wines highly (cabs and Bordeaux) that have been very accurately portrayed and are wonderful. He has no talent in Pinot or Burgundy .
    Perhaps you could put together a loose array of professionals who could rate wines and you could begin posting it in a database form.
    I myself have a wine club and I taste in my store MANY wines on a regular basis. Cellartracker is a good resource too but we need a good website to disseminate the information? I am 68 but still have some good years of reviewing wines left in me
    Bud Starr

    • John Tilson says:

      Thanks Bud.
      I guess you could call it that. But, the wines are so manipulated it is hard to see how people could be so fascinated. I think it is a fad and like all fads it will fade over time. Vamos a ver.
      What you suggest is what we did in the late 7os into the mid 90s with the old Underground. It’s just that print was the only medium to use then. Today I do not have the time or energy to take on such a task. Besides the serial fruit bombs are well known. I do not think they are worth tasting.
      In Vino Veritas,

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