Typicity. What does that mean? According to Dictionary.com, Typicity describes the degree to which a wine reflects its origins, and thus demonstrates the signature characteristics of the area where it was produced, its mode of production, or its parent grape. This was a word emphasized again and again by the Masters at the Somm exam, and it’s a term that I had already taken to heart years ago.
Typicity. It should taste like its origins, the grape, the terroir.
If I am given a glass of wine that’s a beautiful purpley red in color that’s a tad lighter in body and its aroma and flavor offer plums, chocolate, and coffee, I know I’m tasting a Merlot.
If the wine has lots of pepper and smoked meat, I’m sure that this is a Syrah that’s either from California or Rhône. If it has tons of fruit and is dark and dense, it’s a Shiraz from Australia.
If the wine is an innocent-looking translucent garnet with a nose of roses, tar, lavender, and its rich, earthy flavor is accompanied by enough tannins to remove your enamel and enough acidity to drain your salivary glands, you know that you’re glorying in a Barolo.
You see my point. A wine that has the typicity that you expect from a particular varietal should be relatively easy to figure out. Every now and then, the origin of the wine may stump you (or you may have hay fever!), but years of practical knowledge should lead any experienced wine taster down the road to a correct conclusion.
The reason I’m speaking about this is because for the first time in my tasting life, I’ve been stumped by Pinot Noirs. Yes, that’s plural. And I’m upset about it. Not just because it damages my self-proclaimed position as The Pinot Ho™, but because these Pinots weren’t cheap, and they lacked typicity. Big time.
In January I was invited to a tasting hosted by Adam Lee of Siduri Wines. He had nearly a dozen Pinot Noirs there, all sourced from different regions: Russian River Valley, Willamette, Sonoma Coast, Sta. Rita Hills, etc. Each one was very different from the other, but each one was unmistakably Pinot Noir. Whether it was the austerity of the Oregon Pinot or the lusciousness of the RRV, there was no mistaking these wines for anything else.
Let’s fast forward to the last few months. I have had several atypical Pinots, including a couple from some of my favorite regions, but under labels that were completely unfamiliar to me. Tasting wines like these blind and being so totally unable to even guess (forget the analysis – I was still stumped), I was horrified to realize that these wines were Pinots.
What the hell are the winemakers thinking? If you can’t immediately inhale the Pinot Perfume, then you don’t have a good Pinot. Period. If I can taste Pinot character in even a “value” bottle, then I should be able to swim in it in a bottle that costs $$$. If I’m blind tasting a Pinot (or a Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Nebbiolo, etc.), I shouldn’t have to struggle. If I find that I have a varietal from a new/different area and I just flubbed it and missed, then I can live with that. I’ve just learned something new.
What I’ve learned this year is that if I have a wine that sorta kinda looks like a Pinot but smells like dirt and not much else, I won’t go wrong in figuring that it’s a Pinot, just one that’s missing its perfume. And flavor.
So what does this have to do with dog shows?
Many years ago I bred and showed Bernese Mountain Dogs. I was quite successful for a small timer, having bred the first International Champion Berner in the United States, and having taken Winners Dog in the National Specialty and Best of Breed at the Beverly Hills Kennel Club. So I know my dogs.
Each breed of dog has a standard of perfection that serious breeders try to reach in their breeding programs. You do your best to get the perfect specimen of your chosen breed, both to preserve the character and to win in the show ring. Dog show judges don’t judge one dog against the other, but they judge the dog against the written standard of its breed. The standard is the benchmark of perfection of that breed, describing its look, its temperament, and its recognizable traits. It’s also true that in each country that has dog shows, the dogs may have a little different “look” to them from their American cousins. For instance, a champion Shetland Sheepdog in the United States looks very different from one in, say, Great Britain, which is a smaller, lighter dog. That said, you can’t get them confused as anything else. A Sheltie here looks like a Sheltie there.
I know people who have spent a lot of money for a purebred puppy and were heartbroken that their puppy never won in a dog show. They didn’t understand that their dog fell far short of the standard and therefore was not considered by the judges. Their purebred “show dog” was in actuality “pet quality,” a term that’s used for a dog that is not suitable either for showing or breeding because its characteristics are not desirable to add to the breed’s gene pool. No judge would risk his reputation awarding a ribbon or trophy to a substandard dog.
I see similarities in the wine world. We already know how certain wines are supposed to taste. We allow for differences in origin – a South African Cabernet is going to be wildly different from a Paso Robles Cabernet, for instance – but you can still deduce what they are. But when a pet quality wine being touted as a potential Best In Show winner, then something has gone awry somewhere.
I just want the wines to taste like they’re supposed to taste. And let me enjoy the subtle variations in each wine’s terroir.
Just to give an example, here’s my video I did about a week or so ago when I was tired, it was after a long day at The Day Job™, and I just wanted a glass of Pinot! This was about $11 and very quaffable, with the important characteristics of Pinot. I would never have mixed it up with, say, a Williams Selyem, but I didn’t need to. I drank two glasses that night, and the rest made its way into my Boeuf Bourguignon wine jar!