Wine Intelligence part 2: the Myth of the Heavy Hitter

Barry-B.jpgHeavy hitter wines have big names. Sometimes they have long traditions. They are almost always one of the 3 most popular varietals – cab, pinot, chardonnay. Of course, heavy hitter wines, like their counterparts in baseball, do not always get the big hit. Barry Bonds comes to mind. In fact, Barry Bonds is a great metaphor for what often happens when you pop the cork on a heavy hitter wine. It fails to impress. Barry’s best years are long gone yet he still plans to play one more year. His name is worth everything…in Frisco. He couldn’t interest any other team when he tried free agency a few years back. The owner of the HH wine cannot wait to show off his trophy…but his audience is necessarily limited to other trophy hunters. For the trophy hunter 10 to 20 years is too long to wait for the wine to mature and 50 years is far too long to proclaim the wine’s “greatness” (another totally silly standard by which heavy hitters are judged). Sort of like the Babe’s home run record. The Babe was good for 50 years then he gets busted three times in 15. Kind of cheapens the whole idea of the “heavy hitter”. Why do we need these trophies? Because they ground us, providing a firm foundation from which we can approach the world?
Heavy psyching dude. Wine intelligence sez forget the heavy hitters. Go for singles, doubles, walks. Yeh. Coast in on something straightforward, simple, enjoyable…something that puts a smile on your face. A steady performer that costs less. The decent find is always worth the comparatively small risk, especially once you get better at picking out the best bets. Nothing worse than you and your pals hating the trophy wine you just opened. I recall a 1928 Pichon Lalande purchased from a reputable source. The murky pink-gray color was topped by the dead-mouse nose which was surpassed by the brackish bathwater liquid that could only be tasted by the poor fellow who paid well over $200 for the bottle. Perfect label.
Here are a few decent performers and one very underrated power hitter.

2001 McKenzie-Mueller Napa Valley Pinot Noir ~$40
: Bob Mueller make great red wines. His pinot noir may be his best. Mueller%27s-barn-redux.jpgOr it might be his Malbec or Cab Franc. The pinot is certainly steady. We reported on the 2002 a few weeks back. All Bob’s wines are estate grown. This one is also funky on the nose. This is barnyard. The flavors are deep and rich. Not the berry style of pinot (which I also love). This is meaty but not grilled. Sinewy texture. 13.6% alcohol. The Carneros delta (I think of it as delta) has ideal conditions for growing pinot noir. Hot days and cool foggy nights. My power hitter bats clean-up.
1997 Windward Vineyards Pinot Noir ~$25: I subscribed for 6 years on principle. A nice couple intended to make world class Burgundian style pinot noir in Paso Robles. A noble pursuit but I end busting out this wine whenever I BBQ or dip a turkey like the wild Paso birds adjacent. wild-Paso-turkeys-redux.jpgIt is all they would produce and it was all estate gown. This is called a monopole in France. Curiously there are only one or two monopoles in Burgundy. I waited for the vines to mature. It made no difference. You cannot grow great pinot noir in Paso. It is just too dang hot. The fruit gets too ripe and the juice is never anything like Burgundy. See Carneros. Now, this does not mean Windward does not make good wine. The 1996 and 1997 are both pretty nice. Sweet nose and flavors. Smells a bit like ripe tomatoes. Evenly balanced. Good weight. Not over-ripe. Just too ripe for pinot. 14.4%. Bats in front of the pitcher.
2003 Sunstone Viognier ~$18: This is a wine I would never buy. And it was not a gift but it was purchased on a trip to Santa Ynez Valley. Sunstone hits pretty attractive price points, makes decent wines from the region, and as a result they get good action in their wine club. This viognier is not terribly ripe which is interesting by itself. It has cool weather plum flavors. It is sufficiently balanced so as not to knock the glass out of your hand. Unremarkable and forgotten quickly. 14%. Pinch hitter when the game is not on the line and I am running out of batters.
None of these wines ruins a summer evening. One can make things transcendent and, like every power hitter, raises the others’ level of play.


  1. Wavatar
    Dionysus says:

    So are you saying that Heavy Hitter wines are juicing? ;)

  2. Wavatar
    bacchus says:

    funny you should ask about juiced heavy hitter wines…Parker is the most followed wine rater in the US if not the world. Many wine drinkers buy wines based on the Parker rating…”izit a 90?” I should write something about wine rating scales. Use my stat background. Back to the point. Plenty of folks have complained that Parker unduly influences the market because his ratings sell bottles and his palate (which guides his rating) favors heavy sweet red oaked wines which are mostly produced in California and Australia where the sun is always shining. The heavy hitter formula is to harvest very ripe grapes that have been severely pruned in the field to limit the yield and concentrate the juice, then age in new and very expensive French oak for a couple years. The product is an un-drinkable monster tooth-breaker wine that tastes like…well, oak…and cannot be approached for 5 years or more (this is part of the fun of course “we cannot even look at this wine for another 5 years”. “Oh OK”). In that sense they are juiced. Then there is the whole business about what goes into a wine crusher. You would be HORRIFIED.

  3. Wavatar
    Dionysus says:

    These Parker Heavy Hitters sound like grape juice… on steroids.
    (Just had to work the “S” word in here somewhere!)

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