Thu 20 Mar 2014
A few times a year, I receive a slim catalog from a wine seller in the Napa Valley, and naturally quite a few cabernet sauvignon wines are included in the roster. The descriptions of these wines are the most outlandish I have encountered. (I know, some of My Readers are thinking, “Pot calling the kettle black, eh?”) Here’s what I mean, though.
Another cabernet “is sure to kick your palate out of bed.” (Huh?)
Again: will “deliver a knockout blow of flavor from this crimson heavyweight contender.”
Some cabernets in this catalog are “mind-blowing.” One of those mind-blowing cabernets is a “bottle of red decadence that’ll keep your palate shooting straight.” (Huh?) Another “will take your palate for a joy ride.”
To switch to pinot noir, a Sonoma Coast example is a “garnet siren (that) howls for your full attention the minute you lay eyes on her.” Another, to extend the hussy metaphor, is a “crimson vixen.” Another pinot noir “will have you licking your lips after every sip.”
And meanwhile a syrah from Napa Valley has “the guts and gumption of a wily young bird dog,” while a Cotes du Rhone is a “Grenache-based beast.”
My thought, after reading such flamboyant notations, is that I wouldn’t want to drink any of these wines. They sound tiresome and wearying, garish and vulgar, wanton and intemperate. All the emphasis is on size, power, extravagant ripeness, “sexiness” and baroque overwroughtness. Of course perhaps the wines themselves don’t actually embody such qualities; perhaps the writer felt hyperbolic and enthusiastic; and perhaps he knows that his audience lies within the range of those for whom drinking wine must somehow be a large, dramatic and exaggerated experience.
“Decadence” once connoted the decline, degeneration or decay of primarily political and cultural institutions from their first standards of ideals and behavior through morbidity to a level of dilution, inaction and nullity. Edward Gibbon described the long decadence of the Roman state in minute detail in The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776-1788), while Oswald Spengler did the same for Europe as a whole in The Decline of the West (1918-1922). As is the case with many words and concepts, “decadence” has itself been watered down, operating now as a synonym for luxury — or “luxe,” as style-writers say — or richness that goes beyond cloying, commonly applied to desserts and confections and the leather seats of expensive automobiles.
The implication of a “truly decadent” wine, then, a “joy ride,” a “mind-blowing” “crimson vixen” is a rich, cloying beverage, excessive and profligate, orgiastic and orgasmic. Or at least there are customers of the author of this catalog who believe those qualities are what they desire in wine. Or so the author of the catalog himself believes.
Count me out.
As longtime readers of this blog understand, I want wines in which power is balanced by elegance, where fruit is tempered by rigor, where the focus is on vigor and freshness, not luxury or opulence or some mythic animalistic aura. Save the decadence for a towering slice of “Death by Chocolate” cake.