Friday, January 25, 2008

Is it finished?

Maybe I’ve been wrong all along about wine forum sites. Since I find myself in the position of agreeing with a wine critic that I mostly don’t agree with, and since my belief is lambasted, maybe I’m the guy who needs to understand the difference between opinion and fact.

Or maybe, just maybe, there are times when wine geeks should lighten up! I mean, how many obsessions can one hobby support?

I’m talking about “finish,” that thing at the end of a wine taste that happens to be important to me. I generally dislike the kinds of wines that win most critical acclaim these days, but I happen to like finish in a wine, and on that I agree with the famous critic.

You may have noticed that I mention the finish of the wines I taste—I even give them a count in seconds, my seconds, which goes: one-thousand-one, one-thousand-two, and so on.

Apparently, Robert Parker may do this, too, and once in a while, he mentions it in his wine critique. But a Parker count of 45 seconds in the finish of a certain wine caused someone online to take umbrage.

Ok, so the poster didn’t like the idea. The link is below so you can read why. But then, people, some of whose wine knowledge I respect, posted in response. I had no idea that the subject of a wine’s finish could bring out vitriol against Parker, or anyone who, like I, appreciate and evaluate a wine in part by its finish.

In my view, a wine with a short or no finish robs me of the rest of the experience. I like a wine with a powerful finish that speaks to me seconds after I have swallowed the nectar, and I like to stop and think about it, and so I measure the seconds it takes before it really is finished.

French wine pros taught people that the finish is important and, because French products dominated my earliest experiences with wine, I must have learned that lesson from them. But my interest in a wine’s finish is not a belief—it is a preference, which once again brings up the age-old Internet confusion over the difference between objective and subjective.

As far as I know, there is no objective measure to equate a wine’s quality with the length of its finish. Without that objective, scientific, laboratory-reproduced measure, expecting a lengthy finish remains a subjective preference.

Still, those who don’t count the finish as I do (and Parker, I suppose) seem to think that they have a lock on something, which is to say that we are nuts and they are the arbiters. At this point, I could bring up myriad nonsense that wine geeks believe and that I do not, but what would be the point? I don’t feel the need to prove myself or to disprove the belief of others. I strike out when an opinion is presented as if it were a fact and others go blithely around repeating it as fact. I don't think counting the finish in seconds is an opinion as fact.

Being a noisemaker does not make one the arbiter of taste or even of quality, even when I make the noise. It’s one thing to disagree over a subjective issue; it’s quite another to claim the subjective high ground.

As far as I’m concerned, those who can’t swallow a wine and then think further about its slowly vanishing attributes are missing something. But that’s only my opinion. Take it for what it’s worth. To me, it’s worth that extra pleasure I get from a wine that sustains long after I have assigned it a place in my digestive tract!

This entry’s wine:

The first time I tasted Lagrein I was floored. How could a mountainous region like Alto Adige come up with that kind of solid tannin, I wondered? I still wonder. But the best part of Lagrein is its racy acidity. To be sure, that’s a mountainous trait.
The racy acidity of Muri-Geis’ 2003 Lagrein makes it taste like a bag of sour cherry candies without the sugar. But the wine truly got my attention before I tasted it—the aroma was fleshy and meaty; the color was garnet. What a pleasant beginning!

As are most red wines from the region, which buffers Austrians from Italians, but unsuccessfully, this wine had a lean structure and yet, tight tannins that gave me a pucker.
Oh, and the finish was fine. I counted about 13 seconds before the phone rang and I had to stop counting

The wine was a perfect pairing for a rich, fatty dish: cheese ravioli in a sauce of heavy cream and scrambled egg with garlic, chopped sweet red pepper, sage, and parsley.

Sudtiroler Lagrein 2003 (sorry, don’t have the .. that goes over the u).

13% alc. $17/bottle before volume discount

Imported by Polaner selections, NY

45-second finish

Copyright, Thomas Pellechia
January 2008. All rights reserved.


  1. Thomas, in your experience is a long finish always a good tasteful finish? Not that you implied that in your post but there are some sometimes too sweet, alcoholic, oaky 'rinses' that remain in your palate for a while and may not be a good experience to you. Probably those can't be defined as 'finishes'. What's your view on that?
    p.s. I enjoyed your interview on Tom Wark's blog, especially your comments about scoring points to wines.

  2. Javier,

    If the sweetness, alcohol or wood is that pronounced, generally those wines will lose my attention well before the finish, and they probably would be out of balance in the end.

  3. Thomas, I think part of drinking wine is connecting the brain via the nose with the subject at hand. It does not happen over night nor without a great deal of work and thought from the drinker. I keep running into individuals that expect like our society in general instant gratification. As if just because they might not detect this or that in a wine it probably does not exist.
    Great finishes in wine are what distinguish outstanding form mediocre. I was at Revana the other day with Heidi Barrett in the cellar and wandered into the tasting for some clients. The presenter poured some wine and said they felt that their wine had a finish of about two minutes and that is what made it great as one did not have to sip it as often to continue to enjoy it during the evening! I have to agree when one has a wine that has that kind of long finish and it is a wonderful finish it is an experience which keeps one looking for in wines for years to come.
    This year marks 50 years I have been tasting and it has been a continued growth throughout these years, not only am I more acute in my evaluation but more able to identify what and where makes these nuances. I just think some of the less experienced should try and learn more by taking notes and asking questions and being less critical of those that have spent years and hundreds of hours learning and growing in knowledge and experience. Some may be a bit full of themselves however their expertise has been gained by years of tasting 1000's of wines and in that there is no substitute!

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  5. Mark,

    Like you, I've been drinking wine for quite some time, and as I said, I am committed to the finish as a measure of the wine's ability to please.

    We live in a culture that seems to value ignorance. I can't tell you how many people in my tasting room used to start their conversations by proudly announcing how little they knew about wine. That's why gurus can easily guide people. Gurus know how to manipulate the ignorant (and by ignorant I do not mean stupid; the word simply means uninformed).

    To me, geekdom is obsession more than it is enjoyment of the simple pleasures of wine.

  6. I saw that thread as well. I don't understand it really, either. I happen to really prefer wine with a great finish. To just disappear instantly just seems wrong. It reminds me of the stereotype that women always say about bad sex. Once the main event is over, who wants a wine that just rolls over and goes to sleep?