How sweet it is! Sickly sweet even…

The other night we participated in an on-line tasting of Texas wine. There were four wines, all provided by Mandola winery located in Driftwood, Texas. Amy and I had stopped there one afternoon a few years ago on our way home from the BBQ capitol of the universe. At the time, it appeared that they had just planted their vines, and indeed they were making wine with grapes that had been shipped in. The wine at the tasting was made from the fruit of the young vines we had seen on our visit.

As has been discussed previously, Amy and I are not big fans of most of the Texas wines we have tasted, but we always remain hopeful that we will find some good ones. In fact, we have had some luck every once in a while. Twice, here and here, we have positively reviewed wine made in the state where we currently reside. Why do I phrase that sentence that way? Well, neither Amy nor I were born here, and we don’t intend to spend the rest of our lives here. We may not have left our hearts in San Francisco, but they definitely reside just a few miles north of there. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of things I like about our current home, and things I know that I will surely miss when we eventually move on. I only mention these things to illustrate that we are wine bloggers that live and work in Texas, and not Texas wine bloggers, despite the fact that we sometimes get erroneously labeled as such.

Some people confuse the two things, and they really shouldn’t. Most, not all mind you, but most bloggers that cover non-traditional wine regions, out of necessity, grade on a curve. We don’t. In fact, I am of the opinion that those who do are doing a great disservice to their readers and to the wineries they cover, or in some cases, shill for. For example, here is a tweet from one such writer after the Mandola tasting.

VintageTexas: Order of favs 2nite 4 Mandola: 1 Dolcetto, 2 Canto Felice, 3 Sangiovese, 4 Rose but all Grade of B or better; very good #tastetexas #TXWine

Now, the truth of the matter is that the first three wines of the tasting showed promise. Many Texas winemakers try to grow grapes that are popular and well known because people buy Cabernet and Merlot. The results are typically terrible. Mandola wisely makes wine from grapes that do well in the soil and climate of their region. As a result, unlike many Texas wines, their fruit produce flavors that one expects from the particular grapes used. While I found the Rose, Sangiovese, and Dolcetto to all be a bit weak and thin, they really do show a lot of potential to be quite good if they become more structured and powerful in future vintages. I can’t say that we were loving the wine, but we didn’t hate it, and it was pretty food friendly stuff. Our on-line comments were frank and honest, but generally positive.

Then we saw the following tweet from the winemaker:

davetxwine: this is texas, you have to make sweet wine. i like to call this “sweet wine for people that dont like sweet wine” #tastetexas

Uh oh! Or as a fellow taster put it in the best tweet of the night:

vinegeek: I have to admit I’m a bit skeered of the Canto Felice. We’ll see… #TasteTexas

Skeered, indeed, and with good reason. This is the stuff that will condemn Texas winemakers to a futile Sisyphean struggle for respect if they keep making it. Cloyingly sweet, with strange flavors that can only be described as ‘off,’ this is, quite unfortunately, what I think of when I think of as Texas wine. In fact, here is what one rude blogger said on Twitter after his first sip:

HoustonWino: Mandola Canto Felice <--- Everything that comes to mind when I think Texas wine. F***ing AWFUL! #TasteTexas

What a jerk! Oh wait, that was me. With only 140 characters available for my comments, I would rather abandon tact for honesty than the other way around. Which brings me back to my point above about region specific bloggers. Most of the Tex-centic bloggers were raving about this wine. Most of us that write from a global perspective were most assuredly not. Of course, my negativeness was met with a "devastating" comeback from Texas Wine Shill #1.

VintageTexas: Mandola Canto Felice: Score B+ (or A-) well done sugar/acid balance. Give my regards to Banyals for their serious sweet wines #tastetexas

Russ, old buddy, I think you mean Banyuls. I don't know why you meant to mention a Grand Cru fortified wine that gets as high as 20% alcohol when discussing this 12.5% cough syrup, but hey, aren't you the same guy who told me that I don’t like Texas wine because my palate has been ruined by drinking California wine? Yeah, I’m pretty sure you are that guy. But, I digress…

Just as the winemakers have to decide if they want to pander to local tastes or if they want to be taken seriously, so do bloggers. And just as pandering winemakers can ruin the reputation of an entire region, so can pandering bloggers cause the rest of us to continue to be marginalized. There is an old saying that one should never shit where one eats. For bloggers that choose to write about a small region, that might seem like very good advice. After all, if you say bad things about the local plonk the samples you review will dry up, and the folks who make it will remove your access to them. While that very well might be what will happen, if you want to be a serious critic or reviewer, you damn well better be prepared to shit where you eat.

Now that might seem like incongruous advice coming from a blog that does not typically publish negative reviews, but it really isn’t. We are not strictly a review site, and when we do write one it is as a friend recommending something good to another friend. No one wants to know what wine their friend hates, just pass along the good stuff. However, if we reviewed every wine we are sent, we would be obligated to state the negatives as we saw them, to hell with the repercussions. And when put in a position such as an online tasting, where thousands of people are reading what we have to say, it is our obligation to be as brutally honest as possible when something is bad. Anything less than the truth, good and bad, is cheating our readers.

In the end, that is what this post is about. Mandola is making some promising wine and I am sorry if this reflects poorly on them, I look forward to tasting their wine again in a the future to see how they evolve. However, to all of the bloggers who raved about the single clunker of the evening, shame on you. If you have readers, they deserve better.

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