I came across an article by W. Blake Gray in the LA Times yesterday: "'Easy to drink' isn't an insult when it comes to wines." He was bemoaning the trend to rate "difficult" wines highly, while "easy to drink" had been kicked aside as a descriptor. "Easy to drink" used to mean a critic thought a wine was superbly rounded and balanced.
"These wines don't scream for attention, or tire out the palate, because they're balanced. You shouldn't notice the alcohol, acidity or sweetness because none is overpowering. If it's a red wine, it's essential that its tannins are smooth.Yum. But now it implies that the wine is unsophisticated, not challenging enough. Essentially, if you like "easy to drink" wines, you're not up to drinking the really good wines.
"There is an American attitude that drinking wine is sort of like a wrestling match and it is not macho to get into the ring with a wimpy 'easy to drink' wine," wine importer Kermit Lynch says. "Better it is big, brawny, tough, and swallowing it should be an endeavor rather than an easy pleasure."(The more I read Kermit Lynch, the more I like him.) Gray then observes what this means when critics get together to taste bottles at a restaurant.
Critics taste wine in groups of 50 or more, taking one or two sips of each. Bold wines get the highest scores in this format; wines that are easy to drink don't grab attention that quickly. If only ratings services used the "empty bottle test." At the end of a multi-wine meal, just see which bottles are completely drained. I have the pleasure of attending many such mini-bacchanalias, and it's amazing how often the kitchen staff gets to finish the highest-rated bottles. But nobody goes back and adjusts the ratings.So. Do I have to belabor the obvious? I'll just tell you about the Malt Advocate staff party we had last month...well, a little about it, because too many details would be embarrassing. We still drink a lot of beer at Malt Advocate, because you can't drink whiskey all night. John's coolers and fridge were stocked with awesome beers -- tripels, DIPAs, imperial stouts -- and he had Lost Abbey Serpent's Stout and a tripel on draft. Now...the Serpent's Stout was excellent, the tripel was very good. But by the end of the night, every bottle of Deschutes Twilight Ale and Full Sail Black Session he had was empty. They were "easy to drink."
I know, I know... You always finish your bottle of Big Ass Triple Imperial Whatzit. Good for you, and you should; there are children in Somalia who are going to bed sober (thanks to Terry Sullivan for that one). But remember this the next time you "rate" a beer, either on one of the ratings sites or in your blog or for your own enjoyment: was it "easy to drink?" Was it balanced, did it lead you to another drink effortlessly, was it pleasurable and fun? Or did you have to work at it? Was it a one-trick pony -- tremendously hoppy, sour, roasted -- or did it wrap several components up in a beautiful whole?
Maybe that's why PhillyMag picked HopDevil as their Best of Philly beer this year (or maybe it's just because it's a really good beer that a lot of different kinds of beer drinkers enjoy: there's a good conversation about that building over at Suzanne Woods's I'll Have Another Stout blog; why not go join in?). It's easy to drink. Ron and Bill have been surprised from the beginning about how easy to drink people have found HopDevil. It's an IPA! It's 6.7%! But it is beautifully balanced.