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On the Value of Corruption in Wine

By Karen MacNeil
August 10, 2015

The description “fruity” has become such a positive in the last two decades that what I’m about to suggest may seem surprising, even sacrilegious. First let me say, I love fruit in wine. I just tasted Ridge’s newly released “Ponzo” Zinfandel from the Russian River Valley of Sonoma, and the wine has a core of fruit that’s as delicious as a puddle of jam in the center of a Danish pastry. It’s an honest wine—a really good wine. But it’s not a great wine.

After tasting nearly 10,000 wines over the last year for the new second edition of THE WINE BIBLE, one fact was very clear to me: the great wines of the world are not merely fruity. Fruitiness alone often comes off in a juvenile, sophomoric way—like wearing an all pink dress with pink shoes and a pink hat.

Great wines, on the other hand, go beyond fruit and are woven through with complicated, “corrupt” aromas and flavors–things like tar, bitter espresso, roasted meats, worn leather, dark spices, rocks, blood, wet bark, dead leaves, animal fur, and my favorite, sweaty men, to name a few. I think these beyond-fruit characteristics give wine a broader, deeper sensory impact. And it’s a hint of corruption that, in the end, takes wine into the realm of the intellectually stimulating.