On some wines we disagree

I was at a tasting recently, when a colleague whose opinion I respect asked me what I thought of a particular wine. He’d given it a score of 58/100.

It was the 2012 LAM white from Lammershoek (a leading winery from South Africa’s Swartland region), a blend of Chenin, Chardonnay and Viognier, priced very reasonably at £10.95. It’s a brilliant, brave wine (I think), with lovely savoury intensity, minerality, and some oxidative characteristics. Real personality: something that is sadly all too lacking in many affordable Chenin Blanc blends or varietal wines. I gave it 91/100.

Who’s right? There’s little point in asking this question. I think I am. My colleague thinks he is. We agree on most wines (we judge together often), but on this one we differ.

A third, less experienced taster came to the table. When pressed, she sided with my colleague. She didn’t like the wine. But I am not surprised: these flavours are challenging. This is not a simple, fruity, new world wine. I love the bravery that comes with making a wine like this, and I think it will succeed: some will hate it, but those who like it will really love it. It is the sort of wine you can keep coming back to. It grows on you. It seduces you slowly; it is not an instant attraction.

I wouldn’t serve this to guests who weren’t adventurous in their tastes. But I would take it along to a wine geek dinner, and I can’t think of many wines at this price that I’d say this about.

My conclusion? There are many wines that experienced professionals will almost all agree are serious, world class wines. But there is a subset of wines that are going to polarize even the most highly regarded wine professionals. Often, these are the most interesting wines of all.

20 comments to On some wines we disagree

  • Oxidisation really does polarise opinion!

  • David

    We can try be as much objective as possible when tasting, but scientifically that is impossible by the individual nature of perception and the anthropologic heritage of every taster.
    You make an effort to avoid your preferences as a professionals, but in the end, you are the result of your own evolution, thus it is impossible to renounce the natural response build up from inside through your evolution as human and rigours professional.
    I think that there is no point on arguing about that, but there should be an objective conclusion of minimum quality, which it is expected to be evaluated correctly as professionals

  • Bernhard Hlavicka

    agree. its a not a tasting wine. its a drinking wine. had it for dinner with unexperienced taster who did not like it at all in the beginning, but after some time started to like it. but in my opinion it is already a slight orange wine, with some bitterness from skin maceration.

  • ross

    I’ll say! the last time I pulled out a Domaine de Montbourgeau Vin Jaune, waxing lyrical, a mate had a sip, then another and said “Do you really like that?’ with astonishment.

  • Victoria Moore

    I’ll offer a fourth opinion. I have LOVED the LAM wines in the past. But thought they showed terribly at that tasting (I’m presuming I know which tasting it is). So much so that I doubted my own judgment in liking them so much before, even though I’d tasted them more than once previously. If that had been my only experience of the wines I’d have said straight up that I didn’t like them. Worries me more from a consistency point of view, and I’d worry about the consistency of the taster (me!) as much as the consistency of the wines if you hadn’t offered up that snapshot.

  • David

    In the end, it’s always a matter of taste…

  • VM’s point is very well made, but for me in general they are great wines. I go out my way for their Testalonga El Bandito.

  • Hi Jamie,
    We’re not normally keen on commenting on blogs, but in this case it might be justified.

    The LAM White 2012 may well be a polarising wine, and it is different from what went before and what is following in 2013 due to quite extreme vintage circumstances. We hardly had a crop that year and we had to pick early to ensure we at least had some wine in the cellar! Other wineries may have bought in fruit or wine or may have been more manipulative in the cellar to make a more “consistent” product, but that is not what we believe in. That’s what the vintage gave us. And if you know us and our wine, you’ll know that there won’t be any compromise on that. We are not sure why people accept vintage variation in the old world but won’t accept it from countries such as South Africa where, believe it or not, it does exist.

    The wine has taken a long time to develop and is beginning to really drink well now. We can understand that the wine is maybe too complex for its price point, or even for what we are trying to achieve in the LAM range. That said if you have a few bottles hang on to them because the wine will be great in a couple more years!

    As for your mate, 58 is just another target for Craig to aim for as he loves his golf.

  • Kwispedoor

    Are you sure it’s a Chenin Blanc, Jamie? As far as I know, Lammershoek’s LAM range only has one white (unless a Chenin is a new addition to the range). The Testalonga wines are of course Craig Hawkins’s (Lammershoek’s winemaker) own range and quite a bit more whacky.

    The one LAM white wine I know about, used to be called “LAM White”, then the 2011 vintage was called “LAM Chenin Blanc & Viognier” and now the 2012 vintage is called “LAM White” again. The back label indicates that the 2012 is made from Chenin Blanc, Viognier and Chardonnay.

    I just love the LAM wines and in particular the 2012 LAM White. From the back label: “Unfined & unfiltered. Dry Mediterranean climate. Unirrigated old bush vines. Granite soil. No yeasts, acid, enzymes or additives added. Just grapes.” Sure, it’s a bit oxidatively made, but it is such a clean (not literally – cool it down quite a bit and you’ll see it cloud up), natural, minerally, lip-smackingly fresh and fruity guzzler (10.5% ABV).

    By it’s very nature, it will polarize people – especially concerning those with more commercial palates and those who don’t like any wines with any oxidative sides to it. If I’m spared until tomorrow, I’ll share a 2012 in the pool with good friends and I know from previous experience that it’ll be gone before we know it.

  • Kwispedoor you are correct
    Carla, thanks for your input, most welcome
    and thanks all for your comments, it’s a really interesting wine – I shall have to buy some for cellaring

  • I attended a smallish WOSA tasting in Toronto this summer where the LAM Rose split the room along these lines. (I quite like their wines, for the record.) I’ll also note that on a recent trip to Montreal, where natural wines are very much de rigeur, I saw the Lammershoek name pop-up on a few lists.

  • Victoria Moore

    Really interesting Carla. I’ll make sure to taste it again when I’m next in a room with it. Thanks for being so calmly informative and hanging onto politeness….

  • I try to take the broader consumer perspective with these kinds of issues. As wine professionals, we learn how to identify well-made wines and also appreciate “interesting wines”. This label is the kiss of death in the marketplace. I will buy, drink and hold wines like this, but frankly, like most consumers… I won’t enjoy them – really. I will pop one occasionally to satisfy my adventurous spirit, but I will always prefer a wine with a more pleasant profile, that ALSO has complexity. This discussion seems like an academic exercise in eclectic wine styles. If you view your role as a wine critic to be educating the public, rating a wine like this is a waste of time. A tasting note is sufficient, to let the public know something “interesting” this way comes!

  • Kwispedoor

    LOL! Carla’s comment wasn’t visible when I wrote mine, which now looks a little silly. I don’t think the 2012 is just a geek wine. I’ve never shared one with anybody (afficionado or ignorant) who didn’t like it – perhaps surprisingly so. Today in the pool we’ll have a good mix of people again, so it’s possible that one or two will not like it, but I won’t count on it.

  • confused!

    Oxidative characteristics but will improve? Help somebody, please.

  • Bob Parsons

    I am a firm believer in giving the LAM white some time to develope…like most Lammershoek wines!

  • People are bound to disagree wildly on wine, like people do on food or art or cinema/theatre or human beauty. Taste is so subjective and so influenced by style preferences, and I think the latter very often trump any scientific analysis – unless you are talking about the very extremes of quality where the vast majority of opinion will agree.

    I often search for producers who push the boundaries of taste, who are brave enough to challenge conventional wisdom and don’t try to produce simple, fruit forward wines. I like the latter sometimes but often look for something different and original which tests me. I don’t see this as any different to someone who likes ‘unconventional’ (in the sense that it isn’t what we are used to) food or art. Take the Andouillette or snails or oysters – at a dinner in London recently, half the table loved them and half the table preferred…….the chicken, salad and potatoes (IMHO the culinary equivalent of fruit forward wines.

    As you say Jamie, you gotta pick your fellow diners carefully if you put unconventional food and wine in front of them.

    BTW, I too think Testalonga El Bandito is an intriguing delicious wine. Like an unconventional piece of art, it makes you think about it carefully, trying to extract its different components. Maybe it is one for us wine geeks though and I definitely wouldn’t serve it to my mum or mum in law.

  • Kwispedoor

    @confused: “oxidative”, not “oxidated”. Often, when wines are exposed to a degree of oxidation during production, they are somehow slower to evolve further during maturation and less susceptible to the effects of oxidation. Red wines made in open cement fermenters are an example, but Madeira is probably the best illustration of this. Maybe one of the experts can correct me if I’m writing nonsense (I’m just a wine lover).
    By the way, everyone loved the 2012 LAM White in the pool yesterday. Everyone.

  • confused!

    @Kwispedoor – thanks for this clarification. Like you, just a wine lover!

  • This is why I don’t pay any attention whatsoever to the numbers that wine critics or writers assign to wines that they taste! They say that they’re human too and that they have their likes and dislikes and personal preferences no matter how hard that try to be objective tasting machines! So maybe they give 91 to a wine that I don’t like, or 58 to one that I do like, or vice versa!!!
    All my respect and admiration to those who are able to put into words (tho not into numbers!) what we experience when we taste a glass of wine. Thanks.

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