Battle Barolo

As a resident and fellow, I was always confounded by the visual criteria and complex nomenclature required to classify melanocytic lesions.  In other words, under the microscope, the cellular journey from freckle to cancer can be slippery, especially categorizing the minute permutations that separate "really weird, atypical brown splotch" from "almost but not really cancer yet."  Nobody ever agrees.  Some of path's greatest lore recounts a famous, international dermatopathology conference where the field's greatest academics congregated to create a unified system for classifying all of those brown lumps and bumps.  After hours of deliberation, all experts but one, the esteemed Dr. A, consecrated the newly minted naming system.  Purportedly Dr. A guffawed, stood up, and simply walked out.  In his view, pathology's newest mode d'emploi just didn't cut the mustard.  (And today he continues to classify brown bumps with his own, personal naming system).  As my old department chair oft repeated, "We're paid for our opinion." And so the Art of Medicine and the Art of Wine here too intersect, as the world's most esteemed sniffers and tasters churn out charts and numerical tallies of everybody's wines and respective vintages.  Sometimes these spectacular palates and gifted wine writers just don't taste eye-to-eye either.  Each shoulders the other's antipode bearing a bridge that spans from "the greatest vintage in all eternity" to "worst plonk in the history of man."  Take the recently released 2004 Barolo vintage from the esteemed Piedmont region of Italy.  James Sucking of Wine Spectator fame (12/15/08 pp99-103) enthuses "the biggest success of 2004 is Barolo...the 2004 vintage, which I rate 93 points in Barolo, is better than 2003 and aromatic, delivering subtle, refined, and beautiful fruit and polished tannins."  Sounds spectacular, right?  Compare this to John and Dottie's review in the WSJ last Sunday.  Their title, "A Waning Affair with Barolo," says it all.  After a representative tasting of 2004's priced under $70 they report, "Darn it.  They really just weren't that impressive.  You can't imagine our shock and disappointment.  Flight after flight left us cold...the bar, overall, seemed lower...the wines lacked soul and intensity."

To his credit, Mr. Suckling warned Barolo hounds to stick with top producers who worked extra hard to control crop yield, since excessive crop yields resulted in "diluted wines."  This mirrors the WSJ's sentiment that "too many tasted diluted- thin around the edges; overly grapey."  Also, bear in mind that of the 30 Barolo's highlighted in Mr. Suckling's report, only one cost less than $70, with two more priced from $72-$75.  The other recession-proof offerings soared as high as $445 per bottle.  Ouch!  Maybe there is something to be said for the ephemeral and much debated link between wine quality and cost.  Of the 5 Barolo's that John and Dottie loved the most (or disliked the least?), all were rated between 87 and 95 points by Wine Spectator.  John and Dottie's top dog, the Giacomo Grimaldi ‘Sotto Castello di Novello,' garnered 92 points from Mr. Suckling.  But Mr. Suckling's top-rated wine of the Wall Street Journal bunch, the 95 point Corino ‘Vigna Giachini,' scored just a "Very Good" from John and Dottie, kind of like a B/B+ on their scale.  Sounds arbitrary?  Confusing?  Well take heart, Brigade.  After all, they're just paid to give you their opinion.