Peter Birmingham isn't trying to win friends, at least , not friends who don't know wine. In Judi Laing's spicey boozenews blog, the wine director and sommelier for the restaurant Hatfield's doesn't mince words.
A few sips from a candid, fun, and informative interview with Birmingham:
On hyper-expensive California wines: "There is none of the nuance and elegance of French wine. Those ‘heroic’ wines are like seeing a bodybuilder on Venice beach. I understand what it takes to get there but it’s grotesque, to me nonetheless, and it’s the simplest, easiest wine-style to achieve."
The way sommeliers are paid (based on how much wine they sell) means that at restaurants where corkage overtakes bottles bought on-site, you get less-informed service: if you “can’t sell the product (because of corkage), you can’t earn the income based on selling the wine list. Therefore, you can’t really learn to experiment with new wines because you can’t have an adventurous wine list."
On aging as a palate professional: “I’m getting older and now it’s a race between my hair, my teeth and my taste buds.”
Is anyone making California wine that is on the right track? Birmingham makes several interesting and affordable recommendations, but you'll need to check out Judi's blog for these.