In an increasingly demotic wine world, there’s room under the sun for all

In a world where wine is becoming increasingly demotic, we lovers of the “new old” need to remember to be fair and gentle with our fellows.

saved wineLast week, I inadvertently accepted an invitation to a preview of an outdoor weekend “wine fest” here in Houston. I won’t go into the details but by the time I realized what kind of wines were being poured, it was too late to decline politely.

The centerpiece wine in the tasting was a California red blend by a legacy Napa grape grower and winemaker and a celebrity tattoo artist.

Curious about the wine, I looked it up on the winemaker’s site. Here’s how the tasting notes and technical info read:

A robust, powerful wine with a big personality and a generous finish. It is big, bold and rich, with pedigree sourcing from California’s finest regions.

An eclectic blend of grapes deliver rich color and full-bodied flavors: red currant, black cherry and black olive. Soft tannins balance well with distinct oak flavors – French oak for vanilla and coconut; American oak for caramel, créme brûlée and coffee.

[The wine is made using] 31% Zinfandel, 23% Carignane, 12% Petite Sirah, 11% Malbec, 10% Merlot, 9% Petit Verdot, 2% Mixed Blacks, 1% Ruby Cabernet, 1% Syrah.

In the age of the “new California” wine and in a time when fruit bomb Merlot and oaky and buttery Chardonnay trends seem to have faded among the wine intelligentsia, it may be hard for some — like me — to believe that wines are still made and marketed like this: “Big, bold and rich… with distinct oak flavors.”

But the fact is that the “big” California style still enjoys an immense and intensely loyal following throughout the United States.

Click here to continue reading my post today for the Boulder Wine Merchant…

6 thoughts on “In an increasingly demotic wine world, there’s room under the sun for all

  1. You are correct that many people like these wines. But why do we feel any need to think this is of merit? It seems a pseudo-democratic relativistic perspective that preference is important beyond the pure commercial dimension. The valorization of preference always seemed to me a particular American weakness pretending its advertising and sugar industries haven’t completely warped the palates of most Americans. Preference? Please. It is pure, unadulterated manipulation and consumerism. I normally love what you do, but this piece is consumerist main stream tripe.

  2. To add one more comment. The false dichotomy between high and low alcohol or fruit and mineral driven wines adds to the nonsensicalness of this debate. Great wine can have any of these characteristics, but extremely overt oak? Overripe fruit? No. That’s just bad wine making. Those who like this ‘style’ (which is basically American-style cereal) matter only from the perspective of selling product.

  3. Thanks everyone for being here and sharing insights/perspectives.

    Shea, I tasted that wine at the preview and well, it was pretty awful.

    I was just trying to wrap my mind around the huge gap between the hegemony of consumerism in wine and the emerging access and visibility of a more wholesome approach to winemaking.

    I was really blown away by something that Steve Matthiasson said to me the other day: that only the highest-end California can afford and/or wants to go organic. It’s all just marketing for them… But that’s just another reflection of the lop-sided California paradigm.

    I love that you called my writing tripe…

  4. More Americans would rather have a bowl of fruit loops or frosted flakes for breakfast than some really prime Scottish smoked salmon on toasted artisanal rye bread. That doesn’t make the former a better or even equally valid choice. It just means that more Americans have bad taste than good taste.

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