Friday, June 5, 2009

Wine Style

A few times a month Jeff and I try about thirty wines from around the world with a close circle of wine professionals. We are there to examine wines for what they are regardless of their quality and trueness to type or region.

Usually ten to twelve lesser known wines are selected blindly and placed in order to follow one another as a logical progression to prepare one's palate - whites, light reds, dark reds ,off dry and others (e.g.- Retsina...look it up!).

Despite what we think, this order is not absolute. In fact, many times we get it wrong! Where we think a wine should place, more often than not the order should be switched.

Recently, a small production Pinot Noir we had in the last tasting from Central Otago, New Zealand had more depth and character than both the following Chilean Cabernet or the Tannat from Uruguay. To me this was a surprise. I expected bolder flavors and body at least from the former but that did not happen.

The Pinot we consumed had the tannin, structure and the lingering finish. This is not the image we have of this variety. At least in Californina we think Pinot Noir is a light bodied, translucent red full of black cherry and gamey flavors. Our perception seems skewed not only by the domestic market but by what the we think the "New World" style should be.

I believe it is correct thinking to admit that we are in need of a change on how we view wine style and what we expect for our dollar. Some wines are poorly made or subject to adverse growing conditions and it shows in their composition as well as their value. This can be easily remedied in the hands of a creative winemaker who can make more with less and add a refreshing signature that can leave us guessing.

However, our current wine industry has been globalizing in recent years to bring about a homogeneity of "New World" style which is not only economical to produce but it enables wineries to neatly type cast any variety.

This past week has been a valuable lesson to me. Wine does not require a fixed image for us to enjoy it. So, I would encourage everyone who has even a remote interest in wine not to fall prey to mass market trappings. Go off the beaten path to discover unknown producers. Smaller is not better but it is a good place to start. Research who you are dealing with if you can. It has been my experience with hundreds of producers that good people generally make good wine and the opposite has also held true. Finally, challenge your mind, your nose and palate on what a grape variety should be. You may pleasantly deceive yourself (as I have) and understand that with wine - - style is everything.

- Karl Lehmann

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