Sure, the popularity of the modern style of riper wines is controversial. Yet winemakers I’ve talked with in recent weeks have no intent on changing styles. Why should they? Their wines are selling out at their asking prices, whether it’s $50 or $150 a bottle, in some instances much higher prices for Napa Cabernet.
Ditto for Pinot Noir. Why would Kosta Browne tamper with its style, which has proven to be a huge success? Some decry these as overripe wines. But the 2003 and 2004 KBs I’ve tried recently were elegant and stylish and much of the opulent fruit they displayed in their youth has settled down and the wines now offer more nuance and delicacy than many might have imagined.
Point is this: The market (you and me) determine what’s popular, and we vote with our dollars. Yes, this does sound like a political, election-year theme. But it’s true.
In our upcoming Cabernet issue, we profiled new wineries that are aiming for a “different,” or more traditional, style of Napa Cabernet, with an emphasis on lower alcohol levels and somewhat tamer flavors. What’s more, people are talking about Cabernet having an “herbaceous” quality. My oh my, what a revelation. Herbs are part of Cabernet’s varietal character, so they’re always going to be in the wines, somewhere.
I’ve long contended that the trouble, if there is any, with wine styles is that wineries tend to mimic the most popular tends. So when riper, fuller-bodied wines became en vogue in the 1990s, they not only caught the fancy of wine drinkers but that of producers as well. The result: The market became saturated with this style of wine.
What’s more, while some wineries and winemakers can execute a riper style, some can’t, the same way some wineries in Napa can’t execute a Bordeaux-style wine, because it’s often too warm. So we get a mix of some wines aiming for elegance and finesse on a grand scale, but they come up short. Sure, they’re big and ripe, but also pruny and clumsy and sometimes ripe and racy to the extreme. One example of a winery that needs to shift gears away from too much ripeness and pay greater attention to its cellar is David Arthur. Its early vintages were ripe and supple and fun to drink. But the wines didn’t age well and recent vintages have been far less compelling. And I think the owners are addressing those issues.
How and when will wine styles change? When we demand it. Some people are already fatigued by the superripe wines and are shifting allegiances. Those who want to age their wines for decades will decide whether the wines they’ve purchased are built for the long haul or not. I suspect producers will also have a big say in this as well, since the truth in wine always comes out in the end.
There are many reasons people enjoy drinking their wines young, from the fresh, fruity vitality they display to the lack of space to keep a traditional cellar. For the latter, aging wines isn’t always an easy proposition.
But as long as winemakers are selling out their wines and people are endorsing those styles with their dollars, there isn’t any incentive to change.
Sandy Fitzgerald — Centennial, CO — September 3, 2008 5:10pm ET
Al Larson — San Carlos,CA — September 3, 2008 7:59pm ET
James Laube — Napa, CA — September 3, 2008 8:09pm ET
Don R Wagner — Illinois — September 3, 2008 10:02pm ET
Kevan Vanlandingham — Durham, NC — September 4, 2008 12:45am ET
Jonathan Lawrence — September 4, 2008 6:28am ET
Hugh L Sutherland Jr-m — miramar beach, fl — September 4, 2008 11:06am ET
James Laube — Napa, CA — September 4, 2008 12:37pm ET
Michael Vickery — Texas — September 4, 2008 4:27pm ET
Jeffrey Matchen — New Jersey — September 4, 2008 8:17pm ET
James Laube — Napa, CA — September 4, 2008 8:35pm ET
Alex Bernardo — Millbrae, CA — September 5, 2008 6:45pm ET
Riccardo Bonino — Washington DC — September 7, 2008 12:36pm ET
Paul Root — Healdsburg, California — September 9, 2008 4:23pm ET
John Nelson — Dallas, Texas — September 10, 2008 6:13pm ET
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