Something an Oregon winemaker said to me on a recent visit has stuck in my mind, and it explains a lot about what's happening on the wine scene. We were talking about how many wineries, old and new, were competing for attention but how few were actually reaching a high standard, not just in Oregon but all over.
"I taste mostly pretty good wine," I said, "but too much of it is no better than other wines that sell for half the price."
His response: "Making good, clean wine used to be enough to stand out. Now it’s the price of admission."
He's right. From our standpoint as consumers, we have never had it so good. Flawed wine, which once represented a significant portion of those on retail shelves, has become a relative rarity. That changes the game. It used to be that anyone who dodged excess volatile acidity, brettanomyces or oxidation automatically ranked among the leaders. Not any more, not since producers have used lower yields and deft winemaking to get more positive characteristics, not just avoid the negative.
Good wine is coming from so many places that astute wine drinkers can do very well if they are willing to try something outside their comfort zones. On a macro scale, upstarts such as Spain, Argentina, New Zealand and South Africa challenge the supremacy of established areas such as France, Italy and California. Within specific regions, the wines that rise to the top are the ones with more personality , not necessarily the ones that have been around a long time.
And yet, it surprises me how many wineries have not adjusted to this reality. New brands show up on the scene with sound, well-made wines that have nothing to recommend them except that they are new. Some established wineries coast on their reputations, offering expensive wines that no longer stand out from their peers.
I call these wines the "who cares?" crowd. In my tasting room, I come across legions of wines I rate 86 to 90 points that either carry high price tags or are made in such small quantities readers won't be able to find them if they try. Who cares if I review them?
The wines that get me excited have something that sets them apart. They show more finesse than their peers, or they present a distinctive flavor profile. Most of all, they taste good enough that you would expect to pay more than they actually cost. I think that's what drives the wine world today.
Good enough is only the price of admission.
Jordan Horoschak — Houston, TX — May 5, 2009 2:11pm ET
James Rego — Redding, Ca., Shasta County — May 5, 2009 2:18pm ET
David W Voss — elkhorn, Wi — May 5, 2009 4:31pm ET
Russell Quong — Sunnyvale, CA — May 5, 2009 4:57pm ET
Jason Thompson — Foster City, CA — May 5, 2009 5:11pm ET
Claude Kaber — Luxemburg — May 5, 2009 5:12pm ET
Jim Facco — Calgary, Alberta — May 5, 2009 5:57pm ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — May 5, 2009 6:34pm ET
Stephen Lima — Wakefield, RI — May 5, 2009 8:07pm ET
Mike Diercksmeier — chicago — May 5, 2009 9:20pm ET
Eric Yates — Geneve, Switzerland — May 6, 2009 7:52am ET
Keir Mccartney — League City,TX — May 7, 2009 12:10pm ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — May 7, 2009 1:35pm ET
Eric Heinz — Philadelphia — May 7, 2009 4:42pm ET
David Sean Muttillo — Port — May 12, 2009 9:24pm ET
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