It was so easy once upon a time. You had your Bordeaux and your Burgundy for ageable reds, Beaujolais for something lighter, and Alsace and Germany for aromatic whites. Then, in the 1970s, that upstart California proved that someplace else could make something special. In the past couple of decades, knowledge of viticulture and enology has filled the wine world with new and exciting sources of good, distinctive wine.
It has also made it infinitely more complicated. Great wines are coming from places that were not on the radar 20 or 30 years ago. To name a few, there is Washington and Oregon in the U.S.; Italy, Spain, Portugal and Austria in Europe; Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina and Chile in the Southern Hemisphere.
One way we try to get a grip on all that is to simplify. We pigeonhole. We identify whole wine regions, even countries, with a specific style or grape variety. I see this so often in the parts of the world I cover for Wine Spectator: Oregon equals expensive Pinot Noir, Washington equals reliable Merlot, Australia equals big, fruity Shiraz, and New Zealand equals crisp, herbal Sauvignon Blanc. Elsewhere, Argentina has gotten itself placed on a shelf labeled “ripe Malbec,” and average wine drinkers learned to equate Italy with Pinot Grigio (and maybe Chianti).
To be sure, wine professionals and most consumers reading these words know that these places can make other wine types well. California may be known for easy-drinking Chardonnays at a modest price level and big Cabernets at the high end. But we know you can find anything along the style spectrum from California if you’re willing to search a little. And yet, the brush of public opinion tars the state’s wines with the outdated notion that everything it makes is broad and alcoholic.
The same is true virtually everywhere. Australian winemakers express frustration at being lumped in with the “New World” when Australia’s soils are the oldest on the planet and the wine industry there is entering its third century of commercial production. It's only new to those who were not aware of it before.
At a tasting organized for wine professionals in San Francisco, several sommeliers were pleasantly surprised that the Pinot Noirs were so delicate and crisp and the Rieslings so dry and steely. They admitted that they had fallen into the over-simplification trap, thinking that all Australian wines were big and alcoholic.
It’s not as if the information wasn’t available. I am not the only one who has been reviewing those wines favorably. But it’s hard to get past an often-heard perception, even if it’s wrongheaded, when it’s so much easier to just rule out whole swaths of the wine world to make life easier.
But think of what you might be missing. I admit to doing the same thing about Bordeaux. I stopped buying Bordeaux more than decade ago, about the time prices skyrocketed. I wrote off a whole region as all the same and overpriced, but lately I have discovered some less famous names that were darned good for the price on by-the-glass lists. Mea culpa.
This is why I love the generation of wine drinkers now in the 20s and 30s age range. They come to wine with no preconceived notions. They are open to any wine, any variety, from any place, as long as it pleases the palate. They didn't blink when wines started coming in screw caps or boxes.
My advice: anytime you hear a broad statement about everything from a whole country or region being all the same, be like them. Question it. Try the wines for yourself. You never know what you might find.
Jason Gullion — California — April 12, 2010 12:22pm ET
David A Zajac — Akron, OH — April 12, 2010 1:23pm ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — April 12, 2010 1:36pm ET
Food Wine Consulting — San Francisco, CA — April 12, 2010 1:55pm ET
Jason Gullion — California — April 12, 2010 3:47pm ET
David W Voss — elkhorn, Wi — April 12, 2010 5:31pm ET
Keir Mccartney — League City,TX — April 12, 2010 6:26pm ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — April 12, 2010 6:39pm ET
Andrew S Bernardo — Ottawa, Ontario, Canada — April 13, 2010 7:53am ET
David A Zajac — Akron, OH — April 13, 2010 11:31am ET
Andrew S Bernardo — Ottawa, Ontario, Canada — April 13, 2010 8:47pm ET
David A Zajac — Akron, OH — April 14, 2010 2:42pm ET
Karl Mark — Geneva, IL. — April 15, 2010 8:54pm ET
Sips & Tips | Wine & Healthy Living
Video Theater | Collecting & Auctions