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21st Century Sensibility

Posted: February 11, 2000

21st Century Sensibility

By Matt Kramer, columnist

Pundits everywhere -- not just in wine -- are irresistibly drawn to predictions. The job occasionally calls for it, but mostly it's ego. We think we know what will happen. Of course, that's nonsense.

I haven't a clue about what will happen this new year or for the next few years. But just as when you're on a precipice, it's impossible not to look at the horizon. Really, what else can you do in January 2000? What can be seen clearly? Your guess is as good as mine. But I know what I would like to see. I'm not predicting nuthin', mind you. It's just plain old wishful thinking. For example:

  • The rise of restraint in winemaking. Now, here's wishful thinking. But there is some reason for hope. In the last decade or so we've seen a stunning amount of winemakers' wishful thinking that they can make great wines without having to strive for low yields in their vineyards. That sort of thing is expensive.

    So instead we've seen all sorts of techniques for extraction: increasingly complicated uses of various enzymes; variations on cold maceration; ever more new oak; and sometimes absurd levels of alcohol. All these and more help wines seem "bigger."

    What's resulted has too often been a menagerie of grotesqueries. Yes, a wine or two of real depth and interest has occasionally emerged. But experience reveals that such " manipulated" wines don't age gracefully. Sometimes they don't age at all -- they simply fall apart.

    I would like to think that we'll see a new appreciation of more traditional winemaking in the coming years. Sure, there's always a need for experimentation. But that's just what it is: experimentation. Why should we pay for it? There's no substitute for low yields in the vineyard and straightforward winemaking for real flavor density and genuine structure. Wine at its best is, ironically, wine at its least.

  • The new benchmark of grower-made French Champagnes. Regular readers of this space are probably aware that I'm no great fan of sparkling wines. (Too much blending for this Burgundy/Barolo boy.) Nevertheless, I can't help but enjoy the distinctions of the increasing number of grower-made -- or estate-bottled, if you prefer -- French Champagnes. They really are different from the regular run of brand-name bubblies. In the same way that estate-bottled Burgundies gave the old-line shippers a run for their (big) money, here's hoping that, this century, the same thing happens in Champagne.

  • The renaissance of France's Loire Valley. While thinking of France, I can't help but mention the Loire Valley. I've said it before, but it's worth saying again: There's no place on the planet offering greater wines for less money than the Loire. And there's plenty of winemaking purity, too. I find myself drinking (as opposed to tasting) more and more Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé, Chinon and Savennières, among others. The Loire is where some major 21st century action is likely to be.

  • The rise of "wine cuisine." I started my career as a food writer, and I'm still a seven-days-a-week cook. In our 20-plus years of marriage, my wife has never once cooked a meal. All of which is to say that I think I know something about marrying food and wine (as well as one particular woman). Anyway, it's no news that the best " wine food" is always the simplest. Give me a good potato gratin and I'll give you the greatest red wine in my cellar. Would that more restaurants that supposedly care about wine start making food that actually goes with it.

  • The end of "fusion cuisine." I don't know about you, but the shuffling of Asian-with-Italian-with-French-etc. is simply too much. One (unusually talented) chef does it somewhere and the bandwagon begins, occupied mostly by mediocrities who don't ever seem to taste what they make. More to the point, there's no figuring what wine might appeal with this stuff. Too often, it seems, nothing goes with it.

  • And not least, the continuation of all that's really good: estate-bottling; wine on the Internet; wine auctions; readers' letters to Wine Spectator; Riedel glasses; direct shipping to consumers; emerging wine regions; ever more Pinot Noir; the coming of Pinot Gris; Zinfandel forever; a love of lamb; wood ovens; wine tasting notes; and just plain old -- or new -- wine hoopla.

    Comments? Join the discussion in our WS Forums. Or, Send us an email.

    This column, Unfiltered, Unfined, features the opinionated inside scoop on the latest and greatest in the world of wine, brought to you each Monday by a different Wine Spectator editor. To read past Unfiltered, Unfined columns, go to the archives.

    (And for an archive of senior editor James Laube's columns written just for the Web, visit Laube on Wine.)

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