As Wine Manager of Paradise Foods and a wine enthusiast, I spend a fair amount of time researching, sampling and enjoying wine on an almost daily basis. This exposes me to a wide variety of wines and wineries from all over the world. Over the years, it has become quite apparent that many wines seem to have strayed from their roots. The last time I checked Wikipedia or Encyclopedia Britannica (now free online!), the definition of wine was “fermented fruit juice, usually from grapes” or the “fermented juice of the grape.” Whether it’s consumer demand or the winemakers playing with their juice a bit too much, there seems to be a preponderance of secondary flavors unrelated to this fermentation of said grape.
I hate to pick on one wine as it has certainly been beaten to death, but Chardonnay is the most obvious wine that seems to have strayed from its beginnings. Primary flavors like tropical fruit, green apple, or citrus have given way to vanilla, hazelnut, crème brulée, or toasty oak. In the proper hands which allow the varietal to express itself, Chardonnay is beautiful wine. When did it become dominated by other flavors, such as wood and butter? Butter? Really? That creaminess which is so popular comes from diacetyl, a by-product of a chemical reaction in the winemaking process and is the same flavoring used to butter popcorn. Has Chardonnay just become a cocktail without the high booze levels? Wine should be the expression of the varietal from which it’s made as well as the soil and climate from where it comes, what the French call “terroir”. Sauvignon Blanc is known for its grassiness and grapefruit; Viognier its peach and honeysuckle; Gewurztraminer its lychee and spice; Riesling its lime and flinty minerality. And these are pure flavors natural to the varietal, not unassociated secondary characteristics which just get in the way.
Wood is another component that is totally overused, especially with New World wines (any winemaking country outside of Europe). I understand that for centuries wood has been a tried and true aging vessel, but how long is too long for a wine to sit soaking up all that oak? This excessive woodiness leads to wines that are clumsy, heavy, and palate-fatiguing. These days when assessing wines, the first thing I look for is wood. Do I smell a lumber mill when I stick my nose in the glass? Or do I detect just pure fruit? It goes without saying there are oodles of terrific wines from the US, South Africa, and South America. (As for Australia, the jury’s still out). And don’t think that just because it’s European, it’s a superior wine. Spanish wines often ooze excess amounts of cedar that is totally distracting from the wine.
So, if you’re interested in some wines that show off their true personalities, naked in all their glory, then try some my favorites. I guarantee you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
-Lenz Moser Gruner Veltliner Kamptal, Austria
-Domaine Pinson Chablis, France (Chardonnay!)
-Lucien Albrecht Pinot Blanc Alsace, France
-Cantina Terlano Bianco Classico Alto Adige, Italy
-Justin Sauvignon Blanc Paso Robles, California
-Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc/Viognier Clarksburg, California
-Botani Moscatel Seco Malaga, Spain
-Louis Jadot Macon-Villages Bourgogne, France (also Chardonnay!)
-Manifesto Zinfandel Lodi, California
-Henri Fessy Moulin a Vent Beaujolais, France
-Mencos Joven Rioja, Spain
-Planeta Cerasuolo Sicily, Italy
Erskine Gallant, Wine Manager, Paradise Foods