Dunne on Wine

Dunne on Wine: Outdated notions

One of the dated notions about wine is that is must be red to be taken seriously.
One of the dated notions about wine is that is must be red to be taken seriously. Dallas Morning News

It’s time for a look at common but outdated notions in the world of wine, in other words, topics that are “sooooo yesterday…”

▪ Neo-prohibitionist: This is a term some observers of the wine trade are quick to use when they suspect someone is about to do something to keep their glass empty. Granted, various attempts to stymie access to alcoholic beverages do arise, but nowadays they more likely originate with someone with a vested interest in selling beer, wine and spirits than with someone who seeks a ban on their consumption.

Beyond that, a person or organization labeled “neo-prohibitionist” simply may want to point out that the immoderate use of alcoholic beverages can have undesirable physical, mental or social consequences; concern about health more than morals motivates them, and they seek temperance rather than abstinence. For them, the term “neo-prohibitionist” is both inaccurate and unfair. If a “neo-prohibitionist” movement is afoot, it’s clearly ineffective; you can hardly go anyplace these days – fashion boutique, art gallery, hair salon – without having a glass of wine thrust your way. (Often it’s such dreadful stuff that a neo-prohibitionist movement might not be a bad idea.)

▪ Wine snob: Another term frequently tossed about too casually, though generally by newbies to the wine scene rather than seasoned travelers. Pilgrims are apt to mistake enthusiasm or preference for a particular style of wine or a particular region as snobbism when all it reveals is experience, exploration and maturity; the person expressing his pleasure wants to share what he’s found to be an unusually exhilarating type of wine or place of origin. Price, the customary measure of wine snobbism, doesn’t factor into his equation; he or she well may get as excited by a $15 bottle of wine as one costing $250, or a wine from Sicily rather than one from Bordeaux. People who have been active on the wine front for some time recognize the jargon, attitude and accoutrements long associated with wine snobbism for what they are – clues to an underlying insecurity. After years of ridicule, old-school wine snobs also have wised up and gone underground; if they emerge from their cellars at all they know to leave behind the airs, the tastevin and the proclamations that this or that imported wine, expensive wine, or particular vintner, vintage or vineyard is superior, without question.

▪ The 100-point scale of rating wine: Yes, the evaluation of a wine by giving it points seems to be more popular than ever. The aisles of some wine shops look like country lanes bordered by trees that have yet to shed their leaves, so many slips of paper boasting that this or that wine got 95 or so points flap from shelves. Entire restaurant wine lists are assembled with wines anointed with no fewer than 90 points from this or that critic. Yet, there are signs that the allure and impact of the 100-point scale could have peaked. More consumers seem to be realizing that a high-scoring wine isn’t necessarily a wine that appeals to their palate; they welcome old-time descriptors about a wine’s weight, intensity, aging potential and so forth.

Consumers also are asking why so many more wines today than even a year or two ago are scoring between 90 and 100 points. Furthermore, they are starting to suspect that some of these people assigning scores stand to profit by the sales of wines that are highly ranked. Mostly, the proliferation of highly scored wines on store shelves and wine lists is pushing consumers right back to where they were before the system gained momentum; it is telling them even less than they can learn about a wine by studying a bottle’s label, even if it is in Greek.

▪ The conceit that California is the only source of wine in the country: While California is the largest single source of wine consumed in the United States, accounting for almost 60 percent of the total, it clearly isn’t the only source. Indeed, its standing could be in jeopardy for a wide range of reasons. For one, around 30 percent of the country’s wine sales are imports, a segment that continues to grow.

For another, surveys indicate that tomorrow’s principal wine consumers – today’s millennials – aren’t as smitten with California wines as their elders, that they are attracted not only to unfamiliar wines but unfamiliar wine regions. Also, farmers who now grow grapes could find that their land might generate more revenue with fewer woes if they converted to a crop such as pistachios, almonds or maybe even kale.

But the most exciting challenge to California’s wine dominance is coming from other states, which now account for approximately 10 percent of the nation’s wine production. The wine trades of Washington, Oregon and New York are well established, but quality wine also is emerging from several other states, including Wisconsin, Virginia and Texas. In his year-end roundup of the 10 most interesting wines he tasted during 2014, wine blogger Joe Roberts (www.1winedude.com) included a sangiovese from Frogtown Cellars, which is in Georgia, not Angels Camp.

▪ A “serious” wine must be red: Chardonnay is the nation’s most popular wine, but for consuming as soon as possible and not in a decade or two, though many takes on the varietal can age into even grander representatives of grape, place and winemaking acumen. That’s the way it is for other white wines capable of developing more nuances as they mature, in particular riesling. But by and large, it’s mostly red wines that are thought to appreciate in nobility as they age; thus, they are wines to be taken most seriously, when what they really offer is a bit more weight, complexity and persistence than whites.

That prevailing attitude, however, helps explain why red wines tend to command higher prices than white, but it ignores the rewards that a finely styled white wine can deliver with aging.

▪ “This is the Napa Valley of the future,” and its cousin, “This is what Napa Valley was like 25 years ago:” Make no mistake, Napa Valley is in an enviable position as a wine region for all sorts of reasons, from the lay of the land and the gumption of its winemaking community to its proximity to San Francisco, all characteristics that set it apart and which can’t be duplicated by any other appellation.

So why do we keep hearing and reading those kinds of comments? Misguided ambition, for one. Lazy marketing, for another. Competing wine regions would be smarter to define and capitalize on their own character. Besides, when you consider the congestion, high prices and stuffy attitude so often encountered in Napa Valley, why would a wine district want to aspire to that standing?

Wine critic and competition judge Mike Dunne’s selections are based solely on open and blind tastings, judging at competitions, and visits to wine regions. He can be reached at mikedunne@winegigs.com.