When wine professionals, serious oenophiles and critics taste wines either blind or open, they are often looking for different characteristics. The question frequently arises as to whether it is more important that their impressions are true to the grape or to the wine.
I find this an interesting dilemma. It is far easier for most consumers to understand a wine when only looking at the “enjoyability” factor: “I like the wine or I don’t.” But the answer becomes far more complicated when looking at the underlying character of the wine — its varietal heritage and place of origin. Here the “typicity” factor favored by many comes into play.
Typicity (from the French typicité or the Italian tipicitá) describes the degree to which a wine reflects its varietal origins demonstrating the signature characteristic of the grape and its growing area. It is widely used in the wine press and industry but rarely finds its way to the average consumer.
According to a recent blog post by Steve Heimoff (formerly West Coast editor for Wine Enthusiast and now with Jackson Family Wines), the quality of the wine is of primary importance to him, and as he says, to most other critics. In the post he remarks, “… we’re looking for inherent quality, not typicity, which is the fundamental basis of assigning a point score.”
While I understand what Heimoff is saying, I find it difficult to fully appreciate a high “quality” (high scoring) pinot noir when it looks and tastes more like a syrah, as do many today. Is it unrealistic to expect that a wine made to the highest standards (e.g., quality) also be representative of the grape (e.g., typicity) from which it was made? I hope not.
Perhaps the argument of quality over typicity is the underlying reason so many wines taste alike. This “international style” so prevalent today is often attributed to influential critics and followed by producers looking for the higher score. But this narrow view is actively challenged by many wine lovers looking for and appreciating varietal character and a sense of place.
A few years ago, I attended a tasting of sangiovese and one wine was quite tasty even though it was not representative of the sangiovese grape. The wine was enjoyable, but my question was, “What is it?”
A discussion proceeded about whether the wine being enjoyable was enough or should it also be typical of the grape. There were strong feelings on both sides, and, as expected, no real conclusion was reached.
I would never dismiss the notion of quality when evaluating or enjoying a wine. Rather, I embrace quality as a necessary element in the first place and a component of typicity rather than a separate factor as suggested by Heimoff.
Fine wine is a complicated entity that embraces everything we look for in a superb culinary presentation and more. A first-class cut of beef must, of course, be true to the taste and texture of beef. Yet most would be hard pressed to know if it came from the Midwest, Texas or South America.
Yet a cabernet from Napa Valley should combine the flavor and aromatics of the varietal as well as reflect the character of its Napa roots. Yes, there is an expectation of quality with a wine from Napa but typicity is what sets it apart from many other cabernets. The two must go hand-in-hand.
Following my Aug. 21 column, “Always a good time for rosé,” I read the following week at Decanter.com that “US retailers have been reporting record sales of rosé wine, stretching outside summer months and including more diverse styles.” And also that “Washington, D.C. based MacArthur Beverages has seen a tenfold increase in rosé wine sales, to 1,000 cases in 2014.” A trend continuing in 2015. Good news for the rosé producers of the world and consumers here at home.
Pablo — You allude to “dry” rosé, but often I’m disappointed when I open a rosé and find it unexpectedly sweet that I don’t care for. How do I know I’m purchasing a “dry” rosé?
The label will not usually tell the story but be sure to steer clear of the blush wines such as white zinfandel because they are most often sweet. Your merchant or wine server is a big source of help here and the wines of Provence and other classic Old World areas are good dry choices.