In my last column, “Wine choices and differing opinions,” I commented on a few strikingly contradictory opinions regarding our availability of choice in the market.
On one side of the argument was James Lawrence, who voiced a strong view that, “diversity in wine terms is a bad idea. At best it’s an indulgence of the trade and at worst it may lead to commercial suicide. It is also patronizing. Do consumers really need to be told that they should be expanding their palates?”
Opposing views were presented by two highly respected sommeliers. New York-based Raj Vaidya stated, “We – sommeliers and merchants who actually care about their customers – are not offending [them] by our ‘indulgent’ habits of tasting and sharing new wines, we are helping those…who are truly interested.”
And London-based Master Sommelier Stefan Neumann takes pride in introducing his diners to different and often obscure wines by “transporting the customer…and taking them to the place…” as he paints a visual picture through “colourful and wonderful words.”
Gauging from the many comments and opinions I received, my thoughts and those quoted in the column must have struck a chord. I heard from consumers as well as those in the trade on the subject of choice and our ability to explore a broad range of varietal bottlings and blends. Curiously perhaps, the comments were universally in support of Vaidya and Neumann’s views with no endorsement of the contrary opinion expressed by Lawrence.
I’ve included just a few of these comments below for your review and think they shed additional light on the importance of choice when it comes to wine whether purchased at retail or from a restaurant’s list. I also believe we should acknowledge the passion and commitment of growers, vintners and winemakers who are courageous in their support of countless “under-the-radar” wines while adding an ever expanding dimension to our mealtime enjoyment. Some thoughts on that follow the readers’ comments.
Dean Medeiros is a sommelier in Southern California who has spent a quarter century involved in virtually every aspect of wine. “I couldn’t agree more with you,” he wrote. “Yes, growers are doing a balancing act to predict what will be needed, and as such need to [retain] sufficient stock of cash-producing crops. However, the world has over 9,000 varietals and sub-varietals, so some diversity in choice is not only welcome, it shows the public you aren’t lazy! If the world reduces itself to just a handful of wine grapes for wine making, I am going to be drinking more beer!”
Scott Harvey began his winemaking career in 1979 and is considered (among other accomplishments) a king-pin in establishing Amador County in the Sierra foothills as an internationally respected growing area. His goal has always been the creation of “niche wines that over deliver.” Scott simply and directly expressed his appreciation for diversity. “As a winemaker, I like to make wine that tells the story of variety, place and vintage. Therefore, I find wines made from all over the world whether it be from Kansas or the Rhein River of interest. I find wine’s story exciting.”
David Stone, a consumer from Arizona, believes “providing a variety selection of wine can only help expand the consumers’ ability to choose the right wine for them. Limiting choices is limiting the experience and growth of a creative wine drinker. After all, isn’t that part of the ‘Bill of Rights’ in the wine industry, choice thru tasting and suggestion?”
Steve Silverman, an avid wine lover and collector from L.A commented that, “But for the advice of the merchant or sommelier, many of the wines we now enjoy as ‘regulars’ would not have been known and therefore not enjoyed.”
Steve Shore most likely expressed a more commonly held opinion: “The market for growing, producing, selling and consuming wines should be determined by those interested in being in that space. Even though I tend to order wine at a restaurant from a short list of my preferred reds, I absolutely want to have the various selections shown just in case I get adventurous.”
Consumers, merchants, restaurateurs, sommeliers, importers and distributors owe a deep debt of gratitude to the commitment and passion of dedicated growers, vintners and winemakers willing to tackle the risks involved with unfamiliar varietal and blended wines. Most of these varieties originated in lesser known growing areas and largely appealed to local palates. We are now the beneficiaries of this diversity and vintner/trade investment.
Many of our domestic winemakers have experienced internships and other learning programs in numerous growing areas of the world. As a result, they have returned home armed to share and advance time-honored traits along with a love of many local varieties that have now found a home in the U.S.
For obvious reasons, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and other stalwarts continue to occupy significant roles in the portfolios of many Napa wineries. However, valuable acreage, time and money are continually directed to cultivating and producing wines from other varieties that until not so long ago were virtually unknown in this market.
Just a few Napa Valley examples are: Lava Vine’s (von Strasser) Grüner Veltliner in Calistoga; Aligoté from Young Inglewood in St. Helena; Tempranillo and Albariño from Artesa in Carneros; Viognier from Hyde Estate in Carneros and Goosecross in Yountville. The Hess Collection’s Gewürtztaminer from Mt. Veeder; Riesling from Trefethen in Oak Knoll; Summers’ Charbono from Calistoga and Roussanne from Truchard in Carneros are among many more who may also source lesser known varieties from other appellations to complement their portfolios.
Lodi boasts some of California’s oldest Zinfandel vines and is widely considered the “Zinfandel capital of the world.” But with its tapestry of soil types, exposures, climatic conditions and elevations, Lodi encompasses more than 100,000 planted vineyard acres and 100 different grape varieties. They range from the well-known to the not so well-known and down to the virtually unknown stemming from Old World roots in Spain, Italy, Portugal, France and elsewhere.
In addition to those in Napa and Lodi, countless other domestic wineries have also jumped on the diversity train. They represent strong and committed vintner groups from Mendocino and Sonoma along with the Central Coast (Monterey to Ojai) and east to Amador, Contra Costa, etc. Let’s also not forget the superb selections from Oregon, Washington, a variety of other states and a host of imports that have joined the mission of bringing outstanding yet somewhat obscure wines to our table.
Last week, in his Napa Valley Register column, “Tasting outside the box whites” Eduardo Dingler summed it up from the standpoint of someone who is a noted columnist, educator and wine/sake afficionado, “Diversity is the spice of life, so go on and explore the many riches available and find your new favorite wine.”
Share your experiences with other readers by commenting on this article with an email to me at email@example.com.
Allen Balik, a Napa resident, has been a wine collector, consultant, author, fundraiser and enthusiast for more than 35 years.
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