Grape Discrimination: “I don’t like that type because…”

29 May

It happens without fail that, at least once a month, I run into it at a tasting event.  Heck, I’ve even done it myself in the past.  But in the past month alone (TWICE just yesterday), I’ve come across the “I don’t like (insert Cab Sauv, Merlot, Chardonnay, etc here) because it’s too (insert ONE descriptor here…”too fruity, too thin, too buttery”, etc).  And typically I just hide gritted teeth behind a thin smile and say, “Really?  How unfortunate.  Have you tried every single wine made with that same grape?”, knowing that the cynicism has just passed unnoticed by them, much like the complexity of the wine they were currently tasting has passed unnoticed by their tastebuds as they guzzle whatever free pour has been placed in front of them.  Sometimes, I get the “Yes I have tried them all” to which my eyes widen and jaw drops incredulously, given that there are THOUSANDS produced…just in that ONE varietal type alone…across the globe.  The standard answer I get is “No, but I know what I like and don’t like.”  Do you?  Do you really?

At that point, I typically smile a little wider…perhaps a little too condescendingly…but not from a snob perspective…more from an “oh child, I’ve been exACTly where you are right now…and I’m about to give you the same wake up call I received years ago”.  I then say, “here, try this”, not telling them what they are drinking.  Blind tasting is the great equalizer and the destroyer of preconceived notions.  The majority of the time, they will sip the unknown wine, sing its praises, only to be left stunned when I reveal that the wine they are currently professing their undying love for is the same varietal they were just moments earlier telling me how much they hated.

Friends, as hard as this might be to swallow (pardon the pun), the majority of you are “wine bigots”.  You’ve been told that each varietal tastes a specific way.  You’ve been given one or two examples of that varietal that fit the profile, and you turned it into your doctrine.  The problem is, wine grapes are much like people.  Even identical twins aren’t exactly the same.  Neither are wine grapes.  A Chardonnay grown in Burgundy will NOT taste the same way as it does in Washington…or Oregon…or Australia.  Even within the same area, you’ll find big differences.  Let’s stick with Chardonnay for a moment:  A Napa Chard isn’t going to taste like a Chard from Santa Lucia Highlands in the Central Coast.  Even within Napa, an unoaked Chardonnay from Toad Hollow is going to be comPLETEly different from one of Rombauer’s oaked beauties.  Both Chardonnay…both with their own wonderful merits and loyal followers…both comPLETEly on the opposite side of the spectrum from one another!  See where I’m going here?

What makes wine such a magical thing is that,… depending on where it’s grown, the type of clone used, the climate, the particular weather conditions of that growing season, the ripeness when picked, the oak used (or not used), the aging regimen, whether certain processes like malolactic fermentation have occurred, the vision of the winemaker, etc, etc,…it can taste completely different.  Even if it is the same brand/producer, the taste can change from vintage to vintage!  That’s like walking into your closet and having one pair of shoes that matches EVERY SINGLE OUTFIT YOU HAVE AND EVER WILL PURCHASE!!!  Isn’t that fantastic???

My own experience came with Sauvignon Blanc (Wine industry people, don’t judge…don’t hate me..I already know…).  Try as I might, for years I could not stomach the grape…mostly because I was overloaded with those big grapefruity styles from New Zealand.  Although I can tell when it is varietally correct, when it has perfect typicity, the nose alone made me want to hurl, let alone the actual TASTE.  California Sauvignon Blancs weren’t much better for me with lemongrass and citrus assaulting me at every turn.  Still, I sojourned on, knowing that somewhere, from some producer, I would find one.  Because that’s the thing…there are a bazillion to choose from if you’re willing to keep an open mind.  Fortunately, I did.  Not only did I discover I liked the femininity and minerality of the Loire Valley’s Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume, but just recently, I determined that I am IN LOVE with the Sauvignon Blanc Musque clone in…CALIFORNIA SAUV BLANCS (well some of them anyway)!  Success!!!  It is one of my favorites.  I would have TOTALLY missed out if I hadn’t kept an open mind and had not just kept trying different producers and areas.

Which brings me to my point.  Wine types are not like every McDonald’s mass-produced item.  They aren’t like those potato chips you might have in your hands RIGHT NOW.  They aren’t consistently the same regardless of which bottle you pick up.  Just like my next door neighbor and I aren’t the same.  Don’t make assumptions that all wines of the same type are going to be exactly the same based on your experience with ONE bottle.  Take a chance on that same grape once again. Strike up a conversation with a new bottle from a different area or producer. Get to know it before you proclaim what it is and isn’t based on a bias you have from some OTHER bottle/area/producer.  DON’T…I repeat…DON’T be a wine bigot…




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