Long-time wine critic Fred Koeppel (one of the best in the business in my opinion) had a bit of a rant this weekend about delicious wines. In a post entitled “I Don’t Trust Delicious Wines” he writes:
With a sniff and a sip, the gorgeous wine gets right in there and provides quick fulfillment, a burst of pleasure. “Wow, that’s gorgeous!” What happens next, though? Such wines may be superficially attractive, even seductive, and I won’t deny that a wine with the capability to draw you in irresistibly isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In the end, however, the gorgeous wines don’t deliver the true promise that great wines hold: elegance and finesse married to power and dynamism; a structure that feels embedded in the grapes’ origin in the vineyard and the vineyard in a region; acidity that brings the necessary vitality to the wine’s essence and cuts a swath on the palate; the balance among fruit, tannin, acid, oak and minerality that soothes, stimulates and challenges the senses and the intellect.
I know what he’s getting at. Wines that are designed to deliver that big fruit flavor often don’t have a lot of structure, subtlety or mystery about them. On the other hand, there is room for wines that deliver ripeness. That is what California does best, it is what our weather gives us, and there is a kind of satisfaction that comes from bathing in richness and opulence from time to time.
My objection to these wines is that too often they taste the same. They all seem to be aiming for the same flavor profile, the same texture and deliver the same kind of satisfaction. Moreover they aim for consistency from year to year and can usually achieve it since warm growing seasons are common in Napa and Sonoma.
By contrast old world wines are fascinating because they surprise us, they are different from year to year because of weather variations and because regulations prevent some of the winery magic that allows winemakers to hit the targeted flavor profile that has been successful in the past.
If top shelf California wines are getting boring, lower price offerings are following suit. With long-time family wineries being sold to industrial producers and the popularity of sweet red blends showing no sign of slowing, you might as well buy the label since what is in the bottle will probably resemble the bottle next door.
California has a deserved reputation for making great wine. But there are plenty of other wine regions ready to step up if California gets complacent. And with cider, craft beer, and cocktails getting increasingly interesting, the wine industry should start thinking about whether homogeneity and “product” is really the path to success.