There was a very odd article a couple weeks ago on the venerable looks-like-it’s-from-a-geocities-cache website Connoisseurs Guide to California Wine. Now, I know that naturally, with a name like that, you’re no doubt expecting cutting-edge forward thinking wine writing, So I was as shocked as you to instead find a crotchety screed essentially asserting that those of us who are singing the virtues of the plethora of wines which are not Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, etc. are silly charlatans and scam artists who are saying fuck you to our customers and willfully ignoring “centuries of connoisseurship, study and sheer enjoyment.”
I’ll cease quoting the article now, though I will mention that it takes as its jumping off point a fundamental misunderstanding of this earlier article by SF Chronicle wine editor Jon Bonne. So, in keeping with the current wine writing trends, I’m sure I’m going to fundamentally misunderstand the Most Honourable 9th Viscount Hurlbutt’s Almanack Concerning the Connoisseurship of the Wines of the Former Northwestern New Spain’s reactionary, alarmist nonsense.
I know of very very few wine professionals who look askance at Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay. They might be skeptical of the monolithic expressions of these grapes that certain producers and certain regions produce, but they are also quick to present elegant terroir-expressive alternatives. As an avowed wine geek, I still count Santa Cruz Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, Northern California Pinot Noir and Central Coast Merlot as among some of my absolute favorite wines. Any “show-off sommelier” who summarily dismisses any varietal merely because it’s historically appreciated is as silly as any connoisseur whose sole defense of a wine’s validity is popular inertia.
It’s not that Napa Cabernet Sauvignon or Bordeaux are inherently bad or outmoded, it’s that there has been an explosion in the availability of world class wine from all corners of the globe that are as good (or better), less expensive, and generally more appropriate for modern international cuisine than the classics and I won’t sit here with a straight face and listen to any wine writer, self-described connoisseur or otherwise, tell me that there aren’t Albarinos or Rieslings or Gruner Veltliners or Furmints or Viuras that do not meet or exceed California Chardonnay or White Burgundy in quality, complexity and “sheer enjoyment.”
(Shoot, I quoted the article again.)
All that we modern wine enthusiasts want to do is point out that in addition to all these old favorites there are hundreds of potential new favorites to try as well. What’s so wrong with a wine shop, restaurant, or sommelier wanting to excite customers about something heretofore unheralded? Until relatively recently (in wine terms) these wines were literally unavailable in the United States despite their being regarded as excellent wines in Europe–one need only look at the long standing English affection for the wines of Portugal and Spain, for instance.
But you know what? If a few “legacy wines” get kicked to the curb in the name of innovation and due to the exigencies of cellar space, so be it. There are still immeasurably more restaurants out there where I can find a good Napa Cab than those where I can enjoy a legendary dry Tokaji.
And the fact is, there really aren’t a lot of these wines available in the US anyway, so if haters like Olken and company at their digitized cuneiform on clay tablet wine guide don’t want to drink them, so be it. More for us.
But please, it’s not a fight. And now if you’ll excuse me, I have some Ridge Zinfandel with a Vin de Paille chaser to enjoy.