This week we offer two exceptional white wines that are considered benchmarks for their respective appellations. We’ll continue to feature noteworthy white wines like these throughout the fall.
There are stages to every enthusiasm. New wine drinkers often seek the "two by four upside the head” experience. A fascination with ever increasing intensity and concentration can often define quality for the novice. It's an honest reaction, given our culture's addiction to "super sizing" and the constant pounding from myriad external sources that scream for our attention.
It's no wonder that subtlety takes a back seat to excess and that balance is drowned out by impact - and that white wine is relegated to "oh that stuff" status while reds with huge palate presence are venerated and revered.
Not long ago I was alternately amused and annoyed to read an email from a Portland distributor that highlighted an Australian winery's so-called “fruit impact scale” in which a certain wine's "fruit weight" was assigned a percentage as an indicator of value - as in (and please note the trademark):
"Marquis Fruit Weight™ is the percentage of your palate (from the tip of your tongue going all the way back) that's covered by the velvety sensation of fruit, before you experience any of the structural components of the wine. A wine must have at least 65% Fruit Weight™ in order to be considered for bottling as a…”
It's hard to know whether to laugh or cry in the face of such nonsense, and it begs the question of where might an austere yet detailed Nebbiolo from the Valtellina, or a great Cru Beaujolais fare under such a scale?
How about the 1990 Giacosa Barolo Riserva I shared with friends some time ago or the superb 2005 Volnay “Champans” 1er Cru enjoyed recently at a birthday dinner? Would these outstanding wines even rate as highly on this thoroughly silly scale as a $10 shiraz fruit bomb?
And while fruit is a very important element, far more critical to the overall success of any wine in my mind at least, are balance, eloquence, identity, harmony and fidelity to place and variety. But only rarely do we hear these mentioned - even by people who supposedly know better.
But restraint is an under-appreciated virtue in these days of hedonistic over consumption. The idea that something has been held back, that proportion and contour are valued more than impact and bombast is not fashionable. To borrow from the great movie parody Spinal Tap, we want to turn everything up to 11.
When someone informs me that they never drink white wine - and this happens often in my business - I am tempted to ask if they ever eat a salad? How about fish, vegetables or white meats?
But because I have a sincere and high regard for the autonomy of my customers palates and preferences, I do my darnedest to refrain from evangelizing.
However, I don't mind grabbing the bridle and gently leading the way to a refreshing, hopefully eye opening and thirst quenching stream. I consider it an important function in my profession. Whether the horse chooses to drink is up to them.