There is no doubt about it: when I started down the road of wine
obsession appreciation, I was very much an old-world wine snob—I preferred wines from European regions. In fact, I was perhaps the worst type of old-world wine snob—I was a French wine snob. The reasons for it were fairly straightforward:
- I was spending most of my summers in France leading bike trips, drinking copious amounts of French wine from the most famous regions in the world: Burgundy, Champagne, Loire, Alsace, Provence (yes, Bordeaux is noticeably missing—I was not allowed to lead trips in Bordeaux, but that is perhaps best left alone).
- Believe it or not, French wines were not all that expensive—the dollar was fairly strong and the favorable exchange enabled me to buy wines that I can only ogle at on the shelves these days.
- U.S. wines had a reputation for being overly fruity and “Fruit-bomb” was a term that was tossed around quite a bit—wines that were overly lush and jammy, that were simply all about the fruit and not much else.
- French wines seemed to go better with food. While American wines seemed to want to make an immediate impression, old-world wines were made with the view that wine was an integral part of a meal—meant to compliment, not dominate.
Over the past decade or so, many elements outlined above have shifted:
- Although I still make it to France about every other year, most of my vacations now are on the West Coast. My wife’s parents live in the Bay Area and we fly out there at least twice a year. Once our two boys came along, it was even easier to “escape” for a couple of days to go wine tasting.
- French wines have become a lot more expensive for a couple of reasons. First, the European Union has resulted in a net increase in the cost of European goods and around the same time, the U.S. adopted a policy of devaluing the dollar to make American products less expensive in foreign markets (and thus making foreign products more expensive).
- U.S. winemakers are increasingly rejecting the “fruit-bomb” style that seemed to be driven by a few wine critics and are making wines that are more balanced.
- As a result, these more balanced wines are much more “food friendly” and fit better on the American table.
Having said all of that, I have done a bit of a 180 on my approach to wine. Earlier this year, for the first time, my cellar had a majority of American wines. I was a bit shocked when that happened as I was not sure that I was ready to give up my well-entrenched “French wine snob” classification. After a bit of reflection about the shift I made a significant realization: I was buying more American wines since I liked them, plain and simple.
For years, I thought that a winemaker had to choose between the austere European style or the fruity, over-the-top Fruit-Bomb style.
I was wrong.
Yes, I was wrong.
The wines that I particularly enjoy are those that achieve balance and complexity similar to their European counterparts, but, and here is the key, they also celebrate the fruit. So instead of resisting it any longer, I have decided to embrace it.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not abandoning France—I will maintain many of my snob-like practices, but now I am on a new quest: to find wines that embrace both Old-World complexity and New-World fruit.
Here are a few wines that I sampled recently that exhibit the New World fruit and Old World complexity brilliantly:
2012 Cornerstone Stepping Stone (Black Label) Syrah: Retail $35. A bit dark and brooding in the glass with luscious dark fruit and a hint of mocha–surprisingly little spice. On the palate, the dark berry fruit dominates, giving way to a bit of spice and that mocha on the mid-palate. But make no mistake, this wine is still very tightly wound even after being open for a while. The lingering finish seems to hint that there is a some time ahead (3-5 years easy) before this will really start to shine. Fun to drink now, but patience will be rewarded. Outstanding. 90-92 Points. More with time.
2011 Cornerstone Pinot Noir Willamette Valley: Retail $50. Dark color for a Pinot, but still translucent, and pretty darn tight (not much in the aroma department) with some black cherry sneaking through eventually. On the palate, still rather closed up, but with a bit of air, the black cherry and a bit of chalky earth coat the palate. Most notable perhaps, are the tannins on the backend–this wine has a ways to go–I’d give it 2-4 years at least, and would not be afraid to hold on to it for as many as 10. Outstanding. 89-91 Points.
2012 Laetitia Winery Pinot Noir Estate Whole Cluster: Retail $40. Typically, Laetitia de-stems all their fruit. What does that mean? Well, basically, it means they remove the berries from the stems before fermentation. With this wine, though, they left some of those stems in which adds more tannin and complexity. A bit dark in color, black cherry and earth. Luscious mouth-feel, this is really good—with some grip on the backend. No hurry here, but what the hell? Buy two bottles (or more), drink one now and save the others for up to a decade—this is not going anywhere soon! Outstanding. 91-93 Points.