Do you think taste is something shaped by experience? Maybe by market? Habits? Family? Tradition? Well, I think taste is shaped by all that together. So, let’s talk a little bit about what is consider a good wine.
I’m really intrigued. I am currently finishing a master’s degree in Wine Culture in Piedmont at the University of Gastronomic Sciences, the headquarters of Slow Food. It is true that we have a taste pattern for wine. Among connoisseurs is sought a balanced pattern between acidity, tannins, body, structure. Anything that differs from this pattern these same connoisseurs call a defect.
The reaction of people to the different of this pattern bothers me. Some even say that natural wine does not even exist. I agree that a wine has to be pleasant to the palate and needs to generate pleasure in those who drink it. For the same reason I tried during childhood to tell my mother that Brussels sprouts did not please me and that, therefore, I did not want to eat them.
Another very important part is to see the impact of the old world wine culture generate a pattern that puts everything that diverges out of what is considered good. I have observed that those wines of the new world that resemble or seek a pattern similar to the great schools of French and Italian wine are exalted while those who seek an expression of their own terroir are left behind. Of course for those who came from the Old World
Well, we can not say that wine that does not please us is not good. We must say we do not like it. Taste is something very personal and there is space for a whole diverse universe of preferences.
In the last week of June I was in California on a study trip with my classmates of my Master in Wine Culture at the University of Gastronomic Sciences of Pollenzo. We visited UC Davis, several wineries and vineyards plus some breweries. Particularly I was not very excited, since I’ve been there a few times. Surprisingly there was in our program a visit to a region that I had never been to. I did not expect much because I had never heard of the wines there.
When we arrived at the Lodi Wine & Visitor Center we had a good conversation with Randy Caparoso, editor of lodiwine.com, about the region, the grape varieties grown and the wines from Lodi. So far nothing very different from what we normally see on our visits.
For my surprise Randy invited us to taste some wines at some vineyards with the producers. When we got to the first vineyard and had the first tasting I could not believe what was in my glass. The first wine we tasted was a fresh, vivid Cinsault produced by McCay Cellars. I didn’t expect to taste a wine at this level of quality in Lodi. It was a big surprise.
A very cool project we met in Lodi was the Lodi Native. In recent years Lodi Native – where groups of Lodi winemakers have been producing single-vineyard Zinfandels following the exact same, native yeast/neutral oak protocols – have been proving something that old-time growers and vintners have known all along: that there are differences among Lodi Zinfandel plantings grown in different parts of the Lodi AVA.
I believe if you are planning a visit to the vineyards of Napa Valley and Sonoma you should include a visit to the vineyards of Lodi. It is just over 1 hour drive from San Francisco and also from Napa.
“People know what they do; frequently they know why they do what they do; but what they don’t know is what what they do does.”
How would you generally describe a good wine? Do you believe this definition is personal or can it be considered universal? Simple questions and complex answers. As wine consumption is commonly associated with social status, several constraints lead ordinary consumers to choose their wines in restaurants and markets world-wide. Unfortunately the main one seems to be price and another famous is origin as if all expensive French wine was good just because it is expensive and French.
Why do I think this discussion matters? In my humble opinion, we are living a standardization of taste. It’s a fact. People seek tannin, acidity, structure, color and method without having any idea of what it actually means. Consumers read fabulous descriptions in assessments like those of Robert Parker and understand that there is in that ranking the supreme primary cause of all things. But the truth (at least to me) is that this standardization has affected the wine market and messed up the traditions.
“A critique does not consist in saying that things aren’t good the way they are. It consists in seeing on just what type of assumptions, of familiar notions, of established and unexamined ways of thinking the accepted practices are based… To do criticism is to make harder those acts which are now too easy.”
Having a winery before anything else is having a business. Whether it is familiar or not, this winery must support its owners and the families of its employees. For this, obviously the wine needs to be bought. Based on this basic premise, it is easy to perceive a simple relationship between supply and demand in this case. That is, producers want to make wines that please consumers. This link has caused producers to abandon varieties of native grapes and to start producing those that, today, produce better accepted wines.
The effect of this long-term market practices seems to be devastating in countries such as Italy where there are more than 300 different denominations of origin and more than 400 indigenous grapes (over 2000 if sub-varieties are counted). Some varieties of native grapes may even disappear and some traditional wine styles made from them as well.
Let’s get back to the heart of the matter. Is this preference for a particular wine standard real or artificial? How do people shape their tastes and preferences? I ground my taste and preferences from my experiences and, as a social animal, my choices are influenced by the environment in which I live. This is where we enter into what we call the preconceived concept. Have you ever taken a bottle of an unknown wine to taste with people who are now entering the world of wine? When the bottle appears on the table what do these people do? Well, in my previous experiences they will asap search on Vivino how much it costs and how many stars they have. Others are already looking for whether the wine is ranked by Parker or Decanter. Now try saying that it is an organic wine, biodynamic or even an orange wine vinified with an ancestral method.
I do not intend to devalue wine reviews like those made by Robert Parker nor even deny its value. What I want to put here is why do people close themselves to the new and instantaneously classify the unknown as something bad or potentially bad? As my mom use to say to me ‘how can you say you don’t like if you didn’t even try it?’
Despite the inept opinion of some not-so-brilliant minds like Brazilian Foreign Minister Ernesto Araújo, who believes that climate change is a scientific dogma influenced by a Marxist culture that wants to disrupt the West and favor China (a thesis published in his personal blog in October, 2018), the fact is that with or without Karl Marx global warming and climate change have been taking hold over the last few years.
In the wine industry the impact of climate change and global warming deserves great concern. After all, the tradition of wine production is intrinsically linked to terroir, that is, the set of all environmental factors that affect the phenotype of a crop, including unique environmental contexts, agricultural practices, and a crop-specific growth habitat. The concept of terroir is so important for wine production that a whole classification system was formed around factors such as sun exposure as well as thermal amplitude during seasons in the meso and microclimate of a small plot of land as a vineyard.
To give a clearer picture of the effects of global warming and climate change on the quality of wine produced, the main factors affecting wine quality are present in the fruit. Factors such as acidity, sugar levels and phenolic compounds together with agricultural management methods are directly and mainly related to the quality of the soil, the incidence of sunlight, temperature, pluviometric levels etc. When climatic changes of this magnitude occur we may have unsatisfactory levels in fruit maturity and consequently changes in wine quality forcing complex decisions in order to preserve the level of quality such as anticipation of harvest, for example.
These changes that we are experiencing in the climatic conditions may change the definition of what we consider to be the best area for planting a vineyard or even the best grape variety to plant in a certain region. In the northern region of Italy where Franciacorta sparkling wine is produced, global warming has made it difficult to reach the optimal acidity level to maintain the typicality of that terroir. One of the ways to mitigate the effects of global warming has been to plant new vineyards at higher altitudes in search of cooler temperatures ranges. But it is already known that in order to maintain the characteristics of Franciacorta, producers will have to change the grape variety and now studies have been promoted with other autochthonous varieties that better adapt to the new climatic conditions.
In regions such as Barolo and Barbaresco where the price of hectare of land can reach 4 million euros, the impact of global warming can be devastating. The classification of the best plots for the production, which resulted in the classification of the “crus” of the region, is directly related to climatic conditions such as sun exposure and thermal amplitude. How can we predict the influence of these changes on the final quality of the wines and what is the possible impact of a reclassification of the best plots for the planting of the Nebbiolo grape in the region’s economy? The same can happen with Bourgogne wine classification in France.
Invariably, if climate change continues to impose itself with the same intensity and speed, I believe that the final result will be noticed in bottles, which will force a reassessment of quality concepts that guide the geographical demarcation of the best plots of land for wine production not only in Europe, but around the world.
Early indications of the need for such a reassessment may be noted in the results of blind tastings in major contests that wines not classified as “crus” have achieved higher positions each year.