Just who makes the best wine
Tuesday, November 08, 2011
I was sitting in a restaurant last week being served drinks from one of my favorite bartenders – we go back probably at least seven years and I have known her through four restaurants in that time – and someone entered the place who I know more or less casually. As Kim and I were talking about wine, and I inquired about what the other person has been up to, she gave me the scoop and part of it was that she now lives and works in Australia. Her friend who was already there waiting for her offered that the best wine comes from there, which gave me an immense laugh.
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Australia, while the fourth largest exporter of wine in the world, it only really started to show some prominence in the late 1970s. Before that, the first recognized quality wines didn't come out until around 1820. In fact, one of the best companies, Shinas Estates didn't start commercially releasing wine until 2002.
The funny thing is how people tend to parrot what they have read in several wine magazines, or have heard from people who are supposed to be in the know, without having done due diligence on their own. I have heard just about every pitch about wines from South America, Canada, France and Australia echoed by a litany of people who have never even drank more than ten wines from each region, let alone ones that cost more than twenty dollars a bottle and were complex. Funnier still was one associate about twenty-two years old that stated that he knew a lot about wine and could tell good ones from bad ones, especially Merlot. I asked him how many Merlots he had experienced and the answer was four.
The biggest problem with mentalities like these is that the people offering their advice, whether non-commercially or commercially – say your waiter, bartender or someone else in a restaurant – is that if you trust them, you're getting short-changed to a great degree. I could tell you so many stories of bartenders trying to tell me something about wine and being completely wrong, I make some mistakes too, but I'm not selling it to you. And then there are the people hawking wine to you, who also know very little. Please, if you're buying wine in the state of Pennsylvania, know that most of the people that work in the stores, including those that are Premium Collection stores, know very little, if anything, about wine.
As far as who makes the best wine, there is no way to adequately rate New World styles versus Old World styles because they each bring out different tastes in the grape. While I am always knocking the French [because of their hubris in talking about how good they are at food and wine], I would be totally an idiot to say that they know very little and that styles from area such as Bordeaux, Champagne and Burgundy are trite. I have had great wines from Argentina, Chile, Australia, Slovenia, Canada, Spain, Portgual, Austria and Greece. I stick to my guns that Italy by far has the greatest range of wines and styles of wines and unfortunately many of them haven't been experienced outside of Europe in general and Italy specifically. Also, don't sleep on American wines, whether coming from California, Oregon and Washington state, or the Finger Lakes region in upstate New York or Pennsylvania. The latter has Chadds Ford, Penns Woods and Presque Isle to name a few.
It takes a long amount of tasting, not just wines from different countries, but wines of the same varietal and/or style within a viticultural area to even begin to seriously have something to contribute when grading wines. If you just drink sweet wines, faux wines (Arbor Mist anyone?) or straight out imposters (what is port versus what Port isn't), then you probably can't say much about wines. And if you only drink what you have read about in magazines, or what you have historically heard makes you a true connoisseur (red wines from France), then you really can't say anything either.
You can easily rate one wine against another, in regards to which one you think tastes better, but what works for you might not work for someone else. I love some of the complex wines coming from the Okanagan Valley in Canada, but not all producers in that area make the same stuff. There are many excellent producers around the world, regardless of continent, and the amount of a wine sold, nor the price really is an adequate indicator of who makes the best. I mean, look at all of that Yellowtail, White Zinfandel, Two Buck Chuck, and Mad Dog that has been sold in this country.