Monday, February 17, 2014

My take on Novelty Wines v Class Wines

First Robert M Parker Jr and now Jancis Robinson have written lengthy columns on what Robinson describes as "Novelty v classic wines". Basically Parker had a hissy fit about the rise of obscure indigenous grapes such as Trousseau, Savagnin, Grand Noir, Negrette, Lignan Blanc, Peloursin, Auban, Calet, Fongoneu and Blaufrankisch - at the expense of the royal court of Cabernet, Merlot, and Chardonnay.  Alder Yarrow of Vinography posted an outstanding rebuttal and I, for one, good use some obscure Blaufrankisch right now.

Jancis Robinson then jumped into the debate with an article titled Bottle fight: Novelty v classic wines which is an unfortunate start - depicting indigenous grapes in a carnival sense and not as grapes that have thrived in their terrior for centuries. This is odd considering Robinson's many books portray her as a fan and expert on the world's indigenous grapes.  Robinson starts by criticizing Parker's tone and states that she would provide a "sturdy defense of the thrilling quality and distinction of some wines" from these indigenous grapes, but then agrees with Parker that these indigenous grapes will never exceed the great wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay.

In defending this position, she then makes two interesting claims. First she says that 90% of Chardonnay is dull; but because there is so much Chardonnay planted by the laws of averages some must be delicious. Then she says that she agrees with Parker that "that viticultural rarity does not necessarily bestow wine quality".  Well obviously the same holds true for planting Chardonnay if 90% is dull.  Personally, I would rather drink a dull Savagnin and learn about Jura then drink another dull Chardonnay from anywhere. I don't think anyone has argued that indigenous grapes make outstanding wines simply by existing, but as Yarrow attests in his rebuttal - there are examples of outstanding wines outside of Parker's domain. 

Maybe what Parker and Robinson fail to perceive that the public is growing tired of  the same old choices when going to restaurants or wine shops. Perhaps we are thirsting for something new besides the big three. Seems like American winemakers have foreseen or driven this trend by planting more Rhone, Spanish, German, and Italian grape varieties. And do we really want to see hectares of  indigenous grapes ripped apart to plant more international varieties? Do we want our wine choices to be more homogenous? I don't think so, and I'm quite satisfied with the current status of Novelty wines.  Cheers.
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