Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Seeker and the Place

Last night at our weekly tasting the Ugarte Rioja Reserva '03 greatly outshone the Ugarte Crianza '08 and that is as it should be. Thursday night the Crianza showed better at that night's tasting. What a difference an extra day of a bottle being open makes. The same thing happened about six weeks ago when we had two Penfolds Shirazes open over two days. The first day they showed equally well but the next day the higher priced bottle showed it's superiority. Again, as it should be. Another "as it should be" would be the way both the Penfolds and Ugarte reflected their place of birth as both admirably proclaimed respectively their Spanish and Australian roots.

I like to tell the story of attending a large trade show in Atlanta several years ago put on by one of the world's largest wine companies. The hotel banquet room was lined with tables with bottles across the tops and pourers behind each talking up their wares. They reminded me of carney barkers chanting, "Step right up..." with each one overstating the quality of the wine so as to drum in the point that that table's wine was indeed the best around. As I exited the event the overwhelming impression I had was how much each wine tasted like every other one. The wines were different varieties from different continents but their similarities far outweighed their differences.

So how is this possible? Isn't wine supposed to reflect a place where it originates? Well, that's the way it used to be anyway. Now with mass marketing and the demands of chain stores for continuity of in-stock labels, production must be expanded to meet demand diluting the wine's identity and that identity must match up as much as possible to the popular palate patronizing the chain store. Sheesh!

Complicating matters at the higher end of the price spectrum are the "flying winemakers", the consultants who trot the globe as high priced hired guns who sign off on production in far off places making the top quality wines that the affluent want. Paul Hobbs is the name that comes to mind first in this category, a category which is another "as it should be" in this the modern world. Other flying winemakers from Europe consult in America and elsewhere so all is fair but the obvious risk in this kind of production is the loss of uniqueness of place of origin. Let's hope the quality displayed by the end result outweighs the loss of individuality. In the case of Mr. Hobbs, I believe it does.

On Thursday April 19th 5-7pm, Brendon Jones of National Distributing will be here tasting out the new wines of "The Seeker". This new label markets varietals from five continents with the mission statement that each is true to its native terroir and is not mass marketed to any common denominator. Having tasted the wines, I would have to attest to their quality. Join us and mention this article for a ten percent discount on The Seeker wines. We ask for a thirty dollar minimum purchase for this tasting or a ten dollar charge.

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