"Cheap versions of wines that should be expensive are almost always disappointing. Expensive versions of underrated ones are usually a revelation." Lettie Teague attributes this quote to Patrick Matthews from his 1997 wine book, "The Wild Bunch". Also from the Wall Street Journal but not attributable, "Eight dollar Pinot Noir oughta be illegal."
In our three year blogging history, we have witnessed the phenomenon over and over again. An ordinary grape planted in the right place will yield an extraordinary wine while conversely Cabernet, Chardonnay, or other solid international grape variety will be repeatedly over-planted in ill-suited venues solely for the purpose of turning some gi-normous sales numbers. Sometimes I want to scream, "Stop doing that!"
My mentor in the fine wine business was Jim Sanders, "the father of the fine wine business in Atlanta" and the French Burgundy expert of the southeastern United States. The man knew his stuff. While Burgundy was his professed area of expertise, he could expound on why Cabernet was king in Bordeaux, Syrah suited the Northern Rhone, Gamay worked in southern Burgundy, and so on. The man taught wine classes about grape vineyard terroir and if he had a fault (and everyone who met him knew his immediately) it was that he dismissed many of the lesser grape varieties...but then again I guess there is a reason for considering them to be lesser grapes in the first place.
Recently I tried to impress Master Sommeliere Michael McNeill by distinguishing the noble grape varieties from the lesser varieties. He had just poured me a taste of an incredible Vouvray (Chenin Blanc) which I loved but damned with faint praise by asserting the grape's mediocre stature in the overall scheme of things. The Vouvray was a marvelously complex wine, by the way, and McNeill took me to task immediately for framing the issue in that way by maintaining that any grape grown in the right environs can produce nobility.
Thesis: There is a hierarchy of wine grape types with the elite ones being capable of producing truly superior wine. The lesser grapes, by definition, produce lower quality wine.
Antithesis: Any grape type is capable of achieving nobility if planted in the appropriate terroir.
Synthesis: There are better and lesser grape varieties with the better ones having a track record of producing superior wine in multiple locations globally while the lesser varieties may show superiority only when planted in just the right venue.
Tomorrow evening we are tasting French wines with Gail Avera of Atlanta Beverage and Michelle Schreck of Atlanta Improvement Company. On Friday we're tasting Donati California wines with Colleen Rotunno, formerly of Corkscrew cafe in Dahlonega, now with Quality Wine & Spirits of Atlanta. Please join us, 5-7pm both days.
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