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Wines Have Personality??

People have personality, but wine? Sure wines taste different, but so do different coffees and teas, yet I wouldn’t consider claiming they have personality. Wine is something different. There are thousands of wines out there, and most have as much personality as box of rocks. However, after years of tasting, comparing, and contemplating, and after visiting small wine growers and sharing their passion, it occurred to me that the wines that were most appealing had something different – something akin to personality.

My journey with wine began decades ago when my parents and I went to a little French restaurant called Du Midi in the New York theater district. My father always had filet mignon accompanied a Beaujolais Brouilly, and even though I wasn’t technically old enough to drink wine, I got to sip a little and experience how it changed the taste of the food.

Years later, living in California, I did what was expected, tasting my way through Napa and Sonoma, but could not understand why everyone in California was so enamored of these wines. Maybe it was local pride or lack of any other experience. I’m thinking it was lack of experience, since wine shops at the time (mid 1980’s) kept the French and Italian wines hidden in the back of the store. But it was these wines that I sought out. Without being able to describe it, I felt they did something to my palate that their California counterparts did not.

So what was the problem with California wines or was it with me? Was I becoming a wine snob who thought the wines was always better on the other side of the pond? I didn’t give it much thought at the time; I just knew I liked French and Italian wines better. Coincidentaly, across the bay in Berkeley, a guy named Kermit Lynch had a wine shop that may have been the only one in the state that didn’t sell any California wine. After reading his book about searching out wines in France, it’s clear that he also simply liked those wines better.

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2 comments

  1. Anthony S. Burkett says:

    A most wonderful beginning to what is surely to become a fabulously entertaining and educational blog! Thank you for inviting me! :-)

    Much the same for me wrt the “early days” of California wine… during my time spent living in CA (’72-’80) I became totally enamored with the world of wine… the Spanish were my all time favorites… with the Itialian, French and German varieties following closely behind in pretty much that order… over the years, though I still find great pleasure in the European (Spanish especially), I must admit to the development of the California variatials …to such an extent that they have now risen to become predominately my favorites… especially so with such fine producers such as Calcarous and Rbt. Mondovi. Still, you raise an interesting question… what is it about those “old world” wines that set them apart from the rest of the new world…not only California, but Austrialia and S. America as well…. ???? :-)

    1. jack says:

      Tony,

      Thanks for your insightful comments. The old world/new world dichotomy becomes more clear the more wines from both categories that I taste. I believe the difference stems more from winemaking techniques rather than grape variety, soils, and climate (terroir). New world winemakers usually go for higher extraction of flavor components from the grapes, which puts a lot of wine in the bottle and can result in a very impressive display of flavor. Old world winemakers are more restrained, creating wines that are subtle and elegant that you need to pay attention to in order to appreciate what they have to offer. It’s kind of like comparing a woman whose face is heavily, but tastefully, made up with one who uses a minimum of make up. The former can be very attractive, but you really don’t see the person underneath it all. With the latter, you have a better chance of sensing her personality. Highly extracted, jammy wines mask the subtle difference due to terroir and, if you taste several of them at the same time, are pretty much alike.

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