So many times when faced with choosing between two alternatives, where one is kind of over the top and the other is more subdued and reticent, we often recall the words, “Less is more!” When it comes to wine, “Bigger is Better” is the mantra for many people. Why? I’d say it has a lot to do with wine reviewers who give high scores to wines that fill your mouth with gobs of fruit and alcohol and leave you in awe of something that could cause so much palate stimulation. It’s sort of like the heavy metal equivalent of wine compared to the elegance and finesse of a blue grass band. With the former, you get wall to wall sound of high intensity; with the latter, there’s space between the notes that let you appreciate the sound of what you do hear.
In a recent blog post, Tyler Coleman writes about Wells Guthrie of Copain Wines who, after a trip to Burgundy and the Rhone back in 2005, realized his high octane wines were not aging very well. He’s been experimenting with harvesting grapes that are a little less ripe, and has been liking the lighter style results.
A wine that bludgeons your palate with layer upon layer of light and dark fruit, vanilla and spice from oak barrels, and enough alcohol be be a fire hazard can be an impressive thing to experience. But is it something you want to experience each time you drink wine? A steady diet of such wines will condition your palate to expect that all wines are like that, and when you run across one that has a lot to say by speaks softly, you can’t hear it and dismiss it as a weak, wimpy, and uninteresting. A good example is red Burgundies (pinot noir). When tasted by someone accustomed to block buster wines, they seem too light, too weak, and not very interesting. However, if you keep coming back to these elegant wines, you begin to hear what they are telling you. Be careful! They can be seductive! These are the wines that when Wells Guthrie compared them to his own pinot noirs resulted in his shift in wine making style.
Wine has been made in Burgundy for over 800 years, which is a lot of time to learn how to get it right. Wine in California has only a 150-year history, so they’re just learning. It’ll be interesting see what the wines are like in 200 years!