Seeking Wines With A Sense Of Place

Roberto Viernes
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Wednesday - December 09, 2009
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2008 Delaporte Sancerre

I recently put together a tasting of some “Old World Cult Wines” for my monthly WinED tastings at Formaggio Wine Bar. These wines are all made of unobtainuim, which people stand in lines or on waiting lists for months to obtain. They ranged anywhere from to $129 to $499 per bottle. There were six wines in all and they came from France, Italy and Spain. Some were more delicious than others. But what really stood out to me was that even though they all came from the Old World, about half of them did not have a hint of the Old World flavor or typicity that I would expect from them.

Without naming the wines, the three that really seemed like New World wines came from each of them: France, Italy and Spain. They were all red and they all received big point ratings (94-97 points) from the most popular wine critics. But when I tasted them, there was no “there” there. When I open a bottle of old vine Tempranillo, Merlot or Bordeaux from the Old World, I like to know that it comes from there. Is it just me, or is the internationalization of the Old World continuing at a military cadence?

These three wines all shared some interesting attributes. Each was high in alcohol. They were all listed at 15 percent abv. By EU law there is a variation of plus or minus 1 percent, so they could very well be closer to 16 percent alcohol. A couple of them tasted as if they were higher. They all were heavily influenced by new French oak barrel aging, full of toast, vanilla, cedar and baking spices. Even the Tempranillo from Spain where American oak has been used traditionally for centuries was aged in new French oak, thus barrels obscuring its origins. They also were highly extracted with big jammy flavors.

The first goal for a wine is to be delicious. To put it in another way, hedonism is job one for a wine. And mind you, there are plenty of wines out there that are delicious but don’t have huge ratings or hefty price tags. But to me, for a wine to be great (highly rated), it must not only be delicious, but it also should have more intellectual and cultural value. That intellectual and cultural value is a sense of place. There are hosts of wines that have big fruit and are aged in new oak to give them just the right amount of flavor and structure. But can they balance all that with an expression of where the wine comes from?

To show the terroir or the fingerprint of the vineyard and area the wine comes from can be difficult, but this is the mark of greatness - for a wine and its makers - and what sets it apart from just a hedonistic instrument. It is what makes me search like a fiend for the wine and gets me to pay the commensurate amount of money that the market will bear for the wine.

I was sincerely disappointed that these three wines were so internationalized. They not only are quite expensive, but they also come from some wineries that have some absolutely great vineyards and terroirs that can speak volumes above others. They have the opportunity to make something truly special that not only would be tasty but exemplary of their hallowed vineyards. And that is something for which I would stand in line.

Wines with a sense of place: 2007 Domaine Tempier Bandol Rouge ($38) The winemaker told me point-blank that this is the best he has ever made. From the way it tastes, I believe him. This Mourvedre-based wine sings of black currants, savory herbs and sweet tobacco. It is full and wide with depths of flavor. 2008 Delaporte Sancerre ($29) Sweet guava, grapefruit and a walk in a grass meadow all come to mind when I drink this wine. Light and satisfying, it is just the perfect wine for salad and lunch.

Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier. E-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
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