By Don Merlot
[WC News Service]
Chacun a son goût.
To each his own taste.
When it comes to wine, the French categorization of red and white (Bordeaux and Burgundy) in the 19th century have dominated oenophile and epicurean palates until the end of World War II, when Europe had to be rebuilt and the Pax Americana renovated France in the post war period. American G.I’s who returned from VE- Day who had learned about and had savored the wines of France became acquainted with the wine habit and formal dinners with family, friends and social associates. The historical epitome of a dinner was guided by the French who influenced the British on wine with dinner.
Chacun a son goût covers what sounds as an informal discussion between friends. “I like what I like” to a very complicated academic discussion, “I know others have their different documented opinion, but this is what I like.” Or “do not confuse me with the facts; I have made up my mind.”
The WW II years made wine take a hiatus from the gastronomic evolution. The American Marshall plan rebuilt Europe and the Truman Doctrine rebuilt Japan and Asia. America’s military industrial complex and military power grew and grew….
Wine traditions had evolved in the New World since Colonial governments created an economic system from Canada to the tip of South America in (Chile and Argentina). The Roman Christian Church brought wine to continue the rituals in Spanish American missions which created vineyards from Canada and California to Tierra del Fuego. Not that noticeable to the American public were those vineyards created a demand for table wine and since Argentina, Chile and Uruguay and California are in Wine cultivation zones these vineyards prospered by developing a commercial trade expansion though all levels of food retail and commercial growth. Wine became digitized and universal Common definitions grew as the industry of vitas vinifera exploded. Family secrets and vinifying techniques soon got plowed over and the modern wine culture was created.
Over the last years the renaissance of food and wine culture has been restructured; and in the second decade of the 21st Century as I looked over the monthly food and wine publications of the last twelve months, the food cycle has been recreated. Every classic vineyard and what we now call “the original wanna be” vineyards’ have been re-structured and are reaching their zenith of enology deification and a reclassification the wine order is emerging as quality wine areas are recognized and greatness created in the consumers’ minds.
Of course wine is linked to food and food has out grown the traditional French Haut Cuisine pyramid structure and social gourmet aristocratic offerings and all cultures’ food and tastes have entered the plethora of menus. So , I have concluded that what the rules were, are now changed, and the new global model of gastronomie is being played out in every major city in most metropolitan three-star restaurants and bistros trendy trattorias and wien stubes.
A gigantic industry of what is now called commercial foodservice has evolved with Master Chefs du Cuisines and Master Sommeliers. Bottles of wine are available which includes rare wines that sell for thousands of dollars per bottle. The demand is there and if guards were not posted on the gates of availability and all the stocks would be depleted, and then future generations would never be able to taste the best. Ever again
There are some traditional wines that are from the fading top wine lists as some wines that have grown in quality and refined reputation find their place in the world of top wines and create a new niche.
Sherries from Spain (Jerez de la Frontera) whose name sake is prohibited outside of that zone are protected & are not as popular as they once were in the 19th and 20th centuries. Spain, England, British Commonwealth and the Netherlands where sherry drinking countries still carry the savor and popularity this fortified wine The Portuguese Ports also have a slower select group of followers. Britain’s demand for fine cheese serving has faded and the global demand for the cheese tray or chariot has changed.
US trained chefs have opened up the new menus selections. Americans have switched from aperitifs and digestives’ to cocktail choices – made from alcohol: Tequila, Vodka and Rum.
The wine selection has been driven by today’s customer demands: White – full or dry and Red with moderate Tannin to heavy tannin. Rarely have I seen where the host will cover white and Red the wine pairing choices to match the foods. Wine by the glass of premium wines and or Vineyards are sold by the glass. This offers and supplies wines that are trying to meet consumer expectations. There are many good white wines and red wines, but restaurateurs with limited budgets work with the chefs and purchasing agents to meet the expectations. The suppliers in my mind have gone to meet price points outside of the traditional wine regions, where there is more land to develop vineyards that can meet the expectations. To me in Europe Spain, France, and Italy have expanded the vineyards and with menu progressions the chefs and consumers have created new dinning expectations.
So now that everything is re-born not replaced but evolved -- what is what? Not, if I want to buy the classics, what are the new wines what will replace the old wines and rules and what will the new rules be and what pleases me?
The New World spawned by Columbus’s discovery of the West Indies and the continents of the Americas has developed since the Conquest of the Native Americans in North America and the Aztecs and Maya of Mesoamerica and the Andean Civilizations of the INCAS. Today the fine red wine is harvested in Argentina, Uruguay and Chile. Malbec originally from France and grown in Argentina is the favorite accompaniment of Beef and lamb. Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere are favorites in Chile. The New World created by the expansion into South Africa, Australia and New Zealand has refined the Shiraz (Syrah), the Cabernet Sauvignon and the Pinot Sauvignon Noir. California vineyards’ have an offering of fine red wines i.e., Zinfandel and Petite Syrah.
The white varietals are known for releasing the different types of wines that are offered by vintages of the Sauvignon Blanc. Viognier has spread to New World market. Italy, Sicily, Greece New Zealand Oregon Spain have brought up the status of white wines that are dry and medium wines that are matched with seafood and white meats and cream sauces. Chardonnay continues to be the easiest wine for the vintner to master and grow and Cheese to match these in appetizer selections. Technology and the flow of information have made the vintage to dinner table a lot easier.
Food components and recipes, ingredients, preparation techniques, and wine selection are all up to date by web sites and TV food shows. America’s cultural diversity and in order to meet the ingredient demands for food preparation.
Authentic preparation of food is possible instantly.
Every European wanted to break away from the traditional system (except for Burgundy and Bordeaux). The handcuffs to the old wine culture were that gastronomie was under the control of the French gastronomic Restaurant system.
The awards recognizing and giving Michelin primarily controlled the Haut Cuisine and Escoffier controlled the menu. New York became the capital of CAPITALISM and became the unofficial capital of the United States for money and its benefits. It was in the mid ‘70’s that vineyards away from Europe started challenging the wine structure. California, wine classic “Wanna be” made serious attempts to grow wines of the caliber of Burgundy and Bordeaux. Whereas Burgundy and Bordeaux had the academic credentials, California Agriculture and financial backing created The University of California at Davis that became the premier wine school in the world. Sons of French Vintners went to California to see all the innovations in wine culture.
Italy broke the traditional bonds of their wine rituals and out popped Tuscany where the noble Riserva Chianti’s were bred; and the aristocratic Brunello di Montalcino; Blind tastings challenged the great Bordeaux’s from Medoc The world awoke and saw that the sacred oxen of French wine were gored. In the ‘70’s Tuscany vintners broke away from the old DOCG Italian wine classification system and replaced the traditional approved grapes to varietals that were not part of the official listings, which forced the vintages to call their wines table wines (vino da tavola) to sell them commercially .The district where they located their new vintages is Bohlgeri. Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Merlot were brought in. This became the super Tuscans. Their quality and new following rivaled fine blended wines of Bordeaux; Super Tuscans are priced along the range of Bordeaux vintages.
Spain has developed some extraordinary reds outside of Rioja but within the area of Castilla y Leon. The Tempranillo varietal has reached high recognition in Ribera Del Duero (Vega Sicilia also enjoys high kudos from this region). A traditional Rioja that is hard to find but enjoys a top red wine reputation is CVNE.
Burgundy’s Joseph Drouhin has established a vineyard in Oregon and already is challenging Cote d’Or. Pinot Noirs.
In the New World – South America – Chile, Argentina and Uruguay have refined the red wine to match the Beef grilling recipes – their traditional beef offerings. In Chile for the last twenty years their red wines have competed on a global scale. The Cabernet Sauvignon f & Merlots have reached the level of 100 best wines of the year as rated by global rating systems and have competed with Bordeaux, California and Washington State Cabernet Sauvignons. In Chile the varietal Carmenere taken from France’s Bordeaux region in the 19th Century and lost in the Chilean vineyards reappeared after being identified by oenologist with the DNA was different than Merlot as history had rated it by Chilean vintners.
Argentina has created a quality wine sensation by refining a French varietal – MALBEC, which was found & in Bordeaux & CAHORS (France), which challenges the greats of the Rhone in Tannin and, depth and Finish. Even the Rhone blend of Chateauneuf du Pape which comes from the traditional wine Premier Wine region of the in the Rhone valley has been matched by the New World.
In Uruguay the vineyards are focusing on the varietal Tannat, which comes from Western France, (Gascoigne). This wine has deep tannins and competes with the Argentine Wine and beef.
Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. New Zealand has contenders in the Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc offerings.
California has lately focused on the Petite Syrah which has deep Tannins and is reaching elegant and silky levels. Until the last twenty years it used was blending wine. The DNA of Zinfandel was found linked to the Italian varietal PRIMITIVO. No longer is a suspicious find in California, Zinfandel as elegant as the Rhône’s.
The New World’s reds made in America: Argentina – Malbec, Chile Carmenere and California Zinfandel are available in top wine markets and gaining in reputation.
The white wines have also come of age. Chardonnay the easiest to grow has evolved to a drier taste The California wine character of fruit forward that was so popular in the 80’s – 2000’s has lost its edge. (California’s has more summer days than Burgundian Geographical location day’s chardonnays before being harvested.)
The top 2015 wines include these wines:
Bodegas AALTO Ribera Del Duero, Spain
IL POGGIONE Brunello di Montalcino, Italy
Mt. Eden Chardonnay , California
Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand
Escarpment Pinot Noir New Zealand
Big Table Farm Pinot Noir Willamette, Oregon
TURLEY Petite Syrah , California
PIATTELI Malbec ,Argentina
Viña Carmen Cabernet Sauvignon, Chile
CVNE Rioja, Spain
These wines I am writing about are my taste and how a 21st Century wine platform fits into the new world wine order. The classic wines that I was weaned on are no longer available and if I wanted to duplicate today what I tasted when I first tasted fifty years ago, it is impossible.
If you keep an index card handy next time you have wine, write down your perceptions -- if you like it why? And if you do not like it, why? (Just do not buy it again if it does not fit your palate) If you like the wine, write down your analysis of your sense of it: color, smell, taste, after taste. What food was it paired with –- if the food was good but did not pair well with the wine for you, why? It is OK to listen to others, but what others think is their opinion. The most important part of your wine history is to find out what you like. Wine is very personal. Like DNA and fingerprints, everyone’s experience is different.
(Ron Alonzo is a New Orleans writer better known as Don Merlot).