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Monday, March 5, 2012

“Wine Generalizations"

Generalizations about wine can be pretty frustrating.  If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say, “I don’t drink Chardonnay,” I could retire comfortably.  Or, “Pinot Noir is my favorite.”  Or one of the things that confuses me most, when I hear that someone only drinks white or only drinks red - and seems to have no interest in budging on that.  In my mind, I’m thinking, “How is that even possible?”  Yes, it could be worse - they could be singing the praises of White Zinfandel.
But the question in my mind is usually, “Do you even know what Chardonnay tastes like?” or, “Do you even know what Pinot Noir Tastes like?” and so far, I haven’t actually asked anyone that.  No, I’m not expecting everyone to be able to pick out the grape they think is their most loved or hated in a blind taste test, but at least try and be familiar with the characteristics you like in a wine.  It might just help you understand why you prefer one grape type or producing region or style over another, or help you to find more wines you might like very much.
I’m often curious about people’s love or hate for Chardonnay, and while the debate of “oak or no oak” continues (I wish that would come to an end), I do often wonder if it’s the characteristics imparted by oak contact that attract or repel wine drinkers.  For me, the “kiss of oak” is just about right - some baked orchard fruit and gentle caramel and butterscotch characteristics and just a bit more weight than the unoaked counterpart are what appeal to me in a Chardonnay.  But I do realize that might be an acquired taste and not everyone wants a white wine that tastes and feels like that.  For them, perhaps an unoaked or very lightly oaked Chardonnay with lemon and white mineral notes might be best.  But instead of making a blanket statement about not drinking any Chardonnay, it pays to see what Chardonnay - French or American, oaked or unoaked, is best for each individual drinker’s palate.  Last week I offered a glass of Chardonnay to someone who said she doesn’t drink Chardonnay, and what was the result?  “Oh, it tastes like...caramel!  This is very nice.  Is it really Chardonnay?”  Yes, it’s really Chardonnay.

Chardonnay - Chablis, France and unoaked

Chardonnay - Sonoma, California and oaked

Pinot Noir, in my opinion, is at the other end of the spectrum.  It’s been trendy to drink Pinot Noir for the past several years and while lots of people probably won’t admit it, it’s largely because Hollywood said so.  So when I pour a Pinot Noir, I like to ask, “Oh you like Pinot Noir?  Good.  French or American?”  And my favorite response is usually, “Is there a difference?”  That’s perfect, because it gives me a chance to explain a number of differences between the New World and Old World styles of Pinot Noir.  The differences are many, and each individual palate is different, so it’s a good idea for the “Pinot Noir drinker” to determine which style they prefer - the bigger New World style Pinot Noir, with higher alcohol content, fuller bodied, and characteristics of raspberry and macerated fruit, or the Old World, Burgundy style Pinot Noir, with elegant texture, often higher acidity and lower alcohol content, and characteristics of cherry and earthiness.

Pinot Noir - Burgundian style

Pinot Noir - New World style

I’m pretty opposed to generalizations, especially with wine.  No two of them are the same, and wine drinkers might do themselves a disservice by neglecting at least to know some of the characteristics of the wines they enjoy, and remaining open minded enough to try others and make fair comparisons.

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