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Friday, April 20, 2012

The Pros and Cons of Popularity

It’s no secret that Sancerre’s popularity has been on the rise.  I’ll bet that any one of us could walk into any wine shop, anywhere, and find a selection of Sancerre.  Sancerre (in the Loire Valley) has been my favorite region for Sauvignon Blanc for some time now, with its crisp citrus characteristics and cool minerality, without big pungent aromas that we might see in a Sauvignon Blanc coming from another region of the world.  It’s great to see things become popular as people become aware of them - I guess my only concern is that as demand for something like Sancerre increases, quantity becomes the priority and quality takes a back seat.  And recently, I tasted a Sancerre that was subpar at best; in fact it didn’t even look like Sauvignon Blanc in the glass.  It wasn’t that lovely pale straw color, it didn’t feel light and fresh and clean, and the characteristics of lemon and mineral were almost absent.


I’m curious to see what the next trend brings.  For whites, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc (from New Zealand and now from Sancerre), and Riesling have enjoyed an increase in popularity at different times.  I’m going to take a guess - I think Gruner Veltliner is the next big thing in white wine.  I’ve been seeing more of them in wine shops, on wine lists by the bottle, and now by the glass.  Gruner is grown primarily in Austria, and is usually clean and fresh with plenty of acidity, and characteristics of citrus as well as some orchard fruit, a hint of greenness, and mineral, and sometimes even a bit of spice.  I’d love to see this grape become more popular as it’s really enjoyable and I think because of its freshness and versatility, lots of people would enjoy it.  Yes, it’s a mouthful to say its name, but it’s worth checking out this grape type.  I would just hope that demand for quantity wouldn’t translate to compromised quality.  Already I’ve tasted a few in restaurants that weren’t up to expectations.

Gruner Veltliner

Malbec has become an enormously popular red grape in recent years, most likely due to large producers in Argentina selling them relatively cheaply in the United States.  Some of the Argentinean Malbecs are really enjoyable; my favorite is probably Achaval Ferrer from Mendoza.  But when something becomes trendy, as Malbec has, I wonder how many people know what they’re actually drinking.  I wonder how many people will also drink French Malbec, or if they would even know a French Malbec when they see one.  Most Malbec in France comes from Cahors in the South West region - sometimes as a single varietal wine, and sometimes blended with Merlot and Tannat.  Malbec is actually a Bordeaux grape and is still permitted in Bordeaux blends, but its home in France is primarily Cahors.  The Malbec wines from Cahors still show dark fruit characteristics much like the Argentinean ones, but they show more earthiness, sometimes laced with mushroom aromas.  They’re really funky and fun, and often are in the same price range as the Argentinean Malbecs.  If you haven’t tried any Malbec from France, perhaps look for a bottle of Cahors and try it, and see how it compares with Argentinean Malbec, and if your palate prefers one over the other.

Malbec from Cahors

I wonder what the next big thing in reds will be.  I’m actually thinking of Etna Rosso wines from Sicily.  While Nero d’Avola wines are inexpensive and easy to find and have been available for some time, I’m actually guessing Nerello Mascalese blends (mostly with Nerello Cappuccio) will become more popular soon.  I’ve been seeing more of them in wine shops recently.  But what’s interesting to me is that the price on Sicilian reds seems to be increasing with the popularity of the wine, as opposed to prices lowering as they become more available and as an attempt to gain popularity and marketability.  It’ll be interesting to see where that goes!

Etna Rosso red blend

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