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Friday, November 23, 2012

My Case for European Wine - Revisited (Again and Again)

“What’s with you and all these European wines?  Why no American wines?”

I hear this all too often.  Each time I answer, I come up with more reasons why I drink European wines at a ratio of probably 50 European wines to every 1 American wine I choose.  I think my reasons are logical.

I prefer lower alcohol wines.  I prefer leaner, brighter, terroir-driven wines.  I’m not saying that all European wines are in that category and no American wines fit in.  But generally, I find more expression of identity in European wines, and that the wines are truer to the grape and the region from which the grape originates.

It’s no secret that I also prefer esoteric wines that are made from grapes that grow exclusively in those tiny regions and appellations in Europe.  It would be impractical to expect American producers to experiment with Coda di Volpe, Negroamaro, Jacquere, Roter Veltliner, Negrette, etc.  American producers are a lot less familiar with those grapes and it would be risky to experiment excessively with them, especially since American consumers usually wouldn’t pay for off-beat wines and prefer to spend money on Chardonnay, Cabernet, Pinot Noir, and Zinfandel.  And it’s completely ok that American consumers generally prefer safe bets.  But when I look at quality/price ratio, I find that European wines are by far the more efficient way to go.

Certainly, there are exceptions.  But here’s an example.

A month or two ago, I was pouring at one of the regular Friday tastings.  A couple approached me and was completely unfamiliar with the wines.  The couple claimed they don’t drink any French wines (already a massive red flag in my mind), and that they prefer Italian and California.  I was curious to hear which Italian wines they like.  The man told me he likes Amarone and “the one that starts with a B, it’s really expensive” - Brunello, I asked him - yes.  And then he proceeded to tell me he could barely afford to drink them.  I asked him if he was at all familiar with Primitivo or Aglianico, and he had no idea what those are.  I explained, and hopefully he’s tasted a few since then.  I also asked him which are among his favorite American producers.  He told me he and his wife like Kendall-Jackson and Robert Mondavi.  (My thought process probably looked something like, “Aha!  I thought so!”  But obviously I wasn’t going to say that.)  I suggested he try some others.  He wanted to know why.  I told him he’d surely find more exciting wines of better quality elsewhere, and undoubtedly at a better price.  “Where?” he asked me - I responded, “Right here.  In this wine shop.  From France, and Italy, and Germany, and Austria, and Spain, and Portugal.”  He wanted to know if I was confident those wines in the $12-$20 price range would be better than the Mondavi wines.  I told him I was absolutely certain they’d be better, and I hope he and his wife took my suggestions.

It’s nearly always the case that I find much better deals with European wines.  Sure, there are some really expensive wines coming from Europe.  But in comparison to their American counterparts, I find that European wines are less expensive and tell their own stories through their grapes and terroirs.  Basically, my point is that I’d rather pay less and get more.  Wouldn’t anyone?  And yet I find that so many American consumers refuse to believe that a French or Italian wine would be less expensive than its American counterpart.  Seeing (or tasting) is believing, I suppose.

I’m completely open minded about it and I do have some favorite American producers.  Most are small producers who pay attention to detail and therefore create a unique wine.  But in all honesty, I don’t remember the last time I spent $15 or less on an American bottle and was completely satisfied with it.

So there’s some of my answer as to why I strongly prefer European wines.

Bergerac - 100% Merlot, Sud-Ouest.  Very dependable and expressive.  $13.

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