Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Why European Wines? (Part 2)

OK, I'm back, the meds have kicked me into high gear, and I want to get back to explaining why I love European wines so much. Now, as you may recall in my previous rant about the New World, I am not fan of those wines. As opposed to cars or textiles, wine is not an industrial product. When done well, it is an artisanal commodity, despite the inherent contradictions of such a statement. By "artisanal commodity" I mean that it can be hand-crafted, with attention to detail, yet still be produced in quantities large enough to satisfy a market.

So I prefer wines from the Old World because they focus more on finesse and elegance than on raw power. To my palate, wines from Europe tend to be more complex, unfolding gently on the tongue, slowly exposing their mysteries as opposed to just showing you everything up front. It's the difference between Audrey Hepburn and Marylin Monroe. Sure, you wouldn't mind spending the evening with Mrs. Monroe, but wouldn't you want to grow old with Mrs. Hepburn? I know I would.

Wines from Europe come from a climate that is, in general, cooler than wines from the US or Australia. Thus, grapes tend to ripen more evenly, allowing all the different elements to slowly integrate and come together. And it's this balance that I love and look for in wine. In addition, European winemakers don't use tons of new oak unless they're masking defects, and they don't look for the high-alcohol, high-fruit extraction that one sees in the New World. With millenia of experience behind them, they can treat their wines with confidence and allow them to gently seduce us.

That's not to say that all European wines are great, mind you. Between freakish weather and winemakers' folly, one can find plenty of plonk coming from Europe. But, in general, I have preferred the wines of the Old World to those from the New World.

And the wines I have chosen to represent show this. None of them are "fruit bombs", none will shove oak splinters down your throat. But as they sit and unfold in the glass, they will all make you smile. Well, they made me smile.

Are they tougher to sell? Yes. Are they slightly more expensive? Sometimes. Won't the exchange rate be a bitch? Yes.

But it's worth it. I want to reintroduce these wines of elegance and finesse to the American palate, and I believe this is the time to do it. The market is trending away from the Yellow Tails and those horrors and more towards wines that can be drunk with food. It truly is an amazing time, as a real culture of wine is evolving in the US (last year wine surpassed beer as the favorite alcohol).

So there you have it, this is why I've chosen to represent European wines.


Elliot Essman said...

Pithy statements and very well said while avoiding snobbery. European wines simply have a better chance of giving the drinker some style and individuality. It doesn't always happen of course, but one must play by the numbers.

Anonymous said...

Right on- great commentary. The more wine I drink the more I find myself shying away from the fruit bombs and looking for character, finesse and elegance.

Mark V Marino said...

I have to say when I started reading this I thought how can he generalize and get away with it! But you raise some very valid points and I have to agree with your assessment. The exchange rate is the kicker I liked it better when we were the favored currency! The East Coast is a much better place to experience the European wines here I am stuck with many less choices..