My pal Dave McIntyre wrote a story for the Washington Post last week, about a blind tasting featuring California, French and Virginia wines. The Virginia wines fared well – not quite up to the level of France and California, but much better than the people doing the tasting expected.
So all is right with the regional wine world today? Virginia wine can hold its head high and know it has come a long way? Hardly. The criticism Dave took was mind-boggling. (You can find it here, on his blog, and here, in the comments for the Post story). Briefly, Dave was criticized for having the audacity to compare Virginia wines with those from California and France; for being an elitist; and for using the wrong Virginia wines – both from the wrong wineries and for the wrong varietals.
This points to one of the biggest problems facing regional wine: The Mondavi syndrome, in which everyone wants to be the father of (pick a state) wine, just as Robert Mondavi is acknowledged as the father of the California wine industry. The idea that everyone should work together to achieve a common goal – to make a state’s wine better – is lost in the scramble to be recognized as more important than everyone else. In that scramble, the wine suffers.
More, after the jump:
This sort of counter-productive behavior exists not just among winemakers and grape growers, but among consumers, too. They’ll denigrate a region’s wines because they don’t taste like they came from Australia’s Hunter Valley or Paso Robles in California. This attitude is a legacy of scores and the Wine Magazines, which have taught us that winemakers should aspire to be superstars and that all wine must taste a certain way, regardless of terroir. So we have winemakers and consumers who want Virginia wines to taste like they don’t come from Virginia (which, sadly, is also true for too many other regional wine states).
Which, frankly, is kind of silly. I judged a wine competition several years ago with one of the big-timiest of Wine Magazine critics, and I brought some Texas wine with me. He tasted it, asked how much it cost ($15), said it was a high 80s wine, and told me to come back when Texas produced a $100 wine that was worthy of a higher score. That Texas doesn’t need to produce a $100 wine – isn’t that what Bordeaux is for? – was irrelevant.
What too many people in the regional wine business want to do is to make the best wine in France or Napa. What they should be doing is making the best wine they can make in Virginia or Texas or any of the other 47 states that aren’t California, Oregon and Washington state. I love New York rieslings. Does that mean they are inferior because they aren’t German rieslings? Of course not. They’re just different, and there is nothing wrong with that.
One of the best wines I tasted this year came from Texas, the Brennan syrah I mentioned last week. And what was the reason I liked it so much? Not because it was syrah, because that’s not my favorite varietal. And not because it costs $25, instead of the usual $10 plonk that I prefer. The main reason is that it was a well-made Texas wine and that it didn’t taste like it came from anywhere else.
What more can a wine aspire to?