Appealing to the American palette
Americans love concentrated high alcohol wines. Trust me, I sell a ton of wine to Americans. You can also see it in what the rest of the world is exporting to the United States in terms of wine production. We Americans grew up on Coca Cola, Frosted Mini-Wheats, Campbell’s tomato soup and ketchup. We have a sweet tooth. We also stand up and drink wine like a cocktail as opposed to the rest of the world that sits at a table and “eats” wine. And if you drink wine without food, then a wine with opulent fruit and soft tannins all rounded with vanilla oak is going to be much more pleasant than a wine that typically relies on the fats and acids that food provide to accentuate the fruit and soften the tannins or acidity.Wines produced in California and Australia are typically made in a style that doesn’t require food. This is not to say that there are not producers in both places making a more “old world” style of wine – there are. However, if your major consumer market is the United States wine drinker, you are going to produce what sells. I am seeing more and more wine made in this fruit-forward “cocktail” style coming from places that traditionally produce wines that are higher in acidity or tannins and would be best enjoyed with a meal. It is an interesting study, really. In Italy, I have noticed that the more highly concentrated wines that have higher alcohol and have obviously been aged in expensive barrique barrels are commanding a rather high price. They are stunning wines, made from traditional grapes such as Sangiovese and Nebbiolo as well as wines that add Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to them. But because Italian wine laws are as strict as they are, none of these wines will say “Chianti” or “Barolo” on them. These are maverick winemakers, following a passion, using their talents to create amazingly memorable wines that will age very well and that appeal to the discriminating American wine collector … and they aren’t cheap! Spain is another area that has deep traditions in winemaking. Rioja, and the Ribera del Duero, have made some of Spain’s most outstanding wines for centuries. However, in the last two decades, the wines coming out of these places, as well as the Toro, Jumilla, Priorato, and Bierzo, are much more highly concentrated fruit wise, higher in alcohol and richer on the palette then ever before. Wines of this style can command quite a price. The Ribera is always going to be expensive; it is just a very difficult place to make wine, period. The weather, altitude, and soils make for meticulous farming, and that’s expensive. However, Jumilla and Bierzo are producing wines of this style at very reasonable prices. The grapes most frequently seen in Spain – Tempranillo, Monastrell (Mouvedre in France), Grenacha (Grenache in France) – are the same grapes that these new innovative producers are using. The wines are lush, full bodied and very consumer friendly.France is still pretty traditional. The laws in France are so strict that it is really difficult to be too much of a maverick. However, in southern France, in areas like the Languedoc and the Cotes du Luberon, the weather is favorable, and the price of land more reasonable. There, the laws are fewer and less strict than in many other wine growing areas in France. There are some beautifully made and affordable wines that appeal to many American palettes coming from these areas.With all the amazing wine being made in the world today, whether you prefer to “eat” your wine or enjoy it as a cocktail, there is something for everyone. I guess that is one of the reasons I love what I do so much. Everyone has their own preferences and thankfully there are thousands of producers out there pouring heart, soul and love into every bottle. I guess we just have to keep pulling cork and experimenting! Susanne Johnston owns Frisco Wine Merchant. You can reach her at (970) 668-3153 or at Susanne@friscowine.com
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