Is ‘distinctiveness’ a virtue in wine?

One of the hot topics in the wine world for the last three years has been the ‘globalization’ of flavor profile. We have all heard the stories and many have tasted the results … Pinot Noir that is more like Syrah, Cabernet from fill-in-the-blank that is loaded with hedonistic flavors, overt use of oak in white wines from traditional regions, etc. There is much SAMENESS in many wines.

But I want to take the discussion on a different path … I believe DISTINCTIVENESS in style is a virtue that should be kept separate from the question of QUALITY of a wine. This is a personal opinion, and many disagree with me, but let me explain…

I had a wine yesterday that I didn’t really care for. It was a single vineyard Pinot Noir from California that retails for about sixty bucks, but for this discussion it could have been anything. From the first sip I thought to myself “It just doesn’t have what I like in Pinot. Not enough of the silky texture, not enough earthy aroma. It’s a bit closed and unlike any Pinot I’ve ever had from there.” Upon doing some research, I found that this producer used little to no oak on this wine, and fermented only with wild yeasts. What I had become used to from this region were wines that were homogenized and guilty of ‘sameness’. So even though I didn’t like the the wine much, it became a wine I found great intellectual pleasure in drinking, because it expanded my horizons about this grape and this region … even though it is not a wine I would seek out for personal purchase.

Another fine example are the wines from Rioja producer La Rioja Alta (label above). These wines are completely original in style, described by many as the ‘cleanest traditionally produced wines around.’ The Vina Alberdi Riserva from La Rioja Alta has aromas of black cherry, orange rind, dried leaves, and tobacco! One of the more amazing things about this wine are the fully resolved tannins (many thanks to Annette Peters for explaining that to me!). The wine is packed with tannin, but because the tannins are wrapped in glycerin in finishes smooooooooth. Again, not for everybody, but it’s distinctiveness is what makes it oh so intriguing. (Side note — one of the single best food and wine combinations of my life was this wine with charcoal grilled dry aged rib eye covered in sautéed wild hen-of-the-woods mushrooms).

How does this wrap into the wine business? Last week I was tasting with a local chef and he commented on a Syrah I was serving him being distinctive – for him in a really bad way … how he didn’t like the aromas (too much dried blood/meat … he likes macerated black raspberry), didn’t like the mouthfeel (quick lift of acidity at the very end of the finish … he likes softer wines), “I’ve never thought a Syrah could possibly taste like this! Blagh!” was the comment. As I was putting the bottle away he said “I’ll take two cases.”

“What? I thought you didn’t like it.”

“Doesn’t matter what I think and there’s nothing technically wrong with the wine. I know my customers come here to have their wine minds expanded. The last thing they want is the same old same old. This wine is perfect for them. Ship it tomorrow.”

Kudos to him. That takes guts.


2 Responses

  1. You’re absolutely right. I think sometimes it’s all about experimentation, even if a wine is good, you don’t want to be drinking the same thing all the time. You always want to be on the look out for new tastes.

  2. Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.

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