July 17, 2013

Wine: Judge wine on character, not grape name or category

By Joe Appel

(Continued from page 1)

So what to do about the Chardonnay? I could say, "Here's a Chardonnay: the Drouhin Chablis AC 2011 ($20, National). Or try the Servin Petit Chablis 2011 ($20, Wicked). Both are super crisp, dry Chardonnays, very well balanced. A touch of salt, flinty, a chalky texture, ripe but not sweet fruit, very elegant."

I could also say, "Here's a Chardonnay: the Von Schleinitz Riesling Kabinett 2009 ($17, SoPo). Riesling is a variety of Chardonnay. This too has a salty/finty bite, some ripe fruit, peach essence. A very stylish wine; everyone will love it!"

It would all be true (except for the part about Riesling being a kind of Chardonnay, but that white lie is in service of a Greater Truth). People would love the wine. I bet most drinkers would say of the Chablis, "Wow, that just pops! It's such zesty wine. Where's the tray of pigs-in-blankets? Where are the goat cheese tarts?" I bet most drinkers would say of the Riesling, "That's the best Chardonnay I've ever tasted! Where are those chicken satay skewers? Gimme another smoked-fish cracker. (Or the pigs-in-blankets or the goat cheese tarts; 'sall good!)"

I wimped out. Instead, I suggested an inexpensive Chardonnay from Spain that is well-made and tasty, but not likely to garner any love or stir up much intrigue. Fine. It was probably all fine. I'm not sure anyone learned much, though learning isn't always the point.

It's usually my point, though, which risks irritation for whoever else is in the room. How can I be passionate, committed and principled without being a bore? Or a future "Portlandia" episode?

But shout it from the mountaintop: Grapes are not so important! Don't classify! Investigate your assumptions!

What matters in wine, as in people, as in life, is character. Not skin color or grape name. Not categories of any kind. You are not objective; come to know your subjectivity. Don't think about Chardonnay; think about elements. Make decisions about salty flavors, citric fruits, tropics, calm, kinetics, delicacy, power, perfection, flaws, prickle, salve, middles and margins.

At this level there is no quality differential. No one "wins." No one is impressed. We all just look a little more closely, and live better for that.

Joe Appel works at Rosemont Market, but not all the wines mentioned in this column are necessarily sold there. His blog is soulofwine.com, and he can be reached at:



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