A Wine Education in the Sweet and Obscure

glassesI had an experience last week that reminded me that we ought not ever assume that our world view correlates to the world view of others. Or at the very least, don’t assume that what you drink is what everyone else drinks.

Over the course of two days judging at the Riverside International Wine Competition, I and three other compatriots tasted upwards of 250 or so wines…most of which I’d never purchased, never seen, never tasted nor in some cases, ever knew existed. I sat on a judging panel that was primarily responsible for evaluating wines from the Midwest, the East and the South. These were wines produced with native grapes, French-American hybrid grapes and a few obscure French grapes.. And the vast majority of them were over 1% residual sugar and ran up into the 10% range.

There were wines from Minnesota, New York, Michigan, Virginia, Georgia, the Carolinas, Ohio and elsewhere beyond the Mississippi. It was a revelation and one I was happy to have. The wines I tasted were made from grapes with names like:

Carlos
Chardonel
Traminette
Niagra
Petit Manseng
Seyval Blanc
Vidal
Vignoles
Pink Catawba
Chambourcin
Concord
Marechal Foch

The thing about the vast majority of these wines is that they were very good. Actually, very, very, good. The key was to find a good balance of acid, varietal character and sugar. Of course the other key to evaluating these wines was getting past the fact that they tasted hardly anything like the Cabs, Pinots, Chards, Merlots, SB’s and other vinifera-based wines I drink almost 100% of the time.

These are the “local” wines one finds outside the major wine-producing states and the wines that many people not only drink regularly but were also the one’s they were brought up on.

The experience forces me to recalibrate my understanding of the world of wine and reminds me that there are many, many things out there that after 30 years of wine drinking I’ve yet to encounter. Unfortunately, if you live in California, Oregon, Washington and many other states, and if you never leave your home, you simply won’t come across these wines. Rarely are they distributed outside their local areas. There simply isn’t a market for them because we in the wine business assume that the world revolves around Vinifera grapes. And it largely does.

But my experience tells me it shouldn’t.

The results of the Riverside International Wine Competition CAN BE FOUND HERE


One Response

  1. Bill Ward - May 14, 2013

    Don’t forget our favorite: Diamond. And our least favorite: Noble.
    But you’re spot-on, Tom. The wines were eye-opening, or rather mind-opening. I wish there were a way to get these wines “shared” with other states. Can’t imagine the number of stupid laws keeping that from happening. Sigh.


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