Rating and Ranking the Greatest Wines
Paul Lukacs is quickly becoming this generation’s most important chronicler of America’s wine heritage. His first wine book, "American Vintage: The Rise of American Wine", was an entertaining, well written and important expose of it’s subtitle. It won the prestigious James Beard Award for Best Wine & Spirits book in 2001. His newest book, "The Great Wines of America" will probably win that award also.
On it’s face "The Great Wines of America" seems to take a stab at offering a classification for American wines. It’s a game the French have played for decades and a parlor game wine lovers constantly take up. Lukacs creation of this sort of Meta Rating of American wine however is immensely thoughtful and reasonable. He offers profiles of the 40 greatest American wines. His criteria for entry into that club is a virtual tour of American wine styles, important wine regions and those vintners who have best exemplified these important contextual elements of American viticulture vintage after vintage with extraordinary high quality wines.
"I tried to choose wines with inherent high quality in the glass as well as some significance that transcends the glass. That significance might be historical or regional (or both), but I wanted the story of each wine to be more than an extended tasting note. That is, every wine in this book is representative, tasting of itself and more than itself—a grape variety perhaps, or a place, style or winemaking vision."
Lukacs nails it when he implies that greatness in wine, as in most other things, is a function of contextual significance. Consider some of the wines that make it into the list of 40 greatest wines in America:
Alban Vineyards Syrah "Reva"
Laurel Glen Cabernet Sauvignon
Stags’ Leap Winery Petite Sirah
Saintsbury Carneros Pinot Noir
Turley Wine Cellars Hayne Vineyard Zinfandel
Roederer Estate Brut
Each of these wines have been accorded high praise not just by Lukacs but by the critics and consumers. However, they are much more than fine wine. They each represent something very specific: Alban Syrah: the most influential of American Syrah producers, Laurel Glen Cab: the epitome of "classically" made American Cabernet, Stags Leap Petite Sirah: The great champion of a lonely but worthy varietal, Saintsbury Pinot Noir: The epitome and proof of the greatness of Carneros Pinot Noir, Roederer Estate Brut: the proof that great Sparkling wine is American as well as the importance of Anderson Valley vititculture.
Each entry in "Great Wines" tells the story not only of the wine and provides the requisite tasting note, but also details the significance of the wine to the American wine experience. In this respect, Lukacs continues his exploration of America’s wine history he began in "American Vintage", making this an almost necessary companion to that volume: one explains how we got to where we are in American wine, while this one tells us exactly where we are.
This is, impressively, a book for both wine aficionados as well as beginners. The experienced wine drinker will learn something more about wines they are familiar with while the novice will be introduced to the ideas, philosophies and visions that motivate our greatest winemakers.