Stereotyping New World Wines
Came across a fascinating article by Susanne Johnston in the Summit Daily News. Ms. Johnston is a retailer and seems to know here wine. At one point in the article on the subject of "terroir" she translates this french word into English as "Placeness". A brilliant description and one I’ve not heard before to describe those characteristics in a wine that are the result of the natural environment in which that grapes were grown.
Yet toward the end of the article we get this:
Can there be terroir qualities in New World wines
like those coming from California or Australia? In my personal
experience there are specific qualities that the earth and sky bring to
specific places like Diamond Mountain, Stag’s Leap and Mount Veeder in
Napa Valley that cannot be duplicated anywhere. However, it is a rare
and wonderful thing when a winemaker from these regions allows the
terroir to shine through, instead of making a wine for the masses.
As Mr. Jefford says, “There is nothing wrong with
preferring the taste of fruit to that of terroir in wine…If
you love fruit more than stones, rejoice in your good fortune. It will
save you much money — and you barely need bother with French wine at
all.” To discover, though, why people are prepared to pay more to taste
stones, lose yourself in a fine bottle of Cru Chablis or a Meursault,
it is an experience few forget."
The implication here is that "terroir" tastes like minerals. Or, that the terroir of a vineyard is translated by the mineral qualities found in a wine.
There is also found in the quote of Mr. Andrew Jeffords by Ms. Johnston the suggestion that New World wines, because they tend to be fruitier, are much less likely to exhibit a mineral character and less likely to exhibit terroir. While somewhat insulting, it’s not an important point right now.
What struck me is this notion that terroir is properly exhibited in the mineral character found in wine. This seems likely a very narrow definition of the idea of terroir and too close to the idea that we too often here repeated that when a wine has an "earthy" taste that’s the terroir talking.
Surely a vineyard’s terroir might contribute more than mineral character to a wine. What about spice characteristics? What about the texture of a wine? Andrew Jeffords is a well known wine writer. Yet, I think what we have detected here is a real bias both against New World wines and in favor of Old World wines that has been displayed in his comments on terroir. This shouldn’t be.
However, that said I think this kind of blanket statement is the fault of New World vintners as much as it is Jefford’s bias. It is difficult for anyone who tastes wine on a regular basis to move past the fact that fruit flavors are a much more important element in New World wines. There is a huge bias against any hint of herb or vegetal elements among New World, and particularly Californian, winemakers. Great efforts in the vineyard and the winery are made to assure not a hint of herb or veggies show up in wines. Surely this has created a stereotype for New World wines.