Wine Styles - So Who's Driving the Bus?
I'm fortunate enough to get copies of all of the major wine magazines and my in-box and RSS feeds are loaded with daily content. Despite the hectic pace of life, I find it hard not to stay "in touch" with what's going on in wine. I do tend to read more writing on the "trade" side and few on the "lifestyle" side, but I think I can confidently say that one of the most pervasive and divisive issues in the wine world today is (for lack of a better word)….style.
Follow a critic for a while or just select from wines on the shelf that have "shelf talkers" with his or her praise and you get a pretty good idea of who likes what style. I think you could broadly put Parker & Laube on a tag team against Jancis and Tanzer and have a pretty good battle - Ripe vs. Unripe, or New World vs. Old World or Subtle vs. Obvious - take your pick. Other critics, bloggers, sommeliers, etc. all seem to fall into one of the two camps, stylistically.
On the production side, most winemakers and thus wineries also fall on one side of the fence, with few "straddlers". Some would say you could predict this in advance based on the alcohol level of their wines (pre-dealc that is)! I have always defended wineries making a New World/riper/obvious style as I think that is where the market (and thus the money) has been going. Wine is a for-profit enterprise after all, despite what certain aged vignerons would have you believe.
What I find interesting however, is the evolution of wine style. Some say that critics like Parker and consultants like Rolland are driving the style bus, but I just don't think that's the case. If Rolland were creating Cabernets that tasted vegetal, astringent and "barnyardy", nobody would buy them, no matter what the score given by Parker.
Wines, in my opinion, are driven by the consumer. Yes, I can concede that the consumer is influenced by scores, shiny packaging, and effusive praise, but at the end of the day that matters very little. Good tasting wines sell better than bad tasting wines and if the "New World Style" is what the consumer wants, then why are people agonizing about giving it to him?
Arrogance, simple arrogance.
The whole "my wine is more subtle than your wine" or "my wine is a 'natural' wine and yours is made in the lab" routine is just silly. Look, if you like the wine you're drinking, that's wonderful, but don't try to proselytize the rest of the wine world into liking that thin, tart number you found at some really sincere wine shop on a dusty shelf.
I do sense a subtle shift in style and I think that's a good thing. Let's see where this goes, and you can be certain that the palate of the US consumer will take us there.