Wine Club Newsletter - November 2021
GP Picks Two Articles from The Somm Journal
Here are a couple interesting articles from one of my favorite trade publications, The Somm Journal. GP
The Turn Toward Terroir
Why American Wine Drinkers Should Embrace a Sense of Place
One of the great mysteries of our industry concerns the fact that so few of us appreciate American wines as much as their classic European counterparts. We understand, for instance, that Lafite is Lafite, which is different from Margaux, Haut-Brion, or Cheval Blanc.
Why? Because they are different vineyards, reflecting completely different terroirs.
The same goes for Burgundy. We do not expect a Corton to taste like a Chambertin or a Chambertin to be like a Musigny; meanwhile, in Germany, a top einzellage in the Saar won’t resemble another in the Mittel-Mosel, the Pfalz, or Rheingau. This is as simple as A, B, C.
So why, when we taste Old World varieties grown in different regions throughout, say, California, do we throw them together and rate them as if they should all meet the same sensory profile? Heck, you can take two Pinot Noir vineyards on either side of a road in the Russian River Valley’s Middle Reach neighborhood and find more differences in soil, aspect (i.e., slope and sun exposure), and microclimate than you would in Corton as compared to Chambertin.
So why would you expect a Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley to resemble one from the Anderson Valley 60 miles away, the Santa Lucia Highlands 175 miles away, or the Santa Maria Valley 350 miles away?
The answer, of course, is that we shouldn’t but do anyhow because of the way we evaluate American wines in general: primarily in terms of varietal character and intensity rather than sensory nuance. Appellation, terroir, sense of place—whatever you want to call it—are low on the list of factors consumers consider when purchasing domestic wines.
Yet more and more American wines are being crafted like European wines in the sense that their creators are focused on staying true to the vineyards and appellations they’re sourced from. In some cases, varietal character and house style are thrown completely out the window. Many of you in the sommelier trade or hospitality industry agree with me that, yes, this is the way wines should be.
But here is my caveat: No matter how significant, these changes won’t stick if consumers keep looking at American wines in the same old way.
We need to help our guests and customers throw out preconceptions of varietal character and teach them to demand more than mere consistency from commercial brands while encouraging even our most talented winemakers to resist the compulsion to mess with wines that should be left alone.
We need to promote and celebrate the diversity of terroir, whether the vines in question are 60 or 350 miles apart or just across the road from each other.
I’ve had only two real mentors during my entire career, which started in 1978: André Tchelistcheff and Kermit Lynch. While he is now retired, Lynch’s single-minded obsession with imports that taste like where they come from remains a profound influence on our industry.
What I remember most about Tchelistcheff is his insistence that, when it comes to vineyards, Mother Nature has the final say on what should be grown and how. Therefore, it is the environment, not the producer, that should be the arbiter of the form our best wines take.
Since these values were good enough for Tchelistcheff, they’re still good enough for me.
Polyphenols and Flavor
Polyphenols are important to wine—so crucial, in fact, that it’s widely accepted that a red wine’s phenolic profile determines its quality and age-ability. Attempting to understand them, however, can be incredibly complicated even to wine scientists and chemists. Simply put, polyphenols, which are found throughout the plant kingdom, are a group of compounds that all have one thing in common: a phenol ring in their chemical structure.
The most well-known subcategories of these hexagonal heroes are anthocyanins, flavan-3-ols, and their byproducts, which include mostly tannins, pigments, and, of course, the coveted resveratrol, dubbed the “fountain of youth” by some for its purported anti-aging properties.
All of these subcategories can be categorized into two groups: flavonoids, which have a three-ring structure found in the seeds, skins, and stems of grapes, and non-flavonoids, which lack three rings and are found mostly in grape pulp. It’s worth mentioning that the latter serve as the main phenolic compound in white grapes; however, the subject of phenolics more often revolves around red grapes, as only a fraction of the polyphenols found in red varieties can be found in white grapes.
On a hot afternoon in mid-July, our panel of wine experts bravely navigated the elaborate maze made up of phenolic rings. “Often phenolic compounds determine a wine’s taste, color, and mouth- feel,” said Lars Leicht, VP of education for The SOMM Journal and the moderator for our Geographical Digest webinar series in partnership with National Geographic. “Techniques such as canopy management, green harvest, [adjusting] fermentation temperatures, maceration, and even aging will significantly transform and sometimes add phenolic compounds.
In other words, when winemakers play with their phenols, they release a plethora of pleasure-inducing, palate-pleasing perceptions.
Gary Parker, Owner
The WineSellar & Brasserie