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Wine, that most traditional and historic of beverages, has changed. A new breeze is stirring in the vineyards, new tastes are developing among consumers, and new ideas are emerging about the place and purpose of wine. As has happened in so many other decisive areas in our contemporary lives -- what and how we eat, what we drive, where we choose to live -- we are reevaluating what wines we drink, and when, and why.
Increasing medical evidence of the health benefits of moderate wine consumption has brought a refreshing change in the wine-drinking habits of ordinary Americans. Wine is no longer a special-occasion beverage but a daily staple. Thanks to dramatic recent technological advances, wine doesn't have to be expensive. And it needn't be French to merit our attention.
These ideas were already gathering strength more than a decade ago, but there's still a lot of accumulated dust to be blown off our notions about wine, a lot of cobwebs to be brushed aside. Like an unfortunate number of wines I've sampled, some of our ideas have been sitting around in the cellar a little too long. Yes, some wines age for decades. Most do not.
While some wines can and should be approached with great appreciation and even reverence, it's my experience that American consumers are too often intimidated by the (often bogus) ritual associated with wine. First-time wine drinkers feel like intruders in the temple. They're easily cowed by black-suited sommeliers with bone-handle corkscrews or outsnobbed by coworkers who can quote the most recent wine scores like baseball statistics or brag about how much they paid for the latest cult Cabernet. Fortunately, refreshing trends such as screw caps, two-dollar bargain bottles, and local wine bars are starting to demystify wine for more people every day.
I don't believe in treating wine as something sacrosanct. Neither do the vast majority of winemakers I know. There's no better antidote to wine snobbery than to go tromping around a vineyard with a wine grower. He or she will most likely be wearing overalls and have clumps of mud caked in the treads of a pair of well-worn work boots. When you get down to basics, wine is farming.
I've chosen to begin the listings in this book with wines from the New World, and more precisely those from the United States. I elected this approach first of all because this book is geared toward the American wine consumer, and three out of four bottles purchased by Americans come from the United States. But I also had a deeper reason for making this book New World-oriented. Call it a challenge. My own tasting notes over a thirty-year-plus career as a wine writer have shown that New World wines can be every bit as interesting, as well made, and as worthwhile as Old World offerings.
Although winemaking culture obviously came from the Old World to the New, the tide has shifted today as young winemakers trained or well-traveled in the New World are influencing the shape and style of modern European wines. And the realities of the global marketplace give the New World a distinct economic power, as well. Tradition-bound Bordeaux, for example, had been resting on its fading laurels for many years until it got a wake-up call from the New World. Quality was down, and the asking price for many Bordeaux wines was seriously out of whack with real-life budgets. Like a tag team, California and Australia were kicking Bordeaux's butt in key markets around the world. Some Bordeaux vintners woke up, upped their quality to international standards, and reevaluated their bottom line. Others did not.
Many New World regions have made amazing progress over the past decade. Here at home, in the Pacific Northwest, Washington now crafts some of the best Merlot on the planet and Oregon is delivering top-notch Pinot Noir. Santa Barbara has come of age with astounding Pinots, Chardonnays, and RhÔne-style wines. New appellations are springing up in California and elsewhere. New York's Long Island region goes from strength to strength.
In the Southern Hemisphere, Australia is barreling ahead like a full-steam dynamo, while New Zealand has also exploded onto the scene with world-class Sauvignon Blancs and Pinot Noirs. South Africa is making exciting strides in both quality and marketing. Chile is still a value leader but has introduced a new tier of gorgeous high-end wines, and Argentina continues to astonish nearly everyone as the most promising wine region in the Americas. Mexico is a player in the world wine market now, as is Uruguay.
In addressing the Old World in this book, I've tried to reflect the many changes that are occurring even as I write. Spain is a hotbed of experimentation, with vast untapped resources for making great wines and an enormously talented pool of international winemakers. Portugal has started to export delicious table wines in addition to its fabled Ports. In Italy, regions such as Puglia, Umbria, Campania, and Sicily are finally getting the recognition they deserve for their lovely indigenous varietals.
With its strict regulations and traditions, France is, ironically, the least innovative European wine-producing country, but for wine lovers it will, of course, continue to be a place of inspiration and a source of some of the world's greatest bottles. In spite of its high quality and reasonable prices, Germany remains problematic for many American wine drinkers -- its elegant Rieslings are often ignored because of impenetrable label nomenclature, a state of affairs that I hope will eventually change. Meanwhile, Austria has conquered hearts and palates with its zesty reds and bracing signature white, GrÜner Veltliner. Countries from behind the former Iron Curtain are finding their place in the new global wine market, as well.
While assuming a user-friendly format, this book also strives to take into account the ever-changing kaleidoscope that is wine today, in all its contradictions and contrasts. Wine is a complex world. This book is its map.
Copyright © 2005, 2006 by Anthony Dias Blue