By Randy Kemner, Proprietor
The past two months I’ve been evaluating Southern Hemisphere wines for the store—the same kind of “international-style” wines I’ve been avoiding for over a decade, particularly concentrating on some truly impressive wines from Argentina and New Zealand.
In my personal life, I drink almost no “international-style” wine at home these days, preferring less assertive, more nuanced, less potent European wines. It’s not a value judgment; it’s just where my taste has evolved over time.
You see, I like to drink wine.
I drink it by itself and I drink it with my dinner. Splitting a bottle with Dale means two six-ounce glasses apiece (or three four-ounce glasses). Depending on the wine we select, it’s either not enough, or it’s too much. Sugar content before fermentation seems to be the determinant whether drinking wine will be an uplifting experience or an ultimately painful one for me.
Recently, though, I’ve been surprised to notice while I’m meeting with suppliers that some of the very wines I’ve been railing against—14% to 15% alcohol wines—are very appealing to me, at least while I’m sitting there in our tasting room. And I really want to introduce them to our customers because they are delicious, beautifully made wines.
Has there been a shift in my tastes?
Most wines I’ve enjoyed from Argentina are fermented dry, meaning their grapes weren’t picked quite as high in sugar as many of their California counterparts. Since I haven’t really had time to live with them awhile—only sipping them in limited quantities in the store—it remains to be seen whether I can drink several glasses of them without the nagging ill-effects.
The past year, I've really been championing the sensational, inexpensive, crisp, low-alcohol white wines from Gascony. I drink them all the time. And now that rosé season has begun in southern California, I’m enjoying lighter versions of those a lot, too. With both these kinds of wines, a single bottle isn’t enough for two people.
But if the grape sugars and their resulting alcohol in wine rises just a little bit, the story changes.
I drank a surprisingly good $7 Sauvignon Blanc from Chile last night, Viu Manent. At 13% alcohol, it was just potent enough so that I felt a little woozy before the bottle was empty, something that never happens with the Tariquet Cotes de Gascogne. Even though I enjoyed the wine, I couldn’t finish the whole bottle alone.
I’ve come across two magnificent New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs in the past month—the Runnymede and Greywacke, the latter made by the guy who crafted Cloudy Bay for 25 years. Both wines possess everything I want from Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc—richness balanced by acidity, the ribbon of lime-citrus concentrate running through their grapefruity cores.
Will I be able to drink these wines with abandon, the way I do Provencal rosé, the way I do those thirst-quenchers from Gascony? They, too, are in the 13% range, and moderation may be forced upon me.
There’s only one way to find out. The empty bottle will tell the story.