While in Denver this weekend for the Denver International Wine Festival, I had a talk (which I can’t get out of my head) with my friend the wine and culture writer Bruce Schoenfeld whose work has appeared most recently in the New York Times and Travel & Leisure.
So there we were, tasting wine, and Bruce described why he does not particularly like Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon. “I’d rather have a B- wine from Croatia than a B+ wine from Napa,” he said.
His reasoning, if I can paraphrase it, goes something like this: What matters most in wine is personality and distinctiveness. These come in part, not only from the place where the wine was made, but also from a wine’s connection to a culture. This connection has value to the drinker. Even when a wine may not be technically perfect, it may nonetheless be a perfect testament to the people and culture that made it.
The idea that wine should be evaluated in a cultural context (and not just along scientific sensory lines) may be a romantic notion, but I agree with it. In fact, the phrase, “life is too short to drink bad wine” probably ought to be revised to: “life is too short to drink correct-but-boring, mass-marketed wine.” Who needs the wine equivalent of bland white bread?
As for Napa Valley cabernet, it’s become commonplace (maybe even fashionable) to think of the wines as homogeneous and predictable. The best are not. But as is true of many great wine regions, there are always a lot of “B”s. The key is to find the distinctive “A”s that reflect the people and the place.