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Monday Manifestos
A Three Grape World

By Charles Olken

Global Zinfandel Day was celebrated last week. Food & Wine Magazine wants us to drink Syrah with our Thanksgiving meal. Beaujolais Nouveau made its annual mid-November appearance right on schedule, Gruner Veltliner arrived like gangbusters, Riesling is said to be rising, Champagne sales are growing again.

So, why do I get the sinking feeling that, at the end of the day, it is still a three-grape world? Perhaps it is the evidence. That is the problem with evidence. It tends to trump belief. It overwhelms desire. It makes moot our false hopes. It shines the harsh light of day on dreams that come in the moonlight. Yes, evidence is what matters when you get right down to it. And evidence is a bastard.

Connoisseurs’ Guide lives in a twelve-wine world. We regularly cover Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Zinfandel, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Viognier and sparkling wine. We look once a year at the limited amounts of less widely produced Rhône varietals—not so much because they are in such demand from you, our readers, as we do because we are looking for hope in a world dominated by three grapes.

Yet hope is that fickle commodity that exists in the moonlight but not in the noon-day sun. The truth is that we live in a three-grape world and all the others are just pretenders. No need to examine the viscera behind the fall of grapes not named Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. No need to punish Syrah yet again for not turning out to be any more broadly successful here than it is in France. We make plenty of perfectly good, even great Syrah, but not enough. In Zinfandel, we have a grape capable of making wines that are different from the claret and Burgundian-wines at the heart of the three-grape world. Riesling is among our favorite varieties; indeed, we are not the only winewriters to make that statement. None of that changes the facts on the ground.

We can look forever for the reasons that we are now in a three grape world, and over the years, Connoisseurs’ Guide has chronicled those grapes’ rises to power, their metamorphoses, their twists and turns and their ultimate emergence at the expense of so many other worthy contenders. There is plenty of evidence to be seen. The wines are the evidence, and if one looks at our soon-to-be released lists of our top wines of 2010, it will be dominated by the three grapes. Sure they will be others that make the list, but that is just it. They will be on a list dominated by those three grapes.

But even that is not the evidence that is so concerning. We review what the wineries make. In large measure, they make what they can make well, but, overriding that optimistic view is that other evidence. It is the evidence of what it is that wine lovers buy. And no matter how much we like Riesling or how much praise we give to Grenache or Zinfandel, the evidence is that the other grapes are slowly being pushed aside wherever the world has a chance to push them aside because wine lovers first and foremost have voted with their purchasing dollars.

Will it change? Perhaps.

Must it change. Not really.

What happens if it does not change? We will lose even more of the diversity that we have lost.

Is there reason for hope? Always. Always. In a funny way, antiquated laws that keep Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon out of lands where they can be grown successfully and the small but determined push by some old-line vintners to experiment with their own locally grown varieties, including some that had all but disappeared years ago, will keep hope alive because it will keep diversity alive. The real question is whether any of those other grapes in going to break through. If not, they will always be the others—the Vouvrays and Savenierres made from Chenin Blanc, the Albarinos of Rias Baixas, the Austrian Gruners, the Nerello Mascalese reds from the slopes of Mount Etna. They just will not be part of the first team.

Yes, today it is a three-grape world because the grapes have made it so and the wine buyers agree.


What Next?!
by Samantha Dugan
Posted on:11/22/2010 9:51:04 AM

Global Zinfandel Day?! What's next, National Shove Hot Pokers Beneath Your Nails Day?!

No Subject
by Anonymous
Posted on:11/22/2010 10:04:29 AM

Good morning, Samantha.

Clean Your Teeth With High Acid Chard Day is said to be on the horizon.

Remove Road Tar From Your Car With Retsina Day is running a vigorous second.

Cook Your Greens In Gruner Day would not be out of the question.

Pickle Your Liver With 17% Alcohol Zinfandel Day has been considered and rejected.

That's the Problem
by Terry Rooney
Posted on:11/24/2010 6:24:42 PM
That's the problem, wine writers always disparaging someone who likes a wine that the writers consider second-class or worse.Zinfandel is great and makes great wine. Let people enjoy it without the need to tell them that Cabernet is so much superior.That's why wine is still not as widely drunk as it should be. Wine "experts" always telling people that some wines are inferior. My god, just let them buy it and enjoy it.Terry Rooney (lover of Pinot, Syrah, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Chenin Blanc and lots of other varietals)

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