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Monday Manifestos
If I Were King

By Charles Olken

I was making a list of wine-related things I want for Christmas and realized that I was never going to get them unless I were King. Sure, someone will give me another bottle of fancy Cabernet from a producer that is new to the scene, and someone will find a rare bottle from some little know appellation in northern Italy or southern Spain or India. But, I am not talking about wine or books or paraphernalia. I am going to be receiving those items without asking for them. No, I am talking about game-changers. I am talking about new ideas and changes to old ideas and a kinder, gentler wine world in which more and more very good wine could be produced because, as King, I would have decreed the following:

  • There would be more Napa Valley Zinfandel. I like Zinfandel, and I even like Zinfandel that many think of as over the top. I don’t like prunes and sugar in my Zinfandel, but if it has balance, fruit, depth and Zin varietal character, I like it. And, I find that I like Napa Valley Zinfandel quite a bit. But wineries and growers in the Napa Valley are not planting Zinfandel. Instead they are adding to the totals of Cabernet Sauvignon and its related varieties. If I were King, I would decree that Zinfandel remain in Napa because it produces such lovely, refined, almost claret-like wines.
  • There would be more Chardonnay grown in coastal adjacent locations like Freestone. The cold areas very near the coast of California can produce wines with Chablisienne acids and minerality. True, we do not have the same soils and the wines will not taste the same. But, these are bright, deep, brisk wines, often with lower alcohols, and if I were King, there would more of them.
  • There would be more Riesling in the world. Need I say more? Here is a grape that produces some of the best wines in the world. There used to be 10,000 acres of the grape standing in California. Now there is closer to 2,000. Riesling is making a comeback. If I were King, I would speed up the process.
  • People would stop bitching about California wines being overripe, overoaked and low in acidity. They can be, but they generally are not. Yet, we hear this cant from people who should know better. All that is balanced in this wine world of ours is not from Europe or New Zealand. If I were King, people would know better.
  • And speaking of knowing better, people who celebrate the higher acidity approaches of wineries like Donkey and Goat, Arnot-Roberts, Wind Gap and their ilk would have to sit in a wine history class. Those wines, as welcome as they are, are not a new creation, are not “California wine rethought”. If I were King, I would show them wines from Nalle, Ridge, Marimar, Morgan and dozens of others that have followed that style for years, even decades.
  • There would be more and better Grenache grown in California. When Grenache finds a happy place to grow, it can have a texture close to that of Pinot Noir and fruit that is deep and inviting. It can make great wine on its own, and its role as a partner to Syrah, Petite Sirah and in field blends would be as important here as it is in other places in the world.
  • If I were King, the overly broad AVAs like Napa Valley and Russian River Valley would be redefined to reflect commonality of growing conditions. Today, both cover areas that go far beyond any geographic or climatic definitions of commonality or of land mass. The beauty of small-area appellations is that they can celebrate the distinctiveness of those areas. Under current definitions, we are losing out on specificity.
  • If I were King, the Paso Robles AVA would finally get the subdividing that it deserves. Here is a large mass that runs from cool to overheated and flatlands to hills. Yet, there are no subdivisions within that large mass. It is time for the good folks down there to realize that the wines from unique areas like westside hills deserve their own identities.
  • The Dungeness Crab season would last all year. I have plenty of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling to drink. If I were King, I would have fresh cracked crab always around to encourage me to open more white wine.
  • If I were King, I would order the French to relax. The laws governing what can be grown where and under what circumstances are so hide bound that growers cannot make the best wine possible. Instead of listening to the past, it is time to look to the future.
  • Old-vine Grenache Rosé from the Navarra region of Spain (near Pamplona) would get the recognition is deserves. I am not a Rosé drinker, and even as King I would not be, but I do like the best of the Rosés from Navarra where old-vine Grenache yields a wine of such intensity that it begs for a year or two of age and a bit winemaking intervention to bring out its complexity. As King, I want more Navarra Rosé.
  • Wine drinkers in Iowa would stop describing every white wine as “Chardonnay”.
  • Argentinean winemakers would find a white grape that succeeds that way Malbec has done for them. Despite their best efforts, Torrontes is not going to be that grape. Even a King has to wonder whether Argentina would even be on our wine radars if it were not for Malbec. The wineries there are no different from wineries everywhere in the world. They are trying to extend their place in the world. If I were King, they would find a white grape that would be a partner to Malbec.
  • The “Anything But Chardonnay” club would grow up. Chardonnay makes wonderful wine. It’s popularity has been earned in good vineyards by good winemakers. Just because it is popular is no reason to diss it. If I were King . . . . . . .no, wait. Less Chardonnay for the ABCers means more for me.
  • If I were King, the loyal band of Connoisseurs’ Guide readers who have allowed me to taste wine for a living over the past three decades would have a wonderful, healthy, prosperous New Year. Your corks would seal tight and have no TCA. Your cellar would multiply. Your trips to wine country would be frequent and rewarding. You would be able to get reservations at the French Laundry. Yes, 2011 would be a great vintage for you all.

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