User ID:

Remember me
Lost password?

Wednesday Warblings
If I Ruled The World

By Charles Olken

For decades now, there has been little real change in the wine world. Oh, sure, the whole New World is new, but is it different? Same varieties, same techniques, same expectations, If I ruled the wine world, things would be different. Some things would be very different to the point of heresy while others would simply see great ideas recognized sooner and more completely. Yes, if I ruled the world, the wine biz would be anything but staid.

Here are a few pet ideas that have been rattling around in my brain. See if any of them make sense to you. And, yes, the more heretical the better.

The Appellation Systems Everywhere Should Be Scrapped

I don’t care which letters one applies to those systems, they are antiquated, political and marketing nonsense except to the industry that benefits from them. The uses of the appellation systems to limit which wines can be planted where does benefit the industry by making things simple and by establishing a level of exclusivity. Never mind that the soils on Mont Brouilly in Beaujolais are virtually identical to those in the Côte Rotie, and they are virtually next door to each other. Don’t bother planting your Syrah in Beaujolais. Don’t for a minute think about Chardonnay in Vouvray despite the cool, limestone-laced vineyards there that might very well produce superb wines with that latter variety. Oh, and while you are at it, don’t bother trying your Chenin Blanc in Burgundy or your Riesling in Normandy.

And if you think that such silliness is limited to Europe, we have our own brand of self-servingness here in California. For years, maybe for one-hundred years, the West Rutherford Bench has been considered to be the best place to grow Cabernet Sauvignon in these parts. When the Napa Valley began to be separated into smaller geographic sections, it was not the West Rutherford Bench that got recognized. It was the entire commune of Rutherford even though the east and west sides of that geography produce wines with very different characteristics. No one would want to denigrate East Rutherford, but so too would very few knowledgeable tasters not be able to separate the wines from east and west.

New Heroes Needed

I have a list of grapes that I want to become the new heroes. No need to shunt aside the old heroes, and some of my new heroes are old heroes elsewhere. Riesling, Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Fiano and the Mount Etna “Nerellos” are cases in point. Even Albarino, a wine I particularly prize far above most table wine Moscato and Pinot Gris, has a very important role in the northwestern corner of Spain and in the adjoining territory immediately to the south in Portugal. No need here to lament Riesling because CGCW has championed that variety from the outset. And Nebbiolo, despite the valiant attempts at its making here in California, has yet to prove that most of what bears the name locally is worthy of special attention.

Grenache, I think and predict, is on its way to stardom locally. It may take some time, and we do not yet know for sure where it will grow best, but there are quite a few fine versions being made, albeit in small lots for the most part. We have been reviewing Grenache for years now in our July Rhône Issue, and it has not let us down.

But what of varieties that we really have not tried. On a recent trip to southern Italy, I managed to drink a fair bit of Fiano, a grape that only exists here in experimental vineyards. However, a brand new version from the Rock Wall winery has given me new hope. Bright, fruity, dry and lively, round and balanced, Fiano could one day challenge for a place among the dry whites. Here’s hoping that it gets the chance.

My other new love from that Italy trip were the Nerello brothers of Mount Etna, Mascalese and Cappuccio. Despite growing at altitude in rugged soils, these grapes in combination produce wines whose closest vinous analogy is Pinot Noir.

It may be heresy to say it, but if I ruled the world, these red and whites from southern Italy, whose wines can be so exciting in those narrowly defined regions, would be planted all over the world, including in places in Europe where the current laws would forbid. And while I doubt that Pinot Noir itself would be a star on Etna, I would give it a try.

The Wine Spectator and The Wine Enthusiast Must Stop Reviewing Wine

In truth, I have no axe to grind with Steve Heimoff or Harvey Steiman, with Paul Gregutt or Tim Fish, all of whom write about the same patch as I do. But, their magazines only purport to be in the same business as me and Connoisseurs’ Guide. Those mags are not wine reviews. They are lifestyle merchants, and they make their money not by charging their readers a reasonable price for content but by selling advertising to everyone and his brother. Their heavily subsidized subscription prices do not even cover the cost of putting their magazines into the post. Wine reviews should be the province of the independent reviewers, but where it once was, it will never be again because of the power of the business model which relies on eyeballs and advertising. Some will criticize this stance as self-serving because Connoisseurs’ Guide is one of those no-advertising wine reviewers whose lunch is being eaten by the Spectator and the Enthusiast.

But here is the bigger problem. Back thirty or forty years ago, there were as many wine review publications as there are today. But “today” is really a reflection of yesterday because there does not exist one, no-advertising wine reviewer of note that has come into being in the last fifteen years. There is a lot more wine coming from many more places, yet the wine review community is being held down by magazines whose real purpose is not to review wine but to sell ads and lifestyle.

Not An April Fool’s Joke

True confession. I did think of a column something like this one for Monday, but when I sat down to write it, the ideas that we would remake the appellation laws into something better, that we would expand the presence of interesting varieties into new places, that wine reviewing would return to a totally independent process, turned out to be so right that I could not offer them on April 1. There may be heresy here, but there is also truth.


The CGCW Experience - Take the Tour

Meet the New CGCW

For thirty-five years, Connoisseurs’ Guide has been the authoritative voice of the California wine consumer. With readers in all fifty states and twenty foreign countries, the Guide is valued by wine lovers everywhere for its honesty and for it strong adherence to the principles of transparency, unbiased, hard-hitting opinions. Now, it is becoming the California winelover’s most powerful online voice as well. And, our new features provide an unmatched array of advice and information for aficionados of every stripe.


by TomHill
Posted on:4/3/2013 11:00:44 AM

Totally agree about Fiano, Charlie. Nice to know that Rockwall has one..I'll look for it. You should seek out BryanHarrington's Fianos as well, if you've not tried them.

   As you point out....there's a lot of stuff/heros "over there" that could potentially make some interesting, even great, wines here in Calif. Tazzalenghe or Zellen anybody?? Alas, it's no easy feat to get those varieties (legally, at least) into the USofA.



Yes But....
by Samantha Dugan
Posted on:4/3/2013 10:42:59 PM

While I agree with much of this Charlie I do take issue with one part. Even in France people can grow whatever they want, where ever they want....I mean if the AOC system is a problem or holding you back feel free to plant, grow and bottle whatever you wish but, keep in mind that you won't be able to use that same AOC in your marketing of your product. You want to grow Chardonnay in Vouvray, by all means, do so, just don't snub the standing system and then turn around and try and use those place names on your labels. Make a Loire Valley Chardonnay and wow us all...but don't use the long standing system to help you sell something that it isn't. No one is being held back, I mean aside from their own fear/reluctance to try and market something unknown. That sword it does have a double edge....

No, But ....
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:4/4/2013 12:46:55 AM

Sorry, Sam, but the system has everything to do with moribund, head-in-the-sand, the 1800s-were-the-right-way attitudes towards wine.

They are artificailly restrictive, and intentionally so, for ecohomic reasons. I have no idea whether Chardonnay woudl thrive or shrivel in Vouvray or Condrieu or the Rioja, but we will never know because if one did exist, it could not be labelled wiith anything but the broadest, most non-descript name.

It could not be labeled as Loire Valley Chardonnay or with any other place name. And, Sam, Vouvray is a place name. It is not a holy name. Those names were reserved years ago for Chenin Blanc and represents only the common wisdom of the times. Those laws do not begin to represent the possibilities of the 21st Century.

If I ruled the world, we would find out what the wisdom of this world had to say and not be bound by the wiisdom of some older time when the world was a different place.

One need only look at the changes in society, in industrial potential, in the understandiung of disease to know that we dare not stand in the way of progress.

If I ruled the world, antiquated wine laws would be revisited and reevealuated--and would be changed to reflect what is possible today, not what was politically and agriculturally right two centurieis ago.

by Sam Dugan
Posted on:4/4/2013 1:04:22 AM

Exactly Charlie. Those place names aren't holy, so why isnsist on using them if you aren't trying to bank on the cache of them? You know what I find telling here sweet Sir Charlie, is you go on rant after rant about the new set of wine drinkers and makers, the ones making things like Ribolla and Poulsard here in California and how stupid and flighty they are...just tossing weird for weird's sake to the wind and not paying due attention to what has worked before and what people actually want. How different is that from someone growing Chardonnay on Vouvray? Not different at all....


I give to you your own sentenace, "If I ruled the world, antiquated wine laws would be revisited and reevealuated--and would be changed to reflect what is possible today, not what was politically and agriculturally right two centurieis ago." and I just ask that you be as open and willing to toss tradtion and what works, out the window in the name of discovery and

Leave a comment below, but please limit your comments to 1,200 characters or less. We find it helpful to make a copy of our comments to be sure that they fit. In that way, you can edit them if they run long.

(Please note: your e-mail address will not be visible after posting)



Note: Refresh your browser to see your latest comments.

Having technical problems with the comment system? Click here.