Sunday, March 15, 2009

Taking Stock in Varietals

My personal tastes are always developing, if not shifting outright. A few years ago, for example, I would have taken a greasy Carl's Jr./Hardees burger over sushi. Similarly, it seems that my tastes in wine are moving away from purely powerful wines to lighter wines with some finesse. I've gotten to the point where I'll even willingly drink a white wine on occasion.

Here is my current "stock" report on a few of the more common varietals:

Cabernet Franc: Rising

I do sometimes want something other than Cab Franc. But the more Cab Franc I drink, the more I find that it's a varietal capable of an incredibly diverse array of expressions. Nonetheless, it's almost always highly aromatic and offers a multitude of floral and herbal qualities.

Cabernet Sauvignon: Dropping

If you want a wine that can age for a decade, there's no question Cab is King. But in my price range most Cabs are too heavily oaked, too thin, or otherwise boring. There are much better value plays than Cabernet Sauvignon in the $20 range that will also keep you from falling asleep from boredom.

Grenache/Garnacha: Holding steady

Some of the old vine Grenache I've tasted has remarkable concentration and complexity. More importantly, it seems that the varietal hasn't become popular enough to be corrupted. Still, nothing new to report here.

Malbec: Dropping

Malbec was a big hit about a year ago. Low acidity and silky tannins are a big reason why. But most if not all Malbecs I've had recently haven't had much more going for them other than a lot of fruit. Good, easy drinking wine, but lacking depth on the nose and overall complexity.

Merlot: Holding steady

I don't hate it, but I don't actively seek it, either. And I haven't encountered any wines recently that have shed new light on the varietal. Bad wine makers try to make it like cheap Cab or simply end up with something resembling cough syrup or a Shiraz. Good wine makers highlight the red fruit and medium body. Nothing new here.

Pinot Noir: Rising

Pinot might be the biggest mover for me. At first I was unimpressed by the high prices demanded by a grape that rarely makes a wine that tackles your mouth like a linebacker. But I'm increasingly seduced by the long finish and site-specific expression that well-made Pinot Noir can demonstrate. It never ceases to amaze me how two Pinot Noirs from the same vintage and producer but different locations can almost drink like two completely different varietals.

Shiraz: Dropping

OK, I've never really liked Shiraz. But the more excessively alcoholic and over-oaked wines I taste, the more I'm reminded of the Australian take on Syrah. Shiraz in this context I view as hot-climate Syrah. Now, I'm sure there are good, balanced Australian Shiraz' out there. But most of the stuff in the under $20 price range is downright offensive.

Syrah: Rising

By Syrah I mean cool-climate Syrah, not the Aussie version of the varietal. I was starting to think that all Syrah/Shiraz was a cocktail of blueberry jam and pure ethanol. But tasting Syrah from cooler regions has given me a new perspective on the varietal.

: Holding steady

Again, there are some intense old vine examples to be found. But there are also a fair number of unbalanced fruit bomb cocktail wines. It's just not a grape that excites me, though some producers make some pleasantly concentrated, structured Zins.

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