February 9, 2011

Would you like to 'Super Size' that?

Part of me would like to tell you that when it comes to choosing a great bottle of wine, that you should simply go with what you are comfortable with; if it tastes good and has brought you satisfaction the past, then stick with it. But there is another aspect to this, a quest for discovery among the sea of bottles that line the shelves in your local wine shop. Consider this, and there is a reason that I use this analogy: Not a single soft drink company in the world that produces a cola, does not endeavour to have their product taste (as legally feasible) like Coke - why? Because it outsells everything else combined, that’s why. Others have tried and a few have even come close, claiming marketplace superiority but for the billions of people worldwide that consume literally gallons of Coca-Cola each year, it’s just not the same. I actually went the better part of a decade without touching the corrosive penny cleaner but the kids like to go to McDonalds every now and then for a Happy Meal so of course Dad doesn’t mind reliving part of his childhood by scarfing down a Quarter-Pounder meal with, you guessed it, a Coke – actually, the pairing is ideal. But Coca-Cola, and to lesser degree, Tim Horton’s coffee in Canada, have become taste sensations. In fact, I know many people that refuse to drink anything but these two beverages. Are they missing out on something though? Did they forget to raise to bar and have settled instead for ‘the standard taste’?

In the early 1980s, an unlikely gentleman stumbled upon the world of wine to create an empire from his opinions and personal preference for a particular style of wine. In a world full of unique tastes, Robert Parker Jr. and his 100-point grading system have standardized the process of both crafting wine and marketing it. His story is certainly nothing new and wine enthusiasts worldwide are familiar with his influence but the question remains, did he improve the industry or stunt its individuality? And more so at the end of his run, where will the reference datum lie? I’m not sure that Mr. Parker himself even expected this level of influence and success. Many people feel that his preference for a certain style has enhanced the product as a whole and there is certainly significant value in that statement: in particular, his demand for cleanliness in the wineries and barrel cellars but we must never lose sight of originality, tradition, and those with pioneering ideas.

The vines Burgundy’s Côte d’Or are well known for producing wines that are not ‘jammy’ nor ‘heavy’, not ‘extracted’ and certainly not perceived as ‘sexy’ so why then do so many wine enthusiasts compete for what are arguably the most highly sought after red and white potions on the planet? The answer lies within the villages of the Côte d’Or, one of only a handful of regions that has held on to its tradition and pride. For this, Burgundy’s Pinot Noir and Chardonnay offer something beyond the standard taste profile. I have written about Burgundy’s terrior in other articles but this really is where the term originated and for that matter, where it notably applies; we just tend to bounce the term around in North America hopeful that someone might take notice. What’s more frustrating are the producers who preach terroir but source their grapes from independent growers – Ugh! Not that we don’t focus on environmental influence in North American wine, indeed, many winemakers do, but you can’t manipulate the style and still claim to taste the soil on which it was grown - choose one or the other.

While Robert Parker’s influence has certainly accomplished some great feats in terms of improving the overall quality of wine on a worldwide scale, disappointingly, in resent years, a few highly regarded Burgundy producers have modified tradition and changed gears to create the ‘international style’.  Will it earn them some extra points and inevitably a substantial profit?  I assume so, but let us hope that when the time does come, they too are able to craft wine the way it once was – not that long ago.


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Tyler is a member of the Wine Writers' Circle of Canada and the Guild of Sommeliers. He writes about and reviews wine both online and via a variety of circulating publications. In 2009 Tyler founded North of 9 Fine Wine, a free public wine education resource where he publishes his Thoughts, Theory, and Recommendations. For additional vinous related information and learning, follow on Twitter @TylerOnWine