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Sameness in Wine – Quit Whining and Start Exploring

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This month, we’re focusing on Cava with the intent of exploring a style of sparkling wine that often takes a backseat to Champagne during the holiday season. To me this fact is understandable, and for me personally, this isn’t indicative of something negative for Spain wine mainly because I’ve always loved the underdog. As a kid, I often found that when my local sports team was doing well I drifted off and paid less attention. Maybe, I’m just a fan of drama, or merely a masochist. But for me, the upward struggle from nothing, or the fight against an established norm, has always been appealing. Ask my parents. They’ll attest to my non-conformity, and probably, will go on to tell you stories I rather not admit to. Therefore, I have an affinity for Cava, as it is the soft spoken little guy. Even here in Spain, people often mention Cava as something that plays second fiddle to Champagne, and surprisingly enough, during the holidays with an abundance of value and quality right at their finger tips, many Spaniards still turn to their neighbor’s bubbles before pouring a Cava from their own country (this does not extend to any other substance in the Spanish culture mind you).

All month, we’ll be talking about Cava in one way or another, so I don’t need to talk any more about Cava’s history or quality of value, but I do want to mention its uniqueness and what this means to me in the context of the wine world as a whole. It seems everywhere you turn today, people are decrying “Parker” wines, oak monsters, over extraction, manipulation, and “sameness” in wines. I can’t open my Google reader containing over 50 wine blog feeds and not find some article extolling the evils or sadness that table wines are reaching the 15% alcohol market, that flying winemakers are killing all the good “traditional” wines, or that these wines are undrinkable, monsters, travesties, or worse.

So today I just want to say, “Shove it!” “Quit whining!” “I’m tired of it!” When it comes down to it, wine and the tastes we associate with wine changes. They have never stayed the same, and they will continue to change until the end of time. What is considered perfection today, will tomorrow, be considered, too sweet, or too dry, or too strong or too light. That is the way the world works. That is the human desire to constantly try to be different enough so as to get noticed, but alike enough to be accepted.

Am I saying that you have to like the “new styles” that people continually whine about? Should you learn to adapt to 16% Zinfandel or fall in love with buttery Chard? NO! I haven’t. What I am saying is that today, wine is made in 40 or 50 countries around the globe, and I’m sure this number is rising. With these kinds of numbers, I only need to turn to Spain to exemplify what I mean. We have 65+ growing region and in Spain and only 3-5 explored at all in the world market. Here in Spain, we too are seeing a trend towards “modern wines”, as most naysayers might term them. This is no different than any other major regional wine producer out there. The market determines what it is people want, and in an effort to increase sales, winemakers adjust their styles accordingly, whether we like it or not. On the other hand, the wine rags, I believe, have the power to change the market demand. Back in 2001, or so, Pinot Grigio became the fashionable white to write about. Thus, come 2002 and 2003, we started to see a glut of Pinto Grigio flooding the market, when consumer demand increased. Cause and effect. Not whine and effect. People wrote about what they liked and consumers responded.

With Spain, it seems that everyday, we have a new article somewhere by an author who recently visited a new wine region that was considered a non wine producing region (to non-Spaniards) before his feet touched its soil.This always makes me laugh, “Spain’s New Region Bierzo“, a title might read that retells the tale of a wine region with hundreds of years of history. On the other hand, I see stories of wines that we used to love but find hard to love anymore. Headlines about Bordeauxs that are too extracted, Napa wines with too much oak (OK this was funny considering that they’ve always had too much oak! 😉 ), Zinfandels with too much alcohol, and wines in general that are too much or too little of something or another. We continue to write about the wines we are not in love with, instead of searching out and talking about the wines that are we are in love with. The world changes, and I say get used to it. If you can’t order a Cabernet from Napa under 15% alcohol and a 2×4 swizzle stick sticking out of it, then order something else. If they don’t have another choice, don’t visit the restaurant, or bring your own wine if they have a corkage policy. Wine is about exploring.

In Spain, you can find all styles, shapes and sizes. We have our oak monsters, over extracted beasts, and high alcohol wines. Some I love and others I hate. But I’m still the master of what goes in my mouth, and I’m not complaining. Wines that have no character or wines that take effort for me to enjoy don’t end up in my belly. I have free choice, and I use it on a regular basis.

At this point, I assume some of your are mumbling that I’m failing to mention that we’re losing styles/regions/wines that were once great. That we must fight against this homogenization, if we are to have any hope for drinkable wines in the future! Phooey. If you truly love wine, look somewhere else. Stop buying a wine that you used to buy just because you once liked it, move on to something different (it may hurt a little but you’ll get over it). Create a tasting group and each month pick a theme on a style of wine you’ve never heard of, or grape you do not know about. Remember, 50 some countries are making wine, and I’m guessing most of you have only tasted wine from 5 or so. Yes, I know, it can be hard to find wines from countries not in vogue currently, but that doesn’t mean you stop trying. Or better yet, take a country you know well and look outside of its major wine producing zones. In the USA currently, all 50 states have registered wineries, and I’m willing to bet most of you have only tried wines from 3 of them, if that. Maybe they are not all going to be favorites, but life is a journey full of discovery, so why waste your time tasting the same thing every day.

This brings me back to Cava. Cava is as we’ll explain later, the only DO in Spain that is regulated by a standard practice of elaboration and not based on location. Meaning that Cava is produced not only in the Penedes, but also in Valencia, Extremadura, Rioja, and in various other areas around Spain. Yet, most people only know 1-2 main producers, limiting their understanding of Cava. Personally I’ve tasted a wide range of Cava styles and flavors I have to say, I love it!

As a wine writer, I often get the question, “what is your favorite wine?” My reply is often, “the one I haven’t had yet”. I do have my favorites and “comfort wines” but I’m not afraid to throw them out and find something new if they change from what I love to what I hate. Quit your griping and start exploring! Below in the comments, give me one wine that you’ve had recently surprise you. Or maybe a wine from a region you hadn’t had before. You don’t have to love the wine, just the experience. Tell us about it.

Cheers,
Ryan Opaz

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