Streamlined or personal?
What is it that makes a wine feel personal, as if it has a special character? It really has nothing to do with the price. Sometimes I get the impression that some winemakers have magic fingers. Or is it simply a question of good soil and micro climate, and clement weather? Having the right technology and technique?
Winemakers often speak about all the small details that are important to make the wine taste as it should. But there is no simple recipe for how to make a wine with character. Two growers can have totally different methods and yet both will get characterful and expressive wines. While other neighbours make streamlined unexciting wines.
We met many winemakers in Champagne recently when we were doing research for our forthcoming book (keep your eyes open). Some said “you can’t age a wine with zero dosage [added sugar]”. Others said “ I make my champagnes non-dosé [no added sugar] because that makes them more long-lived”. The exact same things were said about with and without malolactic fermentation. And in both cases the result was excellent.
Fortunately there are buyers for all sorts of wine, so variety is a good thing. And perhaps not all consumers agree on what is a characterful wine. For some certain traits can be off-putting whereas others go looking for exactly that. Who is right? Both.
We drink a lot of wine from the Languedoc and the southern Rhône Valley. It is rarely the top cuvées that are the most interesting, but rather the cheaper, “simpler” wines. Perhaps not the entry level, but the mid-register, before it goes to “prestige”. The wines that have been spared too much new oak and too much Syrah (which does not always work well here). Where instead carignan, grenache, and cinsault get to prove their worth. Grapes that are well-adapted to the region. Luckily more and more producers go looking for old, almost forgotten, varieties. That is often where the unique characters can be found.
Sometimes winemakers say that “it is easy to make a super-premium, prestige cuvée”. Very low yields, high concentration, lots of oak etc. That makes for impressive wines, but not always pleasurable.
But it is more difficult to make a really good and interesting “normal” wine.
The best answer is probably what also many winemakers say: “I want that when you taste my wine you will want to finish the whole bottle, not just taste a glass and say ‘wow, impressive’ and then leave the bottle to the side because it was overwhelming”.
Wine that you really want to drink, in other words!
Finally a few words on travel. We are just about to leave for this year’s first wine tour, to Chile and Argentina. Later this spring there are still some spaces available on the Bordeaux tour.
We have just finished the autumn program where we have a few new things: Alentejo in Portugal, and Piedmont in Italy. Plus of course Bordeaux and the Douro Valley. More info below.
Britt & Per
PS: Recommend to your friends to read the Brief !
This post is also available in: Swedish