Wait? What's This In My Glass?
I actually met Philippe recently and tasted the wines of Inglenook not too long ago. In short, Inglenook is one of the oldest winegrowing estates in Napa, founded in the 1880s but shut down during prohibition. It was reopened sometime after repeal but went through a long period of disrepair and fragmentation. Various companies bought up various pieces of it and for a long time, the name Inglenook was associated with cheap, sweet and innocuous jug wine. Fortunately, I have never had the joy of drinking that Inglenook, but know well about it. Since the late 1970s, Francis Ford Coppola has been trying to reassemble the property and finally purchased back the name less than a decade ago. In 2011, he hired on Philippe, former winemaker at famed Château Margaux in Bordeaux.
So all of this is perfectly fine and lovely, so what got me all up in a dither? Well, at minute 13:08 (if you don't want to listen to the whole thing, but seriously, it's only 20 minutes so just be quiet and listen to the whole thing), they begin tasting the four main wines that Inglenook makes. These are:
- Blancaneaux -- a white blend made from Rhône varietals, Roussanne, Marsanne, and Viognier
- Edizione Pennino -- a zinfandel named for Francis Ford Coppola's mother
- Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon -- their main Cabernet Sauvignon
- Rubicon Cabernet Sauvignon -- their estate, reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
Now, this has been happening for at least decades, if not centuries, so it's by no means nothing new. In fact, it was this very thing that catapulted California wine into the international spotlight in the 1976 "Judgement of Paris." Professional wine people were unable to tell the difference between wines from California and wines from France. And this can certainly be a good thing, as it means a certain level of quality has been reached; and I'm sure this is the sense in which Laura was surprised by the Blancaneaux. But the second thing I read this week gets closer to the point.
I'm Looking For Something With More... Je ne sais quoi
Why am I talking about this? Well, it was just announced that at the end of the year IPOB will be shutting down. I won't go into all the details as Jon Bonné does a great job summarizing over at PUNCH, including the perfectly apt description of the IPOB crowd as the indie rockers of the wine world. But what makes this interesting to me is that what IPOB discusses is what kind of wine California should be making. What kind of wine should they be making? And this is what got the purist in me hot and bothered. She says (yes the purist in me is a she, at least today), "Well, of course, they should be making whatever wine comes out of the ground, whether it's big, brash and annoyingly high in alcohol or soft, smooth and almost pretentious in its elegance. It should be wine that tastes like the ground from which is springs, pure and unadulterated in form."
But I'm not nearly that naïve (not anymore, maybe once). I know there's a lot more that goes into making wine than just picking grapes, crushing them, and sticking them in a bottle. There's decisions that people make all along the way that impact the final flavor. And a lot of these decisions don't necessarily seem like "alterations" but everything alters how the wine will finally taste. Do I plant my vineyard north/south facing or east/west? Do I leave all the grape clusters on the vine or cut a few off? Do I irrigate? Do I pick today or tomorrow? Do I use barrels? If I do, how much, how new, how toasted? Do I add sugar, acid, or tannin, or do I try and take some of that out? All right, that last one is definitely an alteration! And I try to stay away from people that make a habit of things like that. It's just not nice.
So I guess I'll ask, what kind of wine should they be making in California? And should I be able to tell that it's from California? Or does globalization extend to things like wine and so we're only headed toward more and more similar wines where pretty soon we won't be able to tell Bordeaux from Hungary, Napa from Uruguay? That sounds bad to me, but maybe, if it's like what happened to California in the 1970's, it just means that the quality of wine around the world is getting better and better. And better wine is something I can get behind.