Saturday, December 19, 2009

White wine . . . a slave to fashion

Brown's musings on the state of play with Riesling - - is just one example of how much the broad, commercial success of white wine is down to trend and fashion. Red wine, while far from being immune to this, seems slightly less affected.


I agree with Brown's comments on Riesling. Apparently it was popular in the 1970s (I was born in 1979), and I remember my grandparents were fans of Riesling. Not sure if the grandparent's thing is a common experience, but if it is it would explain a lot of why Riesling is only slightly more popular than sherry!


I've had two experiences this year which have confirmed to me that the relative decline of chardonnay is once again a thing largely of fashion.

A few months back I went to a WA wine tasting which had a lot of the smaller Western Australian wine producers. I went with a mate who loves his wine, but is not especially knowledgeable about the subject. He was the classic "I like sav blanc, and don't like chardonnay" type drinker. By the end of this tasting he had changed his tune. While certainly not walking away from his love for sav blanc, he'd discovered the joys of chardonnay.

I went to another WA wine tasting a few weeks back which I have written about in a previous post - . As mentioned, when the people in the room doing the tasting were asked which chardonnay they liked, they preferred the buttery, oily Moss Wood Chardonnay over the leaner, cooler Voyager Chardonnay. Not only were these people expressing a like for chardonnay, but indeed for a heavily oaked and malolactic Chardonnay that is supposedly not what people want anymore!!!

Pinot Grigio/Gris

A variety that has become increasingly popular, but personally has yet to really appeal to me. I was talking to a guy who had recently opened up a wine bar in Sydney and he told me that his Pinot Grigio was the dominant wine on his wine list. Asked why this was, he said his target market for the bar was professional women. Having done extensive surveys, he discovered that the number one preference of all these women who were surveyed was Pinot Grigio. While not discounting the fact that some of the people surveyed genuinely like the varietal, I can't help but think that this preference is down to it being a trendy wine and even the fact that the name kind of sounds sexy.


Can you feel sorry for a grape variety? If you can then I feel sorry for the fiasco that has befallen the artist previously known as Albarino (and obviously the growers of this variety). It was a variety that on the cusp of stardom, when it was struck down by a cruel quirk of fate (without going into detail the grape is apparently not Albarino and is in fact a variety known as Savagnin). Albarino is a great name, and it's one of those words you really want to roll the R on and give it your best Spanish accent. Combine the name with the fact that it is an aromatic wine that goes beautifully with seafood, I have no doubt that it would have eventually been very popular in Australia. Its new name could not possibly be more unattractive. Savagnin. Moreover, it sounds too similar to Sauvignon Blanc. Subsequently, I believe that regardless of the quality of Savignin that we end up producing in Australia it is consigned to being a secondary variety in terms of popularity.

Sav Blanc

The topic of Sav Blanc's rise has been the subject of hundreds of articles, reviews, posts and blogs. To be honest, while it's not my cup of tea, I can see why people who have little interest in wine and want something to quaff find sav blanc appealing. I think it's probably at its peak in terms of its popularity as a variety, and have no doubt that in 5-10 years time we will be talking about its relative decline.

Cellar worthy cheapies

One of the things I absolutely love is the number of incredibly cheap white varieties that are cellar worthy. Semillon is the most obvious example. As a wine that often only hits it straps after 10 years, it often represents amazing value. Marsanne from Tahbilk, along with Houghton's White Classic (a blend of Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, and Verdelho) are two others that also need at least 5 years in the cellar. Once again none of these wines could be considered fashionable and as a result, at $10 a bottle, they offer incredible value for us wine tragics.

Personally I love my Chardonnay and Riesling, and these two varieties dominate my white wine drinking and cellaring. I'm still undecided what my ultimate preference is between the two varieties. Certainly if cost is taken into consideration then Riesling wins hands down, but even if it can be expensive, Chardonnay at its best is a wonderful wine. I look forward to having these two varieties tussle for supremacy on my palette in the coming years . . .


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