The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Reminder from Geographic Expeditions’

Posted on | February 2, 2010 | Written by Christy Canterbury | No Comments

A few weeks back I received the year-end edition of Geographic Expeditions’ newsletter:  Ultima Thule, Journal of the Farthest Places. Over the years, I’ve come to love reading these newsletters because they remind me that life as I experience it tomorrow can be so very different from what I experience every day, if I just hop on a plane (which I do as frequently as possible).  Ultima Thule is a term from medieval maps that means “beyond the borders of the known world”; I like the idea that even on this heavily explored planet there are still places left to discover.

The newsletter sub-title reads “The More You Travel in It, the Bigger the World Gets,” and the text exclaims, “Let’s welcome the new year with some good, breaking news: the world has not become homogenized, Starbucksed, and McDonald’sed nearly to death.”  It goes on to say, “But you probably run into people who drone on about this poor shrunken world and what a mess it’s in.”  Reading these lines, I couldn’t help but think how valid this sentiment is not just in the world at large, but also in the world of wine.

Just as many travelers decry there being any undiscovered getaways, many wine lovers bemoan “standardizing yeasts” and gluts of Cabernet and Chardonnay on the market.  Such arguments are fair enough in some regards and at an entry to mid-market quality level.  However, especially in the premium quality wine world, I argue the diversity of the wine world is increasing!  More producers are making more wines in many more corners of the earth, creating new wine styles and “terroir” influence; native varieties are being resuscitated; and new winemaking techniques are being experimented with, while old ones are revisited.  The vintages keep changing wines every year, too, especially given shifting weather patterns and winegrowers who are discovering new (or rediscovering old) ways of working with weather.  We’re also shipping wine all over the globe rather than drinking only what’s in the spigot at the local co-op.

Just as a quick example, a dinner party last night, we opened up wines from Abruzzo (1995 Emidio Pepe Trebbiano, deliciously oxidized, nutty notes), Napa (2007 Selene Sauvignon Blanc and 1999 Paul Hobbs Cabernet), Rheinhessen (1989 Wittmann Albalonga, a grape variety, Beerenauslese), Austria (2003 Schloss Gobelsburg Grüner Veltliner; 2000 Jamek Riesling Ried Klaus; and a Bründlmayer sekt, a sparkling wine) and France (a 1999 sweet wine from Gaillac and a fortified 1994 Cave de l’Abbé Rous Banyuls.)  We had a wealth of diversity to celebrate—along with the host’s generosity.

I’d say the biggest homogenizing point in wine in the last twenty years has simply been cleaning them up.  While I admit that this is a big homogenizing point, I have to counter that objection with a question: how can improving quality be bad? I look at diminished brettanomyces, lowered volatile acidity and reduced unintentional oxidation, and I see the positives.

Just as we need to be open to traveling to new and undiscovered destinations, we have to be open to new and possibly unusual wines, like Movia, Gravner and Dettori, among so many others we offer at IWM. The breadth of choices in wine is greater than ever.  Once open to discovery, we’ll keep seeing just how much there is yet to explore.

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