Monday, September 10, 2007

Fear of the Unfamiliar?

What is it that keeps some people so reticent about learning to enjoy wines from "non-traditional" grape varieties? Often in established wine-appreciating circles, various criticisms are levelled at non-vinifera grapes for their non-conformity to vinifera-type aromas and flavours. This is less the case with V. riparia/rupestris hybrids and more the case with the labrusca-type grapes, as the latter are definitely among the more aromatic. Granted, a musky-sweet Concord or Niagara isn't an easy wine to match with food, much less so when purposefully made syrupy sweet. But this doesn't mean that a musky/candied wine - residual sugar content aside for it is a wholly variable factor, completely at the winemaker's whim - can't be a wine of quality, a wine of purity, that can be enjoyed all on its own. I think that the idea of what wine is shouldn't be constricted to just one very specialized paradigm.

There seem to be two broad schools of thought when it comes to the labrusca-type grapes: There are those who dismiss them outright for their strong candied/floral aromatics and their non-adherence to vinifera-inspired norms, and there are others, like myself, who advocate the proud and confident use of these heritage grapes for wines that, yes, are different from vinifera, but that bespeak the exact same purity and spot-on definition that vinifera benefits from when handled by a passionate winemaker committed to quality.

In vinifera-appreciating wine circles, praise is justly directed towards aromas such as petrol or diesel (often associated with Riesling), leather, iodine, tar and forest floor (typically associated with Old World, non-internationalized reds); rarely, however, is the same level of passion found in the established wine circles for aromas such as acacia, candied strawberries, petroleum (isn't this broadly in the same family as petrol/diesel?) and musk - aromas intimately associated with wines made from labrusca grapes, such as the white Niagara variety. Is there anything that makes horse manure and tar more acceptable than flowers and musk? I see it as nothing more than selective preference codified as tradition and held in place by inertia.

Therefore I encourage all wineries that grow native labrusca grapes and other hybrids to continue making wines that bespeak the inherent natures of these grapes, and to not attempt to seek a proverbial "foot in the door" into the vinifera world necessarily, but rather to promote said grapes and their wines as independent and unique contributions to the multicoloured tapestry that in fact is the world of wine.

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