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East Coast vs. West Coast palates


Carolyn Tillie
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Rebel Rose posted in the Manresa thread:

I was dimly aware that there is an East Coast palate and a West Coast palate, but my understanding of those differences has become much more personalized and clear, which directly affects my marketing plans and abilities. I have also learned more about the general public's aversion to high alcohol wines, although some posters who claim to eschew them will blithely post enthusiastic reviews on French wines that are 14.8%. I'm still trying to wrap my brain around that. But what I'm learning from these discussions is that there is a perception that all Cali wines are out of balance. This is important to me and affects our approach from the moment we look at the weather and decide to pick, to when I pour the finished wines and verbally present them.

I would love to expand upon this. Mary, could you start and let us know what you think the differences are betwixt the two coasts? I'm also curious where you perceived a belief that California wines are out of balance.

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Generally speaking:

I get calls from West Coast customers who adore our biggest, in terms of alcohol, wines. At the same time, East Coast customers will generally criticize the high alcohol content.

Here's a link to a previous discussion on the issue . . .

I am definitely, no doubt about it, seeing a difference in tasting preferences. I don't feel that there is a right or wrong preference--just a stylistic preference. And much of it, I think, has to do with familiarity for the terroir and the winemaking style of a region.

Here's a link to an interview with Stefan Asseo, a French winemaker who now makes wine in Paso Robles. Stefan was uncomfortable with the high alcohol styles here until he became accustomed to them. Now, Stefan's wines are--let me assure you--anything but shy, on any scale.

Although I may be exaggerating when I say that East Coast people perceive California wines as being out of balance, I was recently at a ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates & Producers) meeting, and I brought up a question about this perception. Whoo! That ignited some hot responses from the winemakers there, so it was obvious that this is a common market pushback for them. The answer was vehemently clear. This is our style, and our translation of our terroir.

So I've been feeling people out on these issues. We're not going to change our winemaking style at Dover Canyon, but I feel that understanding others' preferences prepares me to relate to them in terms of our style.

And here's another thing: from my conversation with WC (that's West Coast, not Water Closet), I think we have a lower tolerance for VA (volatile acidity) than the EC. European, particularly Italian, wines have higher VA. (My sangiovese, which I produce under my private label, Cooke Cellars, has high VA.) But in general, Calipalates tend toward a cleaner style in terms of VA. So I'm wondering--and this is not an opinion yet, just wondering--if that's part of the Calipalate versus EC experience. I'm wondering if we're more accustomed to wines with higher alcohol, lower VA, and other qualities altogether, and that many WC's may have an entirely different palate.

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Mary Baker

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It would strike me that by the definitions mentioned above that Robert Parker, an EC person has more of a WC palate. This may be wrong, but it also strikes me that RP gets more criticism from the EC than from the WC as regards his palate.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

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It would strike me that by the definitions mentioned above that Robert Parker, an EC person has more of a WC palate.
A penetrating observation I think.
This may be wrong, but it also strikes me that RP gets more criticism from the EC than from the WC as regards his palate.

It may not show up in any particular forum, but anecdotally he gets plenty of criticism here on the west coast too (I'm writing from Northern California) including among retail trade in private (whatever they may be obliged to say in front of customers with money to spend who arrive demanding, sometimes rudely, the wines scored high by RP).

But surely the picture is more complex than just a relative quantity of criticism?

-- Max

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It may not show up in any particular forum, but anecdotally he gets plenty of criticism here on the west coast too (I'm writing from Northern California) including among retail trade in private (whatever  they may be obliged to say in front of customers with money to spend who arrive demanding, sometimes rudely, the wines scored high by RP).

But surely the picture is more complex than just a relative quantity of criticism?

-- Max

You are both right, and the Robert Parker scores and veracity thereof have been well covered in this forum. If you want to reinvigorate the Parker discussions I can refer you to the Bob-o-Links. It's amazing how much influence he has. It's been well discussed, however, and as a small producer we are grateful for his support.

However, what we're looking for here is an honest discussion of each individual's personal taste. Your taste. What do you like when you sit down at night, after a hard day, with a friendly bottle of wine?

Do you like a purple powerhouse? Are you drinking it in front of a fire with a murder mystery?

Or do you prefer a lean and elegant wine with a fine meal and an even finer companion?

(Next thread: I've invented a game of challenge (strip) chess to go with a late harvest or port wine. Just a thought.)

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Mary Baker

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I think that some of this might also come from availability of wines in a particular style as well as the influence of local sommeliers/Beverage managers on the collective palate of their clientele in any given area on either coast. I know there's plenty of lovely wines that I stock, that I know are available to me in Philadelphia (and also in NJ, NY and CT) only because I happen to know the distribution area of the particular importer and distributor for those wines. It kills me that I can't tell you West Coast folks to go run out and grab yourselves a bottle of say Domaine Barmes-Buecher 2001 Sept Grains Edelswicker and enjoy it. I know I'll be sending you on a wild goose chase that will lead to nothing but frustration when you attempt to seek out a wine that isn't distibuted in your area. I have to assume that this market availability issue effects all of us, as well as there being a much larger selection of West Coast wines (and that style) on the West Coast. In addition, I'm certain that East Coast sommeliers and Beverage managers are constrained both by the previously mentioned availability issue as well as their own geographical exposure and expertise as revealed in which "coast style" their palate favors. Heck, I'm sure if I'd been fortunate to live and work on the West coast for any period of time, my own personal preferences might be quite different. It's all about what you're exposed to and how often that molds your own preferences. And for most of us in the industry that don't have the sort of budget and storage capabilities that Mark Sommelier has to work with at Citronelle (and don't think I'm not pea green with envy), it's about making those selections that will maximize the guest experience balanced with the Beverage department's weekly Cost of Goods. So by definition, my choices will reflect what's available to me, my personal preference, and what is selling well - therefore my clientele's East Coast palates (in my case, at least). It's kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy to some extent. There's only so much one can do to try and collectively change your local clientele's collective palate without running the risk of having a lot of wine sitting on shelves gathering dust. It's like looking at stacked up dollar bills on the shelves. And not at all the best way to do one's job if cost control is a part of their duties that is an expectation/measure of their performance.

Katie M. Loeb
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Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

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However, what we're looking for here is an honest discussion of each individual's personal taste.  Your taste.  What do you like when you sit down at night, after a hard day, with a friendly bottle of wine? 

Do you like a purple powerhouse?  Are you drinking it in front of a fire with a murder mystery? 

Or do you prefer a lean and elegant wine with a fine meal and an even finer companion?

Sorry to trot out a well worn word that often generates more heat that light, but first and foremost, I prefer wines that express their terroir.

Before anyone loads that up with more meaning than I intend, let me caveat that it does not necessarily mean there is something wrong with higher alcohol, new oak, or higher extraction (within reason, that is).

The classic old world regions have had time to learn, through great trial and error, what grapes grow best on which sites, which ripeness levels best express that site, and what minimal level of winemaking intervention allows that expression to shine through.

In the Duoro, that may mean fortification or extended wood aging. In the Veneto, it may mean recioto treatment. In Sauternes or the Mosel, it may mean concentration through botrytis. In Savennieres, it may mean simple fermentation in old wood without temperature control, with malo impeded by cold winters and a dose of sulphur at bottling time.

In California and Australia, we're still in the extremely early days of figuring out what grows best, where, and how it is best handled. Clearly, Stags Leap and Howell Mountain have a vocation for cab. The Green Valley can yield stunning sparklers. Amador offers a style of zin that is unique and as authentic as anything produced in any classic old world region.

Australia and California (and other young regions) are in a fantastic phase of discovery and experimentation. They are veritable laboratories for wine making and vineyard management. More power to them.

What troubles me, though, is when the results of that experimentation start to encroach into areas that have already found their heavenly matches and can deliver them with occasional crystal clarity. And that encroachment can be an overripe Rutherford cab that hangs until it hits 30 Brix or it can be a Gevrey that gets whole cluster cold maceration.

I enjoy drinking the New World experiments, but largely for their experimental value. For my day-in day-out drinking, I guess I would have what others have called an East Coast palate. My favorite wines are Burgundy (red and white), Barolo and Barbaresco, Loire chenin blanc, MSR riesling, champagne. I enjoy one thing or another from just about everywhere else, but those areas represent the bulk of what I buy and drink.

However, I would much rather drink a big Amador zin than a Laurent Burgundy and would prefer a whopping, spicy petit sirah over a Clerico Barolo.

Maybe the best test of where my palate falls is to look at what my favorite California wines have been over the years. Perhaps the one wine that most pushed me over the edge into this fantastic, expensive obsession was the '87 Cain Five. I love ABC Chardonnays. My favorite Zins over the years have come from Dry Creek (though I admit to loving much of what Ridge does). I used to drink a lot of Sonoma Cutrer wines when I lived in the US. Williams Selyem and Calera were my favorite new world pinots. Like ABC and Calera, plenty of Chalone wines were terrible, but when they hit, man did they hit dead on!

I certainly don't want or expect new world pinot to taste like it came from the Cote d'Or, but I guess I do have a certain preference for subtlety over strong flavors. Similarly, even if my wallet doesn't always like it, I like the individuality and vintage variation of Burgundy and the risk that comes with it. I'll easily tolerate a little volatile acidity before I'll accept excessive alcohol or over extraction or extreme ripeness levels.

And, despite my jibe on the Sideways thread...I don't equate a west coast palate with a stimulant cream for a certain part of the female anatomy!

Hope this generates more light than heat,

Jim

Jim Jones

London, England

Never teach a pig to sing. It only wastes your time and frustrates the pig.

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Jim, I think that was very well said -- I hope you didn't think you were being bashed upon. Working on Howell Mountain, I am just beginning to realize how jaded I am becoming towards mountain fruit.

I finished writing up a review of 16 wines for the Gang of Pour site last night and going through my notes, it was stunning to me that all the stand-out wines ended up being from mountain vineyards. I just beginning to learn to detect the differences between valley floor fruit and mountain fruit. I can practically detect a Stags Leap district wine from there mere dirt sensation I get on my tongue so I am beginning to appreciate your feelings towards terroir.

I have really been appreciating this discussion.

Edited by Carolyn Tillie (log)
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There's only so much one can do to try and collectively change your local clientele's collective palate without running the risk of having a lot of wine sitting on shelves gathering dust. 

That's so true. And it's a logistical sales challenge for California artisans like ourselves, but at the same time, perfectly understandable. There's so much good and great European wine out there that is more accessible and affordable on the EC, particularly after transport, warehousing, delivery and other assorted US$ costs.

But understanding the market is very key for me right now as I have to make a final decision about NY. It's been soft for us for three years and just when I have decided not to bother, I'm getting queries again from retailers and distributors. Nevertheless, we are so small that I want every bottle to be an ambassador for the winery (which is a whole other marketing discussion, maybe not pertinent to wine tastes) so anyway, I have decided against NY. Some EC cities really like the central coast style, however, so the WC/EC is a huge generalization of course. Raleigh is strong on big zins, syrahs, and viognier from the central coast, as are Atlanta and Chicago.

At any rate, my original comments were simply meant to highlight what I've been learning on eGullet that's useful in my business, which is considerable, as well as what I'm learning about food and wine for sheer enjoyment. I do hope we can continue the discussion, however, because it is enlightening. I hope it's something we can also explore through Wine of the Week tastings.

Chris, thanks for posting! I hope you'll join us in our discussions and wine tastings.

And it's okay, Jim! I knew you were kidding! I still wonder what the customers thought though . . . :wacko:

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I think that you are making too much of EC vs WC. There's another board thats alot more lively discussionwise where I lurk quite often because its so much fun to see all the WCers slam WC wines and the ECers slam European wines or some days they just slam each other.

This year we did two weeks in France so we didn't make it to Ca., but most years we try to do a week Ca. wine country, and ship a bunch home since you won't ship to me. I guess what I'm trying to say is that

I HARDLY EVER MEET A RED WINE THAT I DON'T LIKE

(or maybe I just have no palate)

Best from the EC.

Mike

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I think that you are making too much of EC vs WC. There's another board thats alot more lively discussionwise where I lurk quite often because its so much fun to see all the WCers slam WC wines and the ECers slam European wines or some days they just slam each other.

Ooooo.... which one???

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Terroir varies in how central it is to winemakers in different regions. California is peculiar in its rapid development. Probably it is still true (as it was 20 years ago) that the vast majority of wineries are so young, if they were human they could not legally buy their products. (Age 21 required there.) Concepts of a "California Palate" have evolved over time, with waves of new consumers. In 1980 (back when the US had multiple competing specialty wine newsletters) Robert Finigan explored the subject in depth, I still have his articles. And there was the completely separate development, centered circa 1994, of the new high prices in California wines and the "cult" products with mailing lists and their "flippers."

I happen to like good Pinots Noirs especially (and most of those I buy, but not all, are from Burgundy), but that preference formed maybe 25 years ago, which was when I started buying them seriously. (I've lived on both east and west US coasts -- two states each -- as a wine-enthusiast adult.)

If you want to reinvigorate the Parker discussions I can refer you to the Bob-o-Links.  It's amazing how much influence he has.  It's been well discussed, however, and as a small producer we are grateful for his support.

Agreed, that is part of his role. I certainly didn't aim to "reinvigorate" Parker discussions, you don't know how acquainted I am with them. I thought he'd been discussed to death on Internet forums by 1987 or so. However, people continue to arrive on the Internet and not know about the previous discussions and so they need to do it over, and over, again.

Cheers -- Max

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The Terroir issue is a valid one in discussing style of wine, but no less valid than the basic Old World vs. New World styles of wine that are determined more by the climate than by terroir or winemaker skill. By definition you will get far higher levels of ripeness in warmer places like New World wine growing zones and get much higher levels of ripeness at picking. This leads to higher levels of alcohol in the finished wine as well as a far fruitier more "in-your-face" flavor profile. The fact that many of the "great" wines of the world come exclusively from geographic areas where the climate and growing conditions really force the vines (and the winemakers!) to struggle to eke out an existence (it's pretty cold and often rainy in Germany, Alsace and Burgundy and the ground is often rocky and uneven) and often force the use of viticultural techniques like dropping fruit or really leaving the bunches on the vine long into the autumn (there's something magical about an Auslese or Beerenauslese Riesling that can not be duplicated) leads me to conclude that the Old World winemakers have it a bit tougher and although they've had hundreds of years more practice to figure out where to plant which grapes and which techniques to use, the end result will always have a certain edge or perhaps a slight whiff of the sweat equity that went into creating that end product. Maybe I'm an Old World wine snob, but in my limited experience (there's thousands of wines in the world - I'm drinking as fast as I can!) the truly memorable wines that I've had that have really impressed me with their elegance and as being truly extraordinary were always something Old World.

I think that may be a distinctly East Coast preference, and again, may just be due to exposure. I'd be happy to try many more New World wines and see how they stack up. :biggrin:

Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

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Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
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Wow! There’s a lot of meat here.

I like to think about terroir in two different ways. First, I like to ask “Does the terrior come through in the wine?” Second, I would ask “Do I like what the terroir has to say?” To me, these are two entirely different questions.

Another set of questions, which are influenced by terroir, winemaking, and vintage conditions – but not direct expressions of any one alone – is “Do I like the wine? Is it balanced? Does it match well with the kind of food I eat? Does it match well with the way I drink wine? Does it keep me interested over the course of a glass? A bottle? An evening? A case? Will this wine develop and show me even more? Is it complete? Is it complex?”

If I am writing tasting notes for a general audience, I will typically focus on this last set of questions. For a wine to be a “good” wine that will call me back for repeated buying and drinking, it needs to get “yes” answers to most of those questions. Looking at a sip – or glass or bottle – of wine as a discrete event in its own right, this is the way I evaluate a wine.

However, what keeps me fascinated and gives me thrills are the first two questions. Feeling the gout de terroir come through in a wine, Carolyn’s “dirt sensation” on her tongue, is the ultimate thrill to me. I will seek out and buy wines from producers that let that savour of site come through. I will seek out and buy wines from regions or sites where the terroir can speak forcefully and in a voice that is thrilling to hear.

Katie makes a great point about different regions having different climates that affect the wine, above and beyond any influence that soil or vigneron may provide. However – and maybe I’m just playing semantics here – that is part of terroir for me.

I see three predominate factors that sculpt the wine – terroir, vintage, and grower/winemaker.

Terroir (to me at least) is a combination of soil, climate, exposure, drainage, etc.

Vintage is weather (a short term phenomenon, as opposed to climate, which is more persistent) – sunlight, rain, heat, cool, wind as experienced through one growing season.

Grower/winemaker is the series of choices (including whether to intervene at all) related to: irrigation, vine spacing, pruning, training, green harvest, fertilizing, hang time, natural concentration techniques, artificial concentration/extraction techniques, protection/oxidation, cold stabilization, centrifuging, skin contact, maceration, crushing, destemming, pressing, fermentation medium, yeast selection, fermentation temperature, batonnage, remouage, racking, fining, filtering, malo, aging medium, aging time, and a thousand similar choices I haven’t mentioned.

So, when I say I prefer wines where the terroir shines through, that presumes several things. First, it assumes a grape variety grown in a site that provides something distinctive to start with. I would suggest that Central Valley columbard does not. I would suggest that Howell Mountain cab generally does. Second, it assumes that vinegrowing and winemaking techniques don’t get in the way of that distinctiveness coming through.

When I say I want to determine whether the terroir says something I like, that gets to Katie’s point. If the weather for a given site is such that a grape will be green until it hits 30 brix, I’m probably not going to like what comes from that site. I do believe – with Katie – that the most stunning expressions of flavor often come from grapes grown at the edge of their cultivable range. That stress may come from cold, from near barren soil, from 60 degree hillsides that can barely hold soil, or from water stress that makes roots reach deep.

In the new world, much early viticulture (and we are still in early days) has been in areas that provide no stress. Additionally, even if a grower is in the “right place”, the grower may be cultivating the wrong variety. Going even further, the grower/winemaker may not yet have found the vineyard and winery techniques that bring the most out of the fruit (and, of course, the site). Finally, I do believe that a large number of new world winegrowers/makers are still in a laboratory phase (as they should be, if my points immediately above are correct). In that laboratory phase, they may not only be missing the best techniques, but they may be actively getting the way of the expression of terroir. A perfect example of that was the big, oaky, buttery chardonnay wave, which went above and beyond the effect of the climate. I would argue that Screagle and similar extremely ripe and extracted cabs do the same. One just has to taste a Clos du Val or Shafer or Dunn offering as a counterpoint to see what I mean (whether you actually agree or not).

Again, what saddens and frustrates me most is when extreme techniques and varietal attachments are taken from the new world to the classic old world regions where terroir, variety, and technique are well established and have proven occasionally magical through time. (Just so I don’t seem entirely closed minded, I think California and Australia have offered fantastic lessons and gifts to wines from emerging lesser regions of France and Italy and Spain and many other places. If the wine wasn’t great to begin with there, it is sheer bloody mindedness to be protective or nostalgic about the “old way”.)

There is no one right winegrowing/making style worldwide or even for one vineyard or region.

Jacque Seysses at Dujac uses a lot of new oak and has a distinctive signature, but the terroir seems to shine through. Dominique Laurent uses a lot of new oak and I believe it obscures the terroir. D’Angerville uses less oak (or at least seems to) and the terroir just screams through.

DRC picks extremely ripe, but I’ve never heard anyone argue that the terroir of their wines was obscured. Grivot (at various times in his wandering style) has picked extremely ripe and used unusual maceration and I believe it has obscured terroir. (Beware here as Grivot has been through an Accad period, a vin de garde period, and a new period of greater balance – one hopes.) De Montille picks much less ripe and makes wines that are painfully difficult when young, but are startlingly detailed, beautifully etched expressions of site when mature.

On the west coast, similar examples are easy to find. Shafer uses more oak than I might prefer, but their wines are beautiful expressions of place. Silver Oak completely obscures any savor of site with oak. Amador zins are picked extremely ripe, but they are pure expressions of place. Some of the cult, hang-time wines destroy their expression with extreme ripeness and excess extraction.

So, as I said in my prior note, I might prefer “classic” old world styles, sites, techniques, weather…but I would rather drink a Shafer cab or an Amador zin than a Laurent or Accad-period Grivot burg.

Sorry for being longwinded,

Jim

PS – Mary and Carolyn, please don’t worry. I wasn’t offended and didn’t think anyone was piling on. I’m just keenly aware of the level of noise and vitriol these discussions create on other boards, so I wanted to try to be sensitive.

edited for clarity

Edited by jrufusj (log)

Jim Jones

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Never teach a pig to sing. It only wastes your time and frustrates the pig.

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However, what we're looking for here is an honest discussion of each individual's personal taste.  Your taste.  What do you like when you sit down at night, after a hard day, with a friendly bottle of wine? 

Do you like a purple powerhouse?  Are you drinking it in front of a fire with a murder mystery? 

Or do you prefer a lean and elegant wine with a fine meal and an even finer companion?

For me, a fairly novice wine drinker, it really depends. For the record, I have never lived on the West Coast. Sometimes I love the big big big zins and sometimes I am looking for a more delicate pinot noir. I am likely, when I come home from work, to open a bottle of either a) rioja (Marques de Riscal, usually) or b) Storybook Zin, because we usually have some of either in the house. But I love elegant pinot noirs just as much (just don't tend to have much of it in the house). If I am planning a meal, I will make an effort not to overpower meal with our wine or vice versa. I don't discriminate because of where the wine is from, its grape varietal, or any other presupposition. You just can't know what's inside the bottgle until you try it.

Another set of questions, which are influenced by terroir, winemaking, and vintage conditions – but not direct expressions of any one alone – is “Do I like the wine?  Is it balanced?  Does it match well with the kind of food I eat?  Does it match well with the way I drink wine?  Does it keep me interested over the course of a glass?  A bottle?  An evening?  A case?  Will this wine develop and show me even more?  Is it complete?  Is it complex?”

Exactly. I am baffled on all fronts, whether it is food or wine being discussed by people who say things like "all California wine is oaky and out of balance." How can you know? Sure, I have had some California wine where the alcohol actually burned my nose as I smelled it (zin). But I have had more that, to me, were balanced and gave me a sense of place. I have spent a decent amount of time in the Napa Valley as a tourist over the last three years, and there are certain wines that when I open them, I can smell the Valley.

There is, and this may open a can of worms, a tendency by people on the East Coast (particularly in New York) to denigrate anything happening in the rest of the country as not, well, good. And it has become fashionable to criticize California wines. As in "oh, anything not from California." Or, "not another California cab," please. Puhleaase.

Sorry those of you in the business in California (Mary and Carolyn) need to deal with it. It's crap. If you make good wines, that should be enough.

(Rant over now).

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There is, and this may open a can of worms, a tendency by people on the East Coast (particularly in New York) to denigrate anything happening in the rest of the country as not, well, good.  And it has become fashionable to criticize California wines.  As in "oh, anything not from California."  Or, "not another California cab," please.  Puhleaase. 

Sorry those of you in the business in California (Mary and Carolyn) need to deal with it.  It's crap.  If you make good wines, that should be enough. 

(Rant over now).

Wow! I just totally disagree with this point of view.

I'm sure there are just as many fans of California wines on the east coast as the west coast.If you doubt this, walk into any large retailer here and the inventory is weighted heavily to California.Alot of my wine drinking friends are on all the mailing lists and drink wine from California almost exclusively.

I think the criticism comes from wine drinkers like myself who are sick of the Wine Spectator, and Robert Parker telling us that over ripe, alcoholic wines are what we should be drinking.These wines are not food friendly and just not interesting to drink, no matter where they are produced.

California has produced so many sappy, overly alcoholic, in your face wines that unfortunately the reputation has stuck.I also recognize that there are many, many wonderful wines made in California that I would love to have in my cellar.So, I'm not painting wine makers on the west coast with a broad brush, but the perception that these wines are expensive, alcoholic, and just too "big" is something they are going to have to live with.

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Very interesting discussion of East Coast vs. West Coast palates. I can only presume that only those of us who reside in the middle of the country can have a tru appreciation of both styles and can enjoy good/great wines for what they are, rather than where they come from.

TPFIC,

Redwinger

"I'm trying to think but nothing happens"
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Interesting discussion! jrufusj, yours is one of the best descriptions of terroir I have ever read. Thank you for your thoughtful insights. And it is true, as you and Katie pointed out, that climate is part of the concept of terroir. The French understanding of the concept also includes the intervention of man, in terms of things like stone drains and windbreaks that are permanent fixtures in the vineyard, as well as the way the vines are tended.

Mulcahy and wkl, I think you are both right in that, 1) we do get that "not another California cab" response and 2) I feel the same way about many of them so I completely understand.

Although we in California have ready access to excellent Washington and Oregon wines, it's harder, outside of a major city at least, to find good German, Austrian and even Italian wines. Many of our loyal California customers gravitate to local zins, syrahs and cabs, and wouldn't know what to do with a riesling or gewurztraminer. So it's sort of a reverse snobbery here that "light" whites cannot be satisfying--yet based on limited experience instead of wide experience. Well, I shouldn't call it a snobbery, exactly, more like a wariness. (Like people who shudder at the idea of dessert wines but will have cheesecake and chocolate decadence at the end of a meal. :hmmm: )

By the way, I love "Screagle." I haven't heard that before! :laugh::laugh:

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… conclude that the Old World winemakers have it a bit tougher … hundreds of years more practice to figure out where to plant which grapes and which techniques to use, the end result will always have a certain edge or perhaps a slight whiff of the sweat equity … truly memorable wines that I've had that have really impressed me with their elegance and as being truly extraordinary were always something Old World.

I think that may be a distinctly East Coast preference …

Not at all. It's not uncommon among people I've met in the West who've experienced a wide range of wines. (Not everyone experiences a wide range of wines before expressing opinions on which they prefer.) Also, it used to be common for people throughout the US, even California, when wanting to learn wine in earnest, to start with the more established, stable, documented styles of the older regions. Lately, many in the Western US start learning via their regional wines and I've seen little reasoned discussion of why (much more general information is available about old-world styles, if people want to learn wine in general). Do residents of Hungary start learning wines through Tokaj? I don't know.

Actually, looking beyond the relatively recent fashions for fruit bombs and "BIG" California wines to the high-end winemakers there who put the place on the map, there was stylistic experimentation and great respect for the old world. In the great California varietals of the 1950s-1970s I found some of the same elegance and terroir that I too, for what it's worth, find from the original wine-producing regions.

--Max

Edited by MaxH (log)
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:cool: This is turning into a most lively and edifying discussion.

I agree that climate is part of terroir, and that vintage variation has to do with the weather in any given year vs. the climate, which is a more stable factor encompassing average temperatures, average rainfall, diurnal temperature variation, etc. But it is a heck of a lot easier to grow grapes in a lovely lush and temperate place like Napa or parts of Australia than it is on those 60 degree rocky slopes in the Wachau in Austria or in Burgundy.

By the way, I love "Screagle." I haven't heard that before!

I hadn't heard that either and it's hilarious! :laugh:

Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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A good discussion this. That was an awesome post, jrufusj!

I can't say that I like any one style of wine, which is precisely why I have tireed (for the most part) of the "new style" "Parkerized" wines that mostly all taste alike. It is often difficult to differentiate an Australian shiraz from a California Cab from a new style French Rhone. Even though the grapes may be different, they are often stylistically the same wine. Even so, I must admit I do enjoy those wines on occasion (when I haven't had too many like that in a while), but I also enjoy mixing and matching wines and appreciating their differences. I can't say if that is EC or WC, although I happen to be EC.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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I can't take credit for Screagle. To be honest, though, I also can't remember where I first read it. I think it's pretty common terminology among us East Coast wine snobs. :raz::wink:

Katie...absolutely agree with you that it's easier to grow in a nice warm, irrigated, deep loam, new world site than on a 60 degree Bernkastel slope. Actually, you said Wachau. I think you and I must have similar tastes. You've mentioned Austrian and Alsatian wines, two locations that might very well have made it onto my list of favorites in my first note, but got cut off because I had to stop somewhere.

Thought it was interesting that a note criticizing a Shafer wine for excess alcohol (and maybe excess extraction/ripeness) just appeared. In my previous note I used Shafer as a counterpoint winery to Screagle and its lot. I've lived outside the US for five years and don't think I've had a Shafer wine newer than the early nineties. Have they changed that much? Despite a tad more oak than I might like, I thought the SLD and HS cabs from 15 or so years ago were great expressions of Stags Leap character. Matt Kramer describes SL character as "corseted voluptuosity". Have the corsets come off at Shafer? That would be a real shame!

In '91, I believe it was, I took a business trip to San Francisco and visited John Walker. They helped me put together a mixed case to ship home. To the best of my recollection, the case included two bottles each of: Duckhorn Three Palms Merlot; Grgich Hills SB; Cain Five; Talbott Chardonnay; Peter Michael Mon Plaisir; and Hess Collection Cab (the estate one). This was a great time to go -- 86 and 87 vintages for the reds. It was this experience that really sent me over the edge from a casual wine drinker who paid attention to what he drank, but not much more than that, to an obsessed character. So I have early wine roots on the west coast.

I'd be interested to hear people's answers to a few questions:

1. Which is more important to you in wine?

(a) primary fruit

(b) secondary elements

2. Which rules?

(a) nose

(b) palate

3. Choose one...

(a) Burgundy

(b) Bordeaux

4. My attitude to new oak is...

(a) Can't get enough

(b) I'm starting to get tired of it

© A few people know how to use it right...but it should only appear in limited cases

(d) Save the forests...boycott tree killing winemakers!

(e) Why does it get so much attention? Some people use it, some people don't

5. Which is more critical to balance and development (and I know they're both important, but play along and choose one)?

(a) Tannins

(b) Acid

6. You can only have one of the following. You choose:

(a) Geyserville

(b) Lytton Springs

7. At what price point does a wine need to be able to age (improve with, not just hold) to earn your interest and dollar? (Please exclude wines like Condrieu, which obviously just don't fit the question.)

(a) At any level

(b) Over $20

© Over $40

(d) Over $60 or higher

(e) Really don't care if it's nice and tasty now

(f) Don't have proper storage and don't want wines that need age

8. Super Tuscans are:

(a) Excellent...please send me some

(b) Okay if they've got plenty of Sangiovese and don't taste like trees

© An abomination

(d) A good idea gotten carried away

(e) No longer Super Tuscans but IGT's. So leave me alone...tradition is nonsense.

Please hold off telling me that the answer you want to give is not listed. Neither are the perfect answers on most personality tests, but the questions are chosen because the choice you make out of the limited options still says a lot. If you don't like the questions, don't play. I think the answers will tell a lot about our palates.

Thanks for bearing with me,

Jim

edited for an answer coding typo

Edited by jrufusj (log)

Jim Jones

London, England

Never teach a pig to sing. It only wastes your time and frustrates the pig.

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Just noticed docsconz's note. First of all...thanks for the props.

What really caught my eye, though, was the Adria quote in his signature..."Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

Combine that with the also very Adria-n idea that a sardine should taste like a sardine and a lobster like a lobster and my point has been made much more succinctly than I could ever make it!

(In the alternate universe that Adria inhabits, the sardine may look like a lobster and be prepped like a carrot and have the texture of your aunt's denture cream, but it should stun you with its pure essence of sardine flavour!)

Jim

Jim Jones

London, England

Never teach a pig to sing. It only wastes your time and frustrates the pig.

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Ditto, doc. This has been a fabulous thread to follow!

I can't help but think that there may be a fourth factor to the wine sculpture (thanks jrufusj for such a sensory description) and that is the marketing aspect.

*ducks for cover as the tastvins come raining in!*

If one knows where one's wine is going to be sold, or who might be reviewing it, doesn't it stand to reason that one might also sculpt according to one's broker's/marketer's/ad-man's advice? If there are some imports going only to particular parts of the country, then one may be inclined to shape the wine specific to the perceived tastes of that part of the country?

It's my impression that the continent's palate has been shaped by historical and cultural differences from E to W coast. The traditional European importers of the EC have done a splendid job for most of the last two centuries (Prohibitional blips notwithstanding) at ensuring a constant supply of fine European wines to their clientele. Wine came to the EC and there it was consumed, as it didn't travel at all well once landed. Trans-continental logistics improved post WWll, coinciding with the conversion of orchards to wineries in California, but was an expensive proposition for a long time. Boomer parents were drinking what was available on each coast, and as they established - in the case of the WC- or perpetuated - in the case of the EC - their family's drinking habits and tastes, a new generation of wine drinking palate may have developed.

Generalistic? You bet! But there is the "go West young man", and the attendant lack of tradition personified in many aspects of WC life, as opposed to the more conventional attitude prevalent back E.

*ducks once more!*

We drank Old and New World wines over the New Year's break. 1988 Chateau Mouton Rothschild was impressive, and very fine, but short of spectacular, and the Caymus 1995 Cabernet was just down-right delicious. Long live both!

"Venite omnes qui stomacho laboratis et ego restaurabo vos"

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