Trendy clothes, this year’s hottest automobiles, the best travel destinations, edgy interior designs, food porn, and yes… “in wine” can originate through calculated design, promotion and advertising; or they can emerge organically and sometimes unpredictably. Remember when Merlot was reduced to an “uncool, unsophisticated wine” by a single line in the movie Sideways? Nearly overnight, Pinot Noir took its place and became an “in wine.”
“If anybody orders Merlot, I’m leaving!” and Poof! There goes Merlot.
Trends can dominate and dictate our choices and shape our lifestyles often against our good judgment, personal taste and preference. As an old, but catchy Sprite commercial proclaimed, “Thirst is nothing, image is everything.” It seems that embracing what’s trendy stems from a strange psychological human dichotomy: on one side we are drawn by its allure of exclusivity, on the other, it promises us a sense of belonging. Go figure -- even I’m wearing skinny jeans.
So what is in vogue in the wine-drinking culture these days? What do top wine bars and restaurants offer on their lists? What wines are coveted by sommeliers-in-the-know? And finally, what vine growing and wine making methods are implemented by innovative wine makers to enhance our wine drinking experiences?
A country in vogue: Portugal
Historically known almost exclusively for its fortified wines, Port and Madeira, Portugal has, in the past few decades, exploded into the international wine scene with a wide range of quality wines of all three colors and various styles. With over 250 indigenous varieties, for many experts, Portugal is the last frontier of wine in Western Europe. Grapes often never heard of or nearly extinct now are gaining an international attention and becoming a rage. Lisbon, with its charm and historic beauty, has become a hugely popular tourist destination and wine is one of its main draws. Go visit. It’s amazing! Portuguese wines’ quality to value is the biggest attribute. Consumers can purchase some unique, characterful, food-friendly wines for under $20 a bottle at retail stores. Obrigado Vinhos, whose wines are available many Bay Area wine shops and restaurants, is my favorite importer.
My choices: Nortico Alvarinho, Nortico Rosé from Minho region, Quinta de Saes Reserva made from Encruzado grape coming from Dão, Aplanta red blend from Alentejo, Xisto Ilimitado red blend from Douro, and one of my favorites: MJC Ramisco Tinto from Colares.
In this time and age of uniformity, uniqueness and originality become a valuable social commodity. The common and predictable will make you blend in, but won’t make you noticed. Drinking outside the box is… yes, fashionable! Step aside Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah. Here comes Crjenak Kaštelanski from Croatia (look it up). Being familiar with “eccentric” styles of wine made from rare and - even better - difficult to pronounce grapes and, coming from “uncommon” wine regions can easily put one in the center of a social circle.
Furmint (dry version): From the historic region of Tokaj in Hungary, in its dry version this grape makes some mysteriously minerally, white wines of sensually viscous texture and flavors of wet stone, salted pecans, and persimmon.
Ribolla: Transplanted from Greece ages ago, this grape most comfortably acclimated itself in Friuli, Italy, and across the border in Slovenia where it’s known as Rebula. Traditionally, it is light and crisp with flavors of apple, citrus and fresh almonds.
Moscofilero: Endemic to Greece, this wine is packed with intense and decadent floral flavors of violets, rose petal, jasmine and a touch of ginger-spiced honeysuckle.
Rkatsiteli: From the country of Georgia, this is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, wine-making grape. Cold-weather resistant, it produces crisp green-apple flavored wines with hints of quince and white peach.
Hondarrabi Zuri and Hondarrabi Beltza: Two sibling grapes from the Basque region of Spain that produce nervy, lip-smacking, jumpingly refreshing Txakolina wines. Put it on ice, take it to a grass-blanketed park or polo tailgate and obliviously hold your sweetheart’s hand sipping it.
Croatina: From Northern regions of Italy, it’s deeply colored, mildly tannic with a distinct peppery bite and proudly boasts a savage personality.
Sankt Laurant: Austrian, sporting juicy berry aromas with slight tartness and silky but firm tannins that promise smooth longevity.
Tannat: Originally from Madiran in Southwest France, it’s impenetrably dark and intensely flavored. Gently tarry and redolent of black fig and dark berry jam, with good Uruguayan versions are out there.
Xinomavro: Greek, multi-faceted and yields dry reds, dynamic rosés, vibrant sparklers and unique sweet wines.
Mencia: from Spain and Portugal, age-worthy with inviting aromas of flowers, red berries and licorice.
Valdiguié: originating in Southwest France. This is Michael Ireland’s (from High Treason wine bar in San Francisco) pick. It is very versatile in its interpretations, according to Michael, “The wines can run the gamut from light, fruity, quaffable soft to inky, dusty, rich vin de garde.” There are some great California versions.
Trendy viti-cultural and vinification processes
While technology is dominating our day-to-day lives and electronic devices, literally and figuratively, showing us the way ahead, our natural environment is heavily compromised by human thoughtless interference fueled by greed. In this age of artificially produced, synthetic foods, many of us choose to look toward the natural lifestyles where, rather than abusing Mother Nature, we enrich it and promote its longevity. No chemicals or artificial additives, organic way of being has found its place in agriculture and subsequently in viti-culture. While organic wine-making has grown in popularity dramatically in recent decades, there are methods or philosophies, as some like to call them, which take sustainability to the next level.
BIODYNAMIC: a viticulture created by an early 20th century philosopher/intellectual Rudolf Steiner can be described as a homeopathic approach to soil cultivation to restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony. Or as I playfully describe it: organic farming with a touch of friendly witchcraft. Wines made from grapes treated using this “magical” practice are believed to taste purer and… turn you into a better person (not necessarily!)
NATURAL WINE MAKING: the vinification stage of wine production where absolutely minimal or no “unnatural” intervention is applied – no chemicals, no enhancements, no infusions. Pure, unadulterated, fermented grape juice. It can be an acquired taste, but you’re drinking a… philosophy.
ORANGE WINE: Made from white wine grapes with an extended skin contact resulting in amber/orange-colored wines with astringency/tannins resembling that of red wines. Not everybody’s cup of tea, but some swear by it, especially when paired with the right food.
All said and done, remember that what is fashionable today will most likely soon fade away and descend into obscurity. What remains is a person’s integrity of taste and loyalty to what gives us pure, unadulterated pleasure that enriches our lives with moments of inspiration beyond outsiders’ acceptance. On the other hand, trends expose us to new ideas and test our sense of aesthetic sensitivity forcing us to sift through the enormity of human experience, which hopefully leads us toward the choices of substance.