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Wines with a Sense of Place or Nowhere and Glue

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Good wine is the result of applied science and wine companies can say the best wines ever made are those now being sold. Sure, bad aromas and tastes can still be found though there is no excuse for them apart from carelessness and refusing to listen. It costs no more to make good than bad, so the only easy opening left for the crooked is to pass off cheaper wine as something that sells for a higher price.

Which brings us to the point, why do some wines sell at a higher price when so much of the taste of wine is in the eye of the beholder. In the wine business experts outdo each other in their ability to find minute tastes differences which they assure us are worth the increased price. Your suspicions are likely right that their opinions assist the levitation of prices. Beside judgements based on taste and grading there are other vague notions used to justify the special nature of some wines over others. One of these is the idea of ‘wines showing a sense of place.’

Eric Asimov of the New York Times tackled this in ‘A Wine from Nowhere’, 18th June, 2021 when discussing new releases from Penfolds labelled as ‘Wines of the World’. These are Penfolds Californian reds which also contain a percentage of Australian wine. He builds the story this way; ‘But the best wines do even more than that (taste delicious). They speak of their place of origin. Through the medium of fermented grape juice, great wines express their terroir, that mystical French term that encompasses the soils, climate and weather, elevation, angle of inclination and the human activity behind it all. Wines that can do this are said to have a sense of place.

And later…… Yet I am almost always willing to pay more for village wines, a full step up in Burgundy’s hierarchy of terroir, for the intellectual pleasure of associating aromas, flavors, texture and body with a specific place………..And the article ends with…. Deliciousness is never to be underestimated. I’m sure bottles of Penfolds Quantum 98 will be empty at the end of the meal. But given the option, I will always choose delicious wines with the added value of inspiring inquiries into their origins’.

The senior Penfolds wine makers involved in the creation of Penfolds ‘Wines of the World’, Peter Gago and Stephanie Dutton, showed talents beyond winemaking in explaining why these wines are a good idea. I particularly liked Duttons explanation that the Californian wines were great however the addition of Australian wine added the glue to make them sing. This is the first time I have noted glue being used in a wine note.

For consumers I doubt whether a sense of place being a few acres or global, matters much. Remember though, however the term is used, it implies you must pay more for the emotional experience of the wines that are said to have it. To imagine you are running the soil through your fingers as you drink, is said to be worth a lot.

I will leave for another time the discussion that surely every vineyard, anywhere has to have a sense of place.

Eric Asimov, Gago and Dutton are not Ralph Naders of the wine world and in summary I’m reminded of the lines in a poem about walls; Before I built a wall I’d ask to know, What I was walling in or walling out. Good advice as common sense consumers should stay on their side of the wall and leave the myth makers with their sense of place and expensive wines on the other side of the wall.

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