Holiday reading

Over the holidays I did a lot of reading.  Steve Jobs, pensions and investments, old Globe and Mails and…wine: books, magazines, and blogs – I consumed them all.

Many of the wine pieces I read were reviews of the past year.  As many other pieces on my reading list were forecasts of the coming year.  It was odd that most of the past trends seemed to be trends for the future. Perhaps this is because few writers covered both the past and the future…

Some highlights:

Natural wines seem to be the next big thing.  These are wines made naturally (duh!).  I thought wines made with little or no intervention were already mainstream.  In fact, these are the wines I generally seek when making my recommendations.  These wines may be organic or biodynamic, they likely have experienced little in the way of cold maceration, they may be cool-climate in origin, they will express more fruit than wood, etc. etc. The over-riding characteristic of these wines is they are fresh, juicy and show all the elements, sometimes with rough edges. In any case, watch for it: natural wines.  Now available at your local LCBO.

Wine books were recently considered to be a breed near extinction.  Many pundits, including your always-reliable WVN correspondent, wrote a couple of years ago about the threat to wine publishing brought on by the ubiquity of wine bloggers. Well, bogging does seem to be evolving.  Yes, there are some outstanding bloggers who have developed well-earned reputations for sound content, consistently delivered.  The self-consumed angry ranters who took their soap-boxes online seem to come and go with increasing speed as they lose interest when they realize no sane reader has the time or interest to follow their rants. Despite the good-blog threat, 2011 has been a banner year for traditional publishing of wine books with the release of a number of exceptional books during the year.  I will cover some of the best of these over the coming weeks, along with reviews of some exciting, anticipated titles to be published in 2012.

Quality wine has been an elusive commodity for centuries.  In earliest times wines didn’t survive long sea voyages so fortified wines were invented.  In these early times wines were often adulterated with substances to veil faults and lesser wines were labeled fraudulently to ensure they would sell. One observation frequently found in my holiday reading is there are few bad wines nowadays.  To some extent this is the result of the un-natural wine phenomenon; namely, that wine technologies can make even average wines acceptable to most palates. A more positive view is that wine-making and viticulture are now consistently practiced at high levels around the world, simply because the wine market is so competitive, you have to deliver quality or you die. This is good news for consumers.  There is still a need to seek value – if all wines are not bad, this does not mean all wines are good – to ensure your wine dollar gets the best mileage possible.

Australia continues to be a whipping boy in the wine press. The value of wine exports from Aus is in decline, the number of wine lists that feature big, hairy Barossa Shiraz and MacLaren Vale Cabs seems to be in free-fall, etc. The sale or pending sale of some of the big Australian wine conglomerates is the source of ongoing trade coverage.  I think enough is enough. There are an incredible number of exceptional wine regions and wine operations throughout Australia and we will see more and more of the issue from these places and people over the coming months.  When I make my recommendations I seek the wines of the cool-climate zones such as Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula, Frankland River and Adelaide Hills.  These wines can be wonderfully-balanced with expressive fruit and crisp acidity.  Let’s back off the Australia-bashing and focus on boosting the wines that display the best Aus can offer.  They are still great values.

France seems to be renascent, at least among New World commentators (this warrants another WVN duh!).  Despite a consistent track record for many years of quality and value, France  has been rediscovered. I think this is a natural consequence of evolving palates among Gen-X and early-adopter Gen-Y wine lovers.  As these palates mature they seek finesse, character and wines that match well with food.  This is not a conscious search, it is something that simply happens and I suspect we all can relate to similar experiences in our personal wine journey. Regions of France that get special attention are the valleys of Loire and southern Rhône, along with Alsace and the Languedoc.  These regions are coming under greater consumer scrutiny as most wines sell in the $20 range and show the natural-ness and food-friendliness that is now in growing favour among younger buyers.  Now, if Bordeaux can get its act together at the low-end of the price spectrum…

This is a high-level distillation of my holiday reading.  There is a lot happening in the wine world but these are the consistent themes I came across over the past four weeks. May all your wishes come true in 2012!

à bientôt…

Copyright© W. John Switzer 2003 – 2012.


Author: John Switzer

I am wine writer, educator and tour guide. From 2005 to June 2014 I published a bi-weekly newsletter, the Winesights Vintages Newsletter (WVN). This Newsletter was closed in July 2014 when the Government of Canada put in place the onerous administrative requirements of Canada's Anti-Spam Legislation. The legacy of WVN continues on this blog spot where I post wine-related articles as well as reviews of a small selection of best-value wines from each bi-weekly LCBO Vintages release. I hold the WSET Diploma, I am a WSET Certified Educator, I teach in the WSET program at the Independent Wine Education Guild in Toronto where I am the past Director of the WSET Diploma program. Since 2010 I have been a judge at Decanter World Wine Awards on the Rhône panel and I am a member of the Society of Wine Educators.

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