In the last supplement to Decanter Magazine on California wines, Sonoma based wine columnist Dan Berger investigates how California winemakers are adapting to the evolution of American wine lovers: they want less oak, less alcohol, less ridiculously high prices, and more elegance and balance.
“The US consumer wants a lighter, more drinkable wine, one that has the dinner table in mind, and California winemakers are slowly catching on.” explains Dan Berger in his article.
One of his interviews is with Steve Cornwell, operation manager for MacArthur Beverages in Washington DC. “Consumers are developing their own palate, which is quite a bit apart from what the press and magazines are saying. Also, there is the influence of bloggers, and consumers looking for different styles” says Cornwell.
Many wine lovers are definitively backing off from the expensive bigger style of wine, the “Parker wines”, and they find plenty of imported wines that offer balance and good fruit at a modest price.
So how are California wineries adjusting to the evolving American palate?
According to Rod Berglund, winemaker for Joseph Swan Vineyards, his winery has already made the shift: “In the past, when we talked about Pinot Noir with subtlety and elegance, you'd get a blank stare. But now that consumers are exposed to it, they prefer this style of wine, which offers better balance and a highter level of compatibility with food. Those are the styles that we are selling now.” says Berglund.
For David Munksgard, winemaker for Iron Horse Vineyards, his Pinot Noir wines are actually showing better when their alcohol levels are closer to 13.5% then 14.5%.
In a related article in the Los Angeles Times featuring Adam Tolmach of The Ojai Vineyard, the winemaker confesses: “We got the scores we wanted, but we went away from what I personally like. We lost our rudder when we went for ever bolder, riper flavors.”
He believes that the alcohol levels of his wines, at 15% and higher, are too high but with careful vineyard management, he says, it is possible to retain rich flavors without sending alcohols soaring. It's a matter of spending more time in the vineyard and it's about picking at the right time and from cooler climate vineyards. In the end, Tolmach's goal is to find the balance between California ripeness and European elegance.
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