comfort zone

Monday, May 24, 2010

One of the greatest attributes of the subject of wine is its inexhaustibility. No single lifetime can ever take you down every possible pathway, when every exploration of vine, vineyard, soil, cellar, grape, barrel, package and pitch seems to branch out indefinitely.

At the same time, a blogger/critic/journalist/reviewer must have some focus. Even Parker stopped covering the entire world of wine solo 15 years ago, and those hardy souls who still write the global tomes (Oz Clark, Tom Stephenson in particular) rely on a bevy of contributors.

So my entry into the field was aided immensely by the happy circumstance of living and working in Washington state, where a new wine industry was taking shape, alongside similar efforts up and down the west coast and over into Idaho. The region was ready-made for specialization, particularly 25 or 30 years ago, when the number of wineries had not yet hit three figures.

The Pacific Northwest was, is, and always will be my focus and my “specialty.” But from the start, I’ve felt it was absolutely essential to acquire a working knowledge of as much of the vast world of wine as possible. To that end I have traveled, read, and tasted widely. So have virtually all of the best winemakers in the region. Tunnel palate – without exception – limits one’s ability to appreciate and evaluate (not to mention produce) great wine.

What prompted this line of thinking was a column I wrote that ran yesterday in the Seattle Times, praising the wines of Dan Kravitz’s Hand-Picked Selections imports. A disgruntled reader felt obliged to write the following comment:

“Why is a ‘Washington wine writer’ in the SEATTLE TIMES, talking about French wines again??? You're driving me crazy PG.”

In truth, I have always included columns about French wines, Italian wines, Spanish wines, Australian wines, California wines, etc. etc. in the mix. I believe that a global perspective makes it a better column, and makes me a better judge of Washington wines. When I can truly put Washington wines in a global context, I am evaluating them the way any savvy consumer would. You scan the retail shelves for what looks like the best wine at the best price. From wherever. Very few people would walk into a well-stocked wine shop thinking they would only purchase one type of wine from one particular place as a matter of habit.

That said, everyone has a comfort zone, and when it comes to wine, that zone usually starts out pretty small. Nothing wrong with that – you have to start somewhere. If an off-dry Washington riesling is your equivalent of a one-armed sleeping pillow, I say, go for it! But eventually, most people with an interest in the subject want to fill in the rest of the body, just to see what it feels like.

In vino veritas.


Anonymous said...

I've been blessed with the ability to travel for business as well as pleasure, and have taken advantage by going to some great wine making regions of the world: S. Africa, France, Australia, Spain, California and Oregon as well as living in WA.
I agree with Paul, by tasting all these wines and being lucky enough to see and experience the terroir my pallet is more educated and I'm in a better position to truly appreciate WA wines and how they really do stand up in the world.
I appreciate that you have a broader focus that WA Paul. Keep it up.

PaulG said...

Thanks, Charlie. I do believe, after hundreds (thousands?) of meetings in person with winemakers from up and down the West Coast, that a broad vision enhances everything they do. It used to be uncommon, but these days there are opportunities galore to work crush in both hemispheres while still in school. I am extremely optimistic about the future of American winemaking – and Washington winemaking in particular – because I see the incredible amount of travel that most young winemakers do, often before opening their own winery or landing their first full-time job.

Dennis Schaefer said...

"I believe that a global perspective makes it a better column, and makes me a better judge of Washington wines." I couldn't agree with you more. I used to write occasional columns about Italian, French, Aussie,and Chilean wines but it was later mandated that I should focus only on the local county wineries and winemakers. Fabulous as they are, it limits your scope. And it's been my observation that folks(readers)who enjoy premium local wines, also have an appreciation for premium wines from elsewhere, no matter if that be in another CA appellation, OR, WA of a foreign country.

WineBoy said...

If all I tasted were wines from Washington State, it would be a pretty sad time indeed. There are no Pinots or Chards that rival Burgundy, no Sangioveses or Nebbiolos that can compare with Italy, no matches that compete with the unique whites from the Loire or Galicia. Washington does many wines well, but it is clear that it can't do them all. How does one educate one's palate without tasting the benchmarks of the world? I would argue that you can't. Write about what you want Paul, I may not always agree with you, but I respect your palate and taste memory.

Anonymous said...

The more you drink the more you Learn! Merlotman

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