Monday, September 6, 2010

Rant: Do You Enjoy "Explosions & Car Crashes" In Your Wine?

"Old World Wines ask you to dance with them; New World wines push you prone onto a chair and give you a lap dance, no touching."
--Reading Between the Wines by Terry Thiese, p.10

I found this book to be quite fascinating, an opinionated look at the realm of wine, touching on various hot topics and presenting Thiese's unvarnished thoughts. Even if you don't always agree with him, you must respect his passion and conviction. I highly recommend all wine lovers read this book. Now on to the topic at hand.

Thiese is unabashedly an ardent fan of wines of the Old World. "All things being equal, it is more artisanl, more intimately scaled, humbler, and less likely to be blown about by the ephemeral breezes of fashion." (p.9) He later says, ".., Old World wines ....have about them a certain reserve. They're not aloof, but neither are they extravagant, gregarious, life-of-the-party wines. They don't play at loud volume, and they can seem inscrutable to people with short attention spans. They are, however, kinetic; they draw you in, they make you a participant in the dance. They engage you. They won't let you be passive, unless you choose to ignore them--in which case, why buy them?" (p.10)

On the other hand, "..., New World wines are marked are marked by a kind of effusiveness that turns the drinker from a participant into an onlooker. These big, emphatic wines put on quite a show: explosions and car chases in every glass. If you're new to wine, this can be reassuring. You get it. You needn't worry there are subtleties you don't grasp." (p.10) I should note as well that these are only generalizations and that Thiesse fully understands that exceptions do exist.

In the U.S., about 72% of the wine we consume is domestic, New World wines. The percentage is a bit higher for California wine drinkers, and a bit lower for East Coast wine drinkers. So it would seem most U.S. wine drinkers prefer "lap dances" to "dancing" with another, or to put it another way, they want "explosions and car chases" in their wine. As a corollary, it seems that West Coast wine bloggers often concentrate on West Coast wines (California, Washington & Oregon), while East Coast wine bloggers often write about many European wines.

There have often been discussions about the differences between Old and New World wines, though Thiesse is far more poetic in his characterizations. What are your thoughts on Old World vs New? Do you generally agree or not with Thiesse's opinions in these areas? If you prefer New World wines, why do you like them over Old World wines? If you prefer Old World wines, why do you like them over New World wines?

My own wine cellar has more Old World wines than New World, though I do have a fair share of California wines. I also generally agree with Thiesse, finding many Old World wines to be more subtle, more low-key, yet rewarding in their own ways. California wines can be quite big and bold, and sometimes overpowering. They are not shrinking violets or wallflowers. They make sure you know what you have in your glass, doing much of the work for you. If you are used to drinking such wines, an Old World wine can seem very thin and bland.

As I have said before, wine lovers need to expand their palates, and drink wines from outside their comfort zone. They should experience all of the wines the world has to offer, and not discriminate against region, grape or style. And when you taste these different wines, take the time to appreciate them, to "dance" with them and savor all they have to offer. Rather than limit yourself to "explosions and car chases" why not try a "psychological thriller" or a "complex drama."


Adam Japko said...

Rich...great of you to amplify this issue. He is right on, and as Theise and you reference, with exceptions. If you work through the wines he imports, it is hard to argue with him. I simply prefer new world wines, the style of nuance simply feels more natural, of the earth, of the wines terroir. I am heading to Napa this week and am looking forward to a big tasting agenda,but thinking about it as a trip to a theme park or Disneyland and anticipating that big rocking wine with a big twist to it that will dazzle me like giant roller coaster. If I was heading to France or Spain or Italy, I would be looking forward to falling in love over and over again.

Adam Japko said...

Rich, woops, I clearly prefer *OLD* world wines

Jane Ward said...

We have one of each type of wine person in our home, so we take time out to taste both types of wine and learn what the other appreciates about his/her favorite. We may never have our minds changed, but we do have our palates expanded. Great job characterizing the differences between old and new world wines.

Richard Auffrey said...

Hi Adam and thanks for your comments. I look forward to hearing your thoughts when you get back from Napa,whether it lived up to your expectations or not. As you know, I will be in Spain next week, and am sure I will experience much of the Old World as Thiese describes.

Hi Jane and thanks for your comments: It is good to experience all styles of wine, though we may have our preferences. If we are daring enough to challenge our palate, we will surely enjoy wine.

aed pads said...

Nice post. I also prefer new world wines. But each person has his own preference right?