ENTHUSIAST'S CORNER November 2004
Talk Dry, Taste Sweet
Most american wine drinkers will tell you they prefer a dry wine, but the statistics on wine sales in this country tell a different story.
Recently, I was comparing notes with a fellow Baby Boomer, talking about our experiences—our relationship, really—with food, and we realized we had to face facts: The food most of us ate as we were growing up was bland, bland, bland. This is what my plate looked like every night for the first 15 years of my life: A meat portion (fried chicken, meatloaf or a roast beef); a vegetable portion (waxy beans, peas, carrots or corn straight from a can, without seasoning or finesse); a starch (rice or potatoes); and dessert—usually fruit cocktail or applesauce. The occasional salad was iceberg lettuce topped with unforgiving tomatoes and one of the big three salad dressings (Russian, Thousand Island or Blue Cheese).
I'm certainly not criticizing my mother (unthinkable), or any mothers who brought forth Baby Boomers. The fact is, America's food culture at that time was colorless, purely functional, taking advantage of canned goods and the relatively new frozen products. Most people didn't give much thought to food. Yes, there were fine dining restaurants, but the food—Continental cuisine, was the term—was aimed at the somewhat tame American palate.
In the article in our Pairings department of this issue, writer Karen Berman examines the concept of "American food." It is interesting to read, and to think about: Is American food today the straightforward, simple presentation of fresh ingredients? Is it an amalgam of all the ethnic foods we enjoy? Is it both, neither, or a combination of the two? Berman interviews chefs, food writers and historians to try to determine what American cuisine was in the past, what it is today, and what it might be in years to come. We think you'll enjoy their observations. And pay attention to the sidebar entitled "America's Sweet Tooth," because it touches on a subject of interest to American wine enthusiasts. As a member of the generation that was raised on Coca-cola, let me state my belief that, when it comes to wine, Americans generally talk dry, but we taste sweet.
Anyone with a couple of wine bottles on a rack and a couple of wine books on a shelf will tell you he or she prefers a dry wine. But the fact is, many, if not most, of America's best-selling wines are on the sweet side. The Australian wines that are so popular now have plenty of residual sugar, and are blended to achieve fruit-forwardness. Americans like the fruit-forward wines of California, Washington and Oregon. Generally, not for Americans are the lean, high-acid, complex wines of Chablis…in fact, the dry wines associated with the European style of winemaking are more of an acquired taste here. A lot of marketers will blame incomprehensible labels and unpredictable pricing, but one factor has to be style.
I expect that many of our readers already "drink dry," but I would encourage you to introduce your colleagues and friends to the nuances of the European style. It's just a matter of taking advantage of the full splendor that the wines of the world can bring to your table, from full-fruited to high-acid dry.
Also in this issue we feature Maximilian Riedel, the dynamic executive vice president of Riedel U.S.A. Maximilian is responsible for the creation of Riedel "O," the stemless wineglasses that are creating a sensation among enthusiasts and selling out everywhere. See Michael Schachner's profile on page 24. (Note: Just as we are going to press, the Riedels—both father Georg and son Maximilian—have announced the acquisition of the Nachtmann Group, which consists of three glass manufacturing companies: Nachtmann, Spiegelau and Marc Aurel. This addition to their portfolio makes Riedel not only the most creative force in glassmaking but also one of the largest. The combined entities represent as much as $250 million in annual sales of stemware.)
In this issue, Tasting Director Joe Czerwinski and members of his tasting panel report the results of their exhaustive tasting of American Pinot Noir. They tasted almost 400 Pinots from California, Oregon and several other states, and we think you'll find the article an invaluable guide.
And don't miss Steve Heimoff's column. He pays tribute to Julia Child, who, more than any other person, was responsible for bringing the American public to a greater appreciation of the pleasures of the kitchen, the table and the wineglass—and away from the humble plates of my youth.