When Nature Doesn't Nurture

Our dependence on Mother Nature comes at a price.


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The newspapers and weekly magazines will no doubt call 2005 "The Year of the Hurricane," or some variation, when they publish their year-end summaries. The destruction caused by hurricanes Katrina and Rita was a sobering reminder that, for all of our high-tech gadgets, impressive construction, sprawling metropolises, insurance programs and government safety nets….we are the mercy of nature, and always will be.

Wine, being an agricultural product, very much depends on the whims of nature, and not just for the quality of wines from region to region, vintage to vintage. Wine's very survival has been threatened by pestilence. In the mid-1800s, phylloxera, an aphid that attacks grapevines at the root, nearly devastated the French wine industry. Nothing quite so dire has occurred since, and nothing like that is on the horizon, but every year brings reminders of grape vine vulnerabilities: This year the glassy-winged sharpshooter, which is the carrier of the grapvine-destroying Pierce's diease, reappeared in Sonoma County. Meanwhile, UC Davis researchers are tracking a possible return of phylloxera which, in combination with a fungus, may be attacking vines in Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino. The vineyards of the east coast are being infiltrated by another vine-attacking pest called the three-banded leafhopper.

Chances are, none of these will become serious, widespread problems. I only mention them as a reminder of the fragility of viticulture, and of the fact that nothing in our lives can be taken for granted. I don't this to be glum or negative. When you pour your next glass of wine and hold it to the light, then sniff, swirl and swallow, be thankful. It's that time of year.

This is our annual Value issue, and its centerpiece is the article we're calling "Best Buy Bonanza." Every year we challenge our contributing editors and members of the tasting panel to come up with a mixed case of wines. No single bottle can cost more than $15 at retail—and many actually cost much less. It's not an easy task, but they valiantly sample for the sheer thrill of discovery.

Is the phrase "bargain Burgundy" an oxymoron? Tasting Director Joe Czerwinski tackles that question head-on with his article. Wines from the prestigious French region of Burgundy are generally expensive, and, candidly, you're not going to find too many quality bottles from there for under $15. But "value" is a relative term for sure, and Joe has some suggestions for you to drink some of the best wines in the world for…let's just say, less than you would expect. 

Roger Voss reports on the "Cinderella" grape, Chenin Blanc. He compares this ethereal white wine to the fairytale character because of the way it has been mistreated around the world, either completely ignored or used for nothing more then blending or bulk wine. Roger's story focuses on the variety's recent history in South Africa—Cape wineries have realized how valuable this variety truly is. His reviews of many of these Chenin Blancs can also be found in this month's Buying Guide.

Also, the busy Mr. Voss gathers recipes for great appetizers—relatively fancy small plates that will be at home at any sophisticated holiday gathering, along with recommendations for wines to serve with them. And you'll fine recommendations by F. Paul Pacult, our spirits tasting director, for value-priced spirits: vodkas, gins, whiskies, rums, liqueurs and so on that are priced far below what you might expect, for the quality in the bottle.

On behalf of all of us at Wine Enthusiast, I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving. For those who lost loved ones or property, or were displaced by the storms of 2005, it may sound hollow to invoke Thanksgiving. Trivial, even. And yet, paradoxically, it is the small things—like a glass of wine enjoyed in a beautiful setting and in good company—that make life worthwhile in the first place.

Cheers!

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