Smile Politely

A Case For Local Wine

Warning! Querciabella Chianti 2004 only got 91 points from Parker. That’s only an A-minus. Only an A-minus! Never mind that reviewer Antonio Galloni said, “…[it] offers outstanding overall balance…setting a new benchmark for elegance in Chianti Classico.” Does this mean that Chianti is doomed to be just a successful, albeit barely honor roll, wine forever? If 9 out of 10 defines the benchmark for this classic Tuscan appellation, should they just rip out their vines and plant almonds? What about perfection? What about the 100 point score?

Certainly, I see the rationale behind a grading system for wines. We all grew up knowing that 59.5 on the midterm could lead to passing a course (or did we?). Further, getting 91 is always better than 88. This well-known lexicon gives consumers some ammo to see through other marketing ploys, but these scores lack a common denominator between reviewers. Sure, some publications hold each writer to a standard, but my 88 could be your 91. And realistically, 88-point wines don’t sell unless they cost nine bucks. Producers cursed with a big-ticket wine that earns a sub-90 rating can pound the nails in that vintage. Worse, some consumers miss out on delightful wines, which often drink much younger than their kin, due to our own dean’s list biases. All that aside, these numbers pretend to be an objective measure of wine quality, but they still rely on the subjective palate of a reviewer.

What makes me most crabby about this system is the way it debases the beauty of so-called lesser wines. Reducing the sights, aromas, flavor and nuance to a numeric measure demeans a wine just as 36-24-34 dehumanizes Miss April. So much beauty exists outside the canonized rubric for perfection.

In the last few months, I’ve spent some real time sniffing, swirling and swilling local wine. The best expressed lovely character, a sense of place and delivered the kind of pleasure needed for deliciousness. The worst were everything you fear. And that’s been the big obstacle preventing newcomers from trying an unknown bottle. I truly love tasting new wines, yet I hate when my x-dollar purchase winds up in the sink. (And I will drink, maybe not enjoy, many things that should be relegated to the compost pile before I dump it.) But out of the dozens of bottles this year, I’ve watered my tomatoes with only two. That’s less than the likelihood of getting a corked bottle.

The progress in our wine industry is astounding, especially over the last five years. In terms of sheer volume, way more wine is made in Illinois now than in Hot Rod’s first term. (He, by the way, deserves no credit for this, or anything else for that matter.) And most of these new producers are making good juice. I have yet to see a wine publication spend any ink on our local vino. Good. While comparison to other regions may contextualize the flavors of a bottle, Chambourcin tastes different than better-known wine grapes. Same for Catawba. Or St. Pepin. Ditto Norton.

Scoring our wines based on a tally designed for classical wines not only unfairly stacks the deck, it stagnates the what wine can be. Were would Collver Family’s Pumpkin wine fit out of a hundred? Hmm. I can tell you its well-made, fun to drink and pretty awesome with pecan pie. They editors at Wine Douche have no commercial interest in scoring theses things. Nobody is going to advertise, let alone auction, pumpkin wine from Illinois. This is our own quirky secret, and it’s way too fun for guys in khakis and braided belts who make jokes about Boone’s at parties.

To follow the school meme, here are two drinking suggestions for this week. Yep they’re good. Maybe even A-minus good. Bah.

Piasa Traminette: YUMMY! One part linden tree scent, add some lemon heads, maybe a Calhoun County peach or two, add a dose of clove and go. Yes, it’s a bit sweet. Yes, it will make a perfect pair for something spicy like arugula. Or bbq. Or your sharp wit. Well balanced, it finishes with a long, waxy finish.

Blue Sky Vineyard Chambourcin: This is a really full-throttle Chambourcin from Southern Illinois full of cola and black cherry. It has that classic green tobacco character common to this variety. Loads of fruit and spice fills out the palate and leads to a long finish.

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