“You’ve got to be freaking kidding me” my response like ten years ago after tasting Havens Albarino. The geek side of me was absolutely intrigued by an Alabarino from Napa, the whole “Well that’s kinda cool” deal and the wine was good, not profound but good as is typical of my feeling about Albarino. The thing that had me making the “I’m sorry, are you high?!” face was the price, it would retail for around twenty dollars. “You are aware that you can get like the best….from Spain, for about half that right?” was my crinkled face comment to our sales rep. “Well it costs more to grow it here” our rather Eddie Haskell like sales rep quipped giving my boss the she-doesn’t-get-it face, “Well maybe they shouldn’t then” I snipped while walking away from the tasting table.
That exchange would start a long string of moments much like it, me scrunching up my face and thinking, “Just because you can does not mean you should”. I know there are winemakers that like to play around in the vineyard, grow and produce different things, I get that but I just think they should keep a couple of things in mind not the least of which is, “Are they making this wine as good or better somewhere else for less money?” if the answer is yes than maybe keeping it in the wineries tasting room is the best option. In the tasting room you have an audience that is there to taste your wines and having an Arneis or whatever is wicked cool. You can charge $20.00 and sell it all day but as a retailer, when someone asks me for the best Albarino I’m taking them to the best and I’m sorry more often than not it aint from Napa.
Now this is not me railing against domestic wines, I am not talking about Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah or any of the many varieties that thrive here in California. Those wines have a place here and a market that is thirsty for them but if you are going to grow varieties that much of the market knows nothing about, either price it accordingly or make it exceptional. The “Oh that’s cool” curiosity thing is only sustainable for so long. Chenin Blanc is a great example, the best Chenin hands-down comes from the Loire and it seems like growers in California figured that out and either ripped up their Chenin and planted Chardonnay or kept the price equal to what was in the bottle….we can sell a tasty little under $15.00 Chenin from California all day long, but price it at $20.00 and off to France we go. Like I said, “Are they making this as good or better for less money?”
Just to show I am all fair and junk I also point the same knock-it-off finger at the Old World, get all pissy with them as well but the one thing they are doing right is making it cheap. Sure they are cranking out a crap load of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (labeled as such) from the Languedoc but at least they are charging what they are worth…like $10.00. When someone comes at me with a “Ultra Premium” (and a quick word about that stupid term…it sounds like gasoline or maxi pads when you say that) bottling of Languedoc Pinot Noir….which means oaked to hell and sappy AND sporting an over $20.00 price tag I give them the same, “Are you high?!” face.
As with any rule there are exceptions. I have recently fallen in love with the wines from the Palmina Winery in Lompoc and I admit they are making wines that I would normally scrunch my face at, “Italian varieties grown in Lompoc?! What the hell?!” but here’s the thing….they are making them so freaking well and at very fair prices. The wines are so pure and fresh tasting, they haven’t been “Ultra Premiumed” (or maxi padded) and I truly believe their Dolcetto is on par with anything coming from Italy….and for about the same price, so very fair and I can easily recommend them as I really do find them, well exceptional.
Now aside from Italian grapes being grown in California the other panty twister for me has been Chardonnay grown in Italy, ugh why bother? Sure you can but….damn, most of it is insipid at best and usually kind of pricy. I mean if I want to spend $30.00 on a Chardonnay there are any number of Chablis or Macon I can choose from and for my customers I either go there or to California, the wines just offer more richness and complexity….you know the stuff that you expect to find in Chardonnay. If you just want a light white then Italy has quite a few other options but Chardonnay? Pass. That was until….the exception.
“Damn, that smells like Puligny-Montrachet” I was floored, even more stunned three days later when I retasted the open bottle and the wine seemed to be even fleshier, sexier, rounder and giving up even more for me to wrap my lips around. Never thought I would say this but this $33.00 Italian Chardonnay is one hell of a bargain.
2007 Vie di Romans Ciampagnis Vieris Chardonnay, ($32.99) is a wine that Randy opened when we were trying to find a partner for Piave, a cheese that was proving difficult to pair….a wine that knocked me on my ass, (and off my soap box might I add) and haunted me for days, still haunts me really. This is the kind of wine that scares the shit out of a white Burgundy buyer and finds me split in two when helping a customer. Do I kill a $50.00 Burgundy sale by introducing my French wine lovers to this brilliant Italian wine? Kinda have to, they have to taste it…feel it spread across their palate, taste the roasted pears, spice and toasted nuts. Let the long, sumptuous, caramel rich finish linger upon their palate and have them say, “Fuck, this is from Italy?” Not just an exception, truly exceptional.