Monday, January 02, 2006

This Does Not Compute

I saw this story the other day, and it made me cringe. Don't get me wrong. I'm not usually suspicious of scientific advances, so harnessing computer science to aid the winemaking process can be a good thing. After all, such techniques have helped make today's wines the most consistent quality-wise of any era.

But, while we can all celebrate consistency, many wine geeks worry that it's coming at the expense of unique, even quirky styles of wine that often represent the truest, most noble expression of the crushed grape. They argue that if the floor has been raised, the ceiling has been lowered. I think this concern gets exaggerated sometimes. But parts of this story give me pause: "One company, Enologix, of Sonoma, Calif., takes juice samples from grapes, analyzes them and, using proprietary software, recommends how to make wines that please leading critics." Now, I'm all in favor of using technology to help prevent or repair imperfections in wines. But striving for homogenized, popular wines is not an ideal I can embrace.

We already have a glut of wines made by mega-producers in the style popularized by Parker. What can we wine consumers do? Try reaching for wines made from more obscure but distinctive varietals, such as nebbiolo, tempranillo, or grenache. Or, look for the wines of a quirky winemaker known for making high-quality but unusual stuff. The market will get the message. Unsure what to ask for? Just ask your wine proprietor. He or she will love the chance to talk about something other than chardonnay or cabernet. You may find a few not to your liking, but, have no fear, you'll be glad you did.


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