(Felix Salmon is a U.S.-based financial journalist and a Reuters blogger here. The opinions expressed are his own)
By Felix Salmon
NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - The revolution in winemaking technology, which started in Australia and rapidly spread throughout the world, has been unambiguously good for wine drinkers.
It brought reliably good wine at very low prices, and ushered in a refreshing wave of democratization. There is nothing wrong with producing consistently good wine for the mass market.
But something is lost when wine is made by science rather than nature. Next year’s wine will taste exactly the same as this year’s wine, even if the grapes are sourced from vineyards hundreds or thousands of miles away from the areas used last time around.
And regardless of where it comes from all the wine will taste very similar: it will be fruity, quite alcoholic, easily drinkable without food, a little bit sweet with low acidity and, probably, a good amount of oak.
If it’s red, it’ll have soft tannins, too: enough to provide some structure, but nothing to pucker your mouth.
Wine can and should be a living, breathing thing — an agricultural product which changes from vintage to vintage, which expresses individuality and true character.
There is no shortage of great wines which fit that bill. To discover how variable wine can be, there’s only one place to go: the Loire.
There’s nothing fashionable about Loire wines, especially not the region’s wonderful reds. The region is about as far north as wine ever used to be grown in Europe, which means that historically the region has been famed for its whites: Sancerre and Muscadet and some delicious, crisp sparklers as well.
It’s the reds, however, that I’ve recently fallen in love with. There’s a good range of grape varieties in the region, with a fair smattering of gamay and pinot noir, whose spiritual home will always be Burgundy.
There’s also cÂt, which is much better known as the national grape of Argentina, malbec. And then there’s a great little oddity, pineau d’Aunis, which can produce terrific wine.
The most characteristic grape in Loire reds is cabernet franc — a noble and versatile variety which really comes into its own in the Saumur-Champigny region of the Loire. If you ever get a chance, try a bottle of Clos Rougeard: it’s truly spectacular stuff.
But the real glory of the Loire’s reds is from places like Chinon and Bourgueil. These wines will never do very well in blind tastings: they’re too austere and acidic and really need to be accompanied by food in order to shine. They’re not fruit-forward barnstormers, but rather lovely, fun, and not in the slightest bit posh.
Loire reds aren’t dirt cheap: you’re not going to find many, if any, under $10. But in the $15-$20 range you’ll find a lot; there’s little need to go much higher.
You’ll find wines which go very well with a huge range of foods, including Asian food. You’ll also be transported back to a world where wines had genuine variability: in the Loire, the differences between vintages can be bigger than the differences between varietals. There will be personality along with a heavy dose of terroir; you might well start to feel a real connection to the wine and its makers, full of humanity and humility.
Occasionally, you might be disappointed. But if you have a good wine merchant with a decent Loire section, they’ll probably steer you well. The Loire isn’t a region to go to armed with points-out-of-100 from some magazine or other.
Instead, it’s friendlier and more low-key than that. If you go to the Loire section in a wine store, the owner is likely to peg you as someone who’s more interested in what’s inside the bottle than on what’s on the label.
But if there isn’t a Loire section, don’t be surprised. Your wine shop is simply doing what most restaurants do —ignoring reds which are both inexpensive and which go spectacularly well with food.
It’s a shame, but everybody can’t be up to speed on all the wine-growing regions of the old world, especially when there’s so much more buzz around new-world states like Washington or Tasmania. I love those wines too. But increasingly, I’m finding myself in a more old-fashioned mood. And so I turn to the earthbound acidity of the Loire.
Editing by Patricia Reaney