The great wine debate

In an interesting article entitled “the Wrath of Grapes”, sNY Times, May 28,2015, Bruce Schoenfeld could have been talking about Croatian producers’ approach to winemaking when he describes Rajat Parr’s Domaine de la Côte releases:

“. . . grapes grown in a different vineyard, struck me as so diverse that I never would have known they were made by the same winery. One seemed to taste more like minerals than fruit. Another was light and refreshing. A third seemed virtually flavorless, as if the wine wasn’t even ready to drink. It would be entirely possible for a customer to be entranced by one, yet find another actively unpleasant.”

The article also goes into depth about questions discussed regularly among Croatian Wine Makers.  Croatia is small market with an intimate group of mostly low production wineries with an ancient history of winemaking going back 2000 years, diverse terroir  and climate ranging from cool mountain to hot & sunny coastal.  Many are using natural and biodynamic methods with no pesticides, additives or chemicals.

The new generation of young wine makers are blending traditional methods with innovative techniques and ideas & controls they have learned outside Croatia (mostly in France and the US).  These producers are dedicated to developing indigenous wines, which reflect the uniqueness of their terroir, and which provide a niche market for Croatian wines.  Many are also beginning to grow international varietals (Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet), and so the debate.

These days, the bottles that fill lists like Santoro’s are ranging further and further from the Parker-­sanctioned standard. They are likely to be made in some corner of Italy that isn’t known for wine or from a tongue-­twister variety of grape in Croatia or the Caucasus Mountains. They might be bottled without sulfur, which is used by a vast majority of winemakers to ward off bacteria, or aged underground in amphorae. They might look cloudy, or have a slight carbonation, or still be undergoing fermentation. In short, they’re just the sort of quirky (and occasionally faulty) beverages that Parker believed he had driven from the earth, or at least from American wine shops. “The kinds of wines,” says Lulu McAllister, who has developed a cultish following as the wine director for the San Francisco restaurant Nopa, “that my customers are looking for.”

At any wine gathering, you can be sure to hear the direction Croatian producers should take being hotly debated.

Schoenfeld writes,  “At its core, though, the debate is about the philosophical purpose of fine wine. Should oenologists try to make beverages that are merely delicious? Or should the ideal be something more profound and intellectually stimulating? Are the best wines the equivalent of Hollywood blockbusters or art-house films? And who gets to decide?”

I side with the art-house films and would venture to say most Croatian producers are passionate about it.   The fun part about witnessing the Croatian Wine Renaissance is watching an emerging wine industry headed by world class winemakers deciding their future.

For now,  if you want distinctive Croatian wine, you’ll have to come to Croatia.  The exported wines are more apt to be of the garden variety.

Bruce Schoenfeld’s article is entitled “The Wrath of Grapes“, The NY Times, May 28, 2015.  Schoenfeld writes frequently about wine and other controversial topics.

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