The evolution of wine in your favorite bottle
“It’s like putting new wine in old bottles.”
I recently heard this hackneyed phrase as a politically charged commentary on a federal bill. I started to think of this in the context of wine.
The wine industry has evolved more in the last decade than perhaps in the previous century. The introduction of new technologies and techniques has increased the overall quality, quantity and diversity of wines available to consumers.
The profile of many wines today is radically different from the mass produced and mass marketed wines of yesteryear. Has there been a radical change in the approaches of winegrowers to making wine? Or more exactly, is it possible to discover or create something new in an industry that has been in business for at least 6,000 years?
Have the changing sensibilities of winemakers evolved to the point where they are now putting new wine into new bottles? Has science – in the form of DNA tests, sophisticated soil tests and innovative electronic equipment – dramatically altered the inherent characteristics of grape varieties and supplanted traditional methods of wine making?
And at the risk of going against logic, let me stretch my metaphor again. Have the notable advancements in winemaking over the past decade in fact created any comeback wines? Are old wines bottled new?
Let me dwell on this last premise.
Despite all the obvious recent advances in the wines being brought to market every week – under the influence of scientists, winemakers, traders and consumers – it seems to me that in a number of cases what I am drinking today hui did not exist in the 1900s. Yet many of these wines resemble those produced by our ancestors for centuries. Consider these points:
- New agricultural techniques are multiplying. As chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides were introduced in the 1950s, many American and European growers embraced them wholeheartedly, abandoning the organic practices of millennia past.
Fast forward to 21st century. There is a growing movement towards a “new” symbiotic relationship with nature. Every year the use of chemicals in vineyards decreases. Age-old terms such as organic and biodynamic are all the rage. In fact, many farming practices today are eerily similar to those employed by the Roman Empire when planting vines on its vast estates around the Mediterranean Sea.
- Winemakers in California and Oregon are producing new pinot noir wines that have never been around before. At last count, there are now over 200 pinot noir vine clones planted – and their grapes mixed in – in one way or another.
However, most of the centuries-old rootstocks of these plants originated from Burgundy, France, where they still flower today. The new Pinot Noir wines are evaluated on their French heritage and the subtle variations of their basic ancestors.
Likewise, in Italy, Super Tuscans are presented as new wines. What makes them unique are grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah, varietals not native to Tuscany. However, these new wines have been produced in Bordeaux for centuries.
Old wine in new bottles. It sounds counterintuitive, but the rich history and traditions of winemaking are clearly evident in the exciting and dynamic new wines in today’s market. Don’t be fooled by their disguises.
Nick Antonaccio has been a resident of Pleasantville for 45 years. For more than 25 years, he has hosted wine tastings and conferences. Nick is a member and program director of the Wine Media Guild of Wine Journalists. It also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimentation translates into instinctive behavior. You can reach him at [email protected] or on Twitter @sharingwine.