Appellation Distinctiveness = Market Suicide?


Last Friday I was privileged to participate in a tasting of Amador Zinfandels at Appellation America. It's a fascinating process, more geared at understanding the distinctiveness of what's happening in an appellation (both terroir and historical marketing influences) than just handing out medals (They do this, too.) This is one of the few tools wineries can use for longterm promotion rather than just moving the vintage on the shelves, and I hope AA will see submittals of the best regional wines, sold out or no.

Anywho, even I, who have been generally disdainful of appellation identity in California am forced to admit that if there is anywhere deserving of a local identity tantamount to, say, Roquefort cheese, it is Amador Zinfandel.

And as much as I beseech winemakers to knock it off with the excessive hangtime, already, I've got to grant that an historical position for these wines as truly the Amarone of the New World qualifies them, even behooves them, to produce the blowsy, overblown prune bombs (with more than a little residual sugar) for which they are justly known. I must admit those Shenandoah Zins were awfully good with a doobie of weed back in my twenties, and although I can't remember much of those experiences, the taste profile lingers.

Yet two of the four panelists had a different view. Largely unaware of the tradtion, they judged these wines on more generic terms, comparing to, say, your average Dry Creek Zin, and found them lacking, even alarming. And there you have it. Amador can't get started on the world stage simply because it's odd/distinctive. So unlike Roquefort, it actually isn't well known for its style unless you're an old fogey like me or a local day tourist from Stockton. So you either go global in a more generic style or you stay small and cheap for the locals.

I wish all the blogging and Internet lip service to distinctiveness translated into sales, but in truth, it doesn't. So what, pray tell, is the point of local distinctiveness?






Distinctiveness, is often just a story - you know, premium grapes, peak of ripeness, handcrafted with loving care by earthy artisans, etc, etc...
But there are some regions which make distinctive wines - not that every wine consumer looks for or appreciates the wines uniqueness.

At what point, though, does "distinctive" become a cover story for "poorly made"?
I think of Paso Robles wines when I hear the "distinctive" label bandied about as part of the marketing.
Yes there are Paso Robles wines which serve as shining examples of the marriage beween varietal and regional typicity. Others are oxidated, dried out, funky and spew VA. Does this make them distinct? YES. Does it make them good (in the context of the region and the global sectrum of wine)?




Appellation distinctiveness is a marketing fiction. I've attended dozens of such "perspective" tastings and under no circumstances do I think there is a "flavor" to the wines of a specific appellation.

I believe there is such thing as vineyard distinctiveness, and that's really only visible with world class winemaking.




Alder and Felicien
Go to Amador County. Go to Shenandoah Valley. Drink the red wine. Not only the Zin, but the Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Mourvedre, Syrah and whatever else you find. Keep on going up the road toward Mt. Aukum, and try some of the higher elevation wines for comparison. Play some pool at a biker bar. Maybe get a coupla tattoos. Drive up to Murpys and visit Millaire Winery's tasting room. They got lotsa Amador Zin, and other stuff, at great prices. Cruise home, but be sure to stop at the roadside fruit and vegetable stands along the way to stock up on real tomatoes and fresh corn. Then, tell me there's no recognizable regional character in the wine. If you can.
Clark- you are dead on with this one. Thank God Amador hasn't been "lucky" enough to be considered comparable to Dry Creek. OR anywhere in Europe. It may remind some of Amarone, but it's not Amarone. And, yes, Amador Zin still goes great with a fattie and a whole pan of walnut brownies. In which case, a little R.S. is a good thing. It is the ultimate campfire wine. 
Come to think of it, Alder and Felicien, sounds like you could probably benefit from that particular food/wine/herb triplicity yourselves. One warning, if you go- it's really really hot up there in Amador in the summer- like, way over 100. Don't forget to bring some cold beer. My wife calls it "the second circle of Hell". And she's from Manhattan, so, Hell, she knows from. It sounds like you maybe don't get out of Napa all that much, so I thought I'd warn you about the hot weather. (I hope you can take a little gentle teasing- no injury intended.)
Arthur- Should we judge a region by its bad wines, or by its good ones? I was in Virginia for two years. If I followed your lead in evaluating a region based on its worst wines, I would personally re-start the Civil War in order to get that state out of the Union. BUT- its best Viogniers are SUPERIOR wines by any measure. Its best Chardonnays are excellent. In a good vintage its best Bordeaux reds are very interesting, superbly balanced, and closer to Bordeaux than you might think. And Virginia Norton is an olfactory acid trip of a wine you just won't believe until you try it, and will never ever forget, even if you want to. Yeah, the bad wines ARE spectacularly vile. I don't drink those. If you are curious, Google "Best of Virginia". Peace, out.