Heated discussion ensued in response to Eric Asimov's indictment of California wines for what he termed "sweetness." (See http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/19/dining/19pour.html?_r=2&oref=slogin&oref=slogin)
A large number of responses ensued, defending our honor.
The missing element in this discussion is the importance of mineral energy. Old world wines currently outshine their New World counterparts by manifesting an energetic “back end,” a finish full of drive, race, nerve which gives an overall impression of completeness, breeding and depth. This is often confused with acidity, but that energy is in the front of the palate.
It’s increasingly clear to me from many experiments that minerality in the finish is associated with living soil. I believe Claude Bourguignon’s contention that mycorrhizal fungi associated with vine rootlets can facilitate uptake of trace minerals which the vine itself cannot import. This requires a complete soil ecology including healthy covercrop and earthworms. You have only to taste the difference between a hydroponic tomato and one from your garden to grasp the importance of living soil.
In areas lacking summer rainfall, Californians and South Australians need to work at living soil much harder than the French or even vineyards of Long Island or Niagara. And only a few well informed banks and tourists realize the importance of “weeds” -- hence the manicured, freshly disked, pesticided appearance of most Napa vineyards.
The resulting simplicity and shallowness in our corporate wines, combined with the hotness and bitterness which elevated alcohol imparts (see my blog grapecrafter.com) leaves many New World wines lacking in ways you point to. They may enter the mouth with delightful rich fruit, only to fall flat half way across the palate. But as California winemakers catch on to this aspect, our wines are beginning to manifest the sense of nobility and breeding we expect from the French, together with the inimitable American spirit of expressiveness and generosity. Look around some, and taste our future.