Once upon a time, French, Italian and German wines monopolized the discussion of fine wine in the United States. California, New York, Oregon and Washington wine production hadn't yet blossomed, so most fine-dining wine lists and big-city wine shops were populated with wines only the well-traveled could pronounce.
That exclusivity fostered a snob appeal that once made fine wine seem inaccessible to many. The combination of an improvement in New World wines and a younger generation that had a desire to move up from jug wines made in California eventually rooted out most of the snobbery. Today, wine with dinner is an everyday ritual in many households.
But there's a new snobbery lurking about that threatens to spoil the simple pleasure of wine. It's the "natural" wine movement that has gained a bit of traction in recent years. Though there is no official definition of natural wine, the general idea is that there is no intervention by the winemaker to adjust balance or color or correct flaws.
Hence, many "natural" wines are on the rustic side, and some are deeply flawed. Still, they have fans. I'm not one, but my position on personal taste in wine is to live and let live. The natural-wine crowd doesn't see it that way, and it reacted with ugly rants after The New York Times published an op-ed on March 17 that celebrated the technological advances that have narrowed the gap between commercial wines more handcrafted wines.
The author, Bianca Bosker, was spot on but took a pounding on social media for expressing her point of view. The dogma directed at her was shocking.
I have news for the natural-wine crowd: Most families can't afford to put a handcrafted wine — natural or otherwise — on the table every night. The technological advances Bosker championed have made high-volume commercial wines taste better without substantially raising the cost. Think about this: If a family of four saving for the kids' college fund opens a $10 wine every night, the annual tab would be $3,650 plus tax.
For most people who enjoy a glass or two with dinner, the tremendous improvement in so-called commercial wines would seem to be a very good thing. But there's a new breed of wine snob who wants you to feel bad about that.
M. Chapoutier "Les Vignes de Bila-Haut" 2016, Pays d'Oc IGP, France ($15) — This absolutely delicious rose from the Languedoc region in the south of France is from the M. Chapoutier family of wines. Chapoutier is one of the three or four finest producers in the Rhone Valley, but it applies the same care and respect to the wines they make elsewhere. This is a refreshing rose that exhibits aromas of strawberry and orange peel. The finish is bright and crisp, which is largely the appeal of dry rose in the warm summer months. Rating: 90.
Tenuta Sassoregale 2016 Vermentino, Maremma Toscana DOC, Italy ($18) — I must confess, vermentino is one of my favorite white wines from Italy, especially in summer. It's light and refreshing. It has the acidity to hang in with tomato-based appetizers, pairs well with shellfish and is easy on the wallet. This one shows a floral note and aromas of green citrus. Rating: 90.
Chateau Montelena 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, Calistoga ($58) — This is winemaker Matt Crafton's first vintage from harvest to bottle at Montelena, and it bodes well for the future. The vintage delivers ripe aromas of blackberry and cassis, subtle hints of wood spice, and notes of cedar and graphite that are generally markers in exceptional cabernet. Well-balanced and richly layered, it's a keeper that should improve in the cellar over the next 10 years. Rating: 95.
Kettmeir 2015 Muller Thurgau, Alto Adige DOC, Italy ($22) — Muller-Thurgau is one of Italy's most underrated white wines. This rich, juicy white thrives in the cool climate of the Alto Adige region that used to be part of Austria before World War I. This vintage from Kettmeir exhibits aromas of peach and lemon, shows a nutty side and finishes with a hint of pepper. Rating: 92.
Follow Robert on Twitter at @wineguru. To find out more about Robert Whitley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.