In the classic romantic comedy "Annie Hall," Alvy (Woody Allen) meets Annie (Diane Keaton) at her door on their first date. She opens the door and he immediately kisses her, because, he says, they won't have to worry about a first kiss at the end of their date.
With that in mind, I'll give you this article's conclusion right up front: This will be my last regular wine piece for Mankato Magazine.
Why? (Not that it matters, but I suspect some followers of this column might want to know.)
Because, after 48 years associated with the wine business and even more years drinking it — yes, I started early — my tastes have become pretty narrow. And when one is a wine writer, this is not good.
In my articles you have not seen much about the wonderful wines of Chile, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand, for example. That's because today I do not favor them. Not that I didn't like them at one time. Indeed, when New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs first came to the U.S., I was a big proponent.
But my preferences have become very parochial, and I'm actually returning to my tasting roots.
As a child, when my parents served wines for special occasions, those were Pouilly-Fuissé and Beaujolais from France. Today, my favorite everyday whites are vintner grown and produced Chardonnays from the Mâcon, the most notable of which is Pouilly-Fuissé. And my go-to reds often come from the Beaujolais villages of Brouilly, Côte de Brouilly, Régnié, Chiroubles, Fleurie, Saint-Amour, Chénas, Juliénas, Morgon and Moulin-à-Vent.
You can't find these wines in most liquor stores because they are produced in small quantities by family producers. Yet good wine shops have them for less than $25 per bottle, some even less than $20. In other words, they're a steal.
Compare these unique wines to the commercially promoted and corporately produced Chardonnays, Cabernets and Pinot Noirs that dominate retail wine shelves and restaurant wine lists today.
I'm a small-family winery fanatic. This is the way the business was when I first started drinking wines, except for a few large domestic producers like Gallo and some importers. Since then, much consolidation has occurred in the wine business. Former family wineries have been absorbed by huge international behemoths. What's left are familiar labels but no uniqueness, no sense of the soil, no obvious mark of the artisan winemaker.
That said, there is an upside to the wine industry today, and that is the fact that wine quality has never been better. Wines are cleaner, fewer chemicals are used in their production, grapes are grown more sustainably. Further, grape varieties are now being matched to the right terroirs.
The reason why chardonnay and pinot noir are grown in Burgundy is because of centuries of trial and error, eliminating other varietals. The same with gamay in Beaujolais, syrah in the northern Rhône, grenache in the southern Rhône, cabernet sauvignon and merlot in Bordeaux, riesling in Germany, nebbiolo in northeastern Italy, sangiovese in Tuscany and nerello mascalese in the volcanic soils of Mount Etna in Sicily.
In the New World, we now know that cabernet sauvignon excels in Napa Valley but riesling, once planted widely there, falters; that zinfandel and pinot noir do well in the Russian River Valley; that pinot noir shines in the eastern hills of Oregon's Willamette Valley; that syrah and cabernet sauvignon yield bold, classy wines in eastern Washington. Similarly, malbec reaches its pinnacle in the Andean highlands of eastern Argentina and shiraz does the same in southeastern Australia.
Many years ago, I tasted one of the first vintages of Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay. I was working for a small distributor, and we were considering taking on the brand. We liked the Chardonnay but weren't crazy about the other wines, so we said no. This, of course, turned out to be a mistake, and the distribution company eventually went out of business (though not for that reason).
Since then I have often poo-pooed K-J Chardonnay in my writings due to its nauseating ubiquity on restaurant wine lists and retail shelves. After all, how good can a wine be if almost 3 million cases are sold each year?
Yet, I confess that I bought a glass of it recently at Red Lobster. Yes, it was vastly overpriced — the glass cost as much as a bottle in a store — but you know what? I actually enjoyed it.
Perhaps my palate is going. I don't know. In the least it gives me another excuse to bow out from writing this monthly column.
In French, "au revoir" doesn't mean "goodbye." It means "see you again." So, on that note, I'll say au revoir till we meet once more, perhaps over a glass of wine.