Friday, May 10, 2013


As I walk through
This wicked world
Searchin' for light in the darkness of insanity.

I ask myself
Is all hope lost?
Is there only pain and hatred, and misery?
- Elvis Costello, What’s So Funny About Peace, Love, and Understanding?
So what is it that is so bad about chardonnay and merlot? Can’t we all just get along? Yes, trends demonstrate that chardonnay and merlot are losing market share each year. Wine writers roll their eyes, ugh, not another chardonnay or another merlot they groan.
And I am reminded by Elvis Costello’s words again, “What’s so funny about peace, love, and understanding?” The context of course is that the phrase was eventually ridiculed, not because the sentiment was wrong, but because the hippie lifestyle became easily lampooned, and a bunch of that movement all went on to find jobs, have 2.5 kids, and buy BMWs. But the sentiment itself wasn’t faulty. Only the lifestyle braggadocio of the crowd who espoused it.
People have been beating up on chardonnay and merlot for years and years. And not just Long Island Chardonnays and Merlots. My toniest of brother-in-laws, up in Maine, and his wife who have followed every trendy chef and every hip food movement in last two decades, announced proudly seven to ten years ago that their little foodie mantra was ABC when it came to wine. “Anything but Chardonnay.” They snubbed their nose at a Kistler Chardonnay and a Sherwood House Chardonnay, and any other high end chardonnay I had in my cellar.
I thought, ‘What my father would say to such a thing?”
“OK. To hell with you. You can die of thirst,” or something of that sort I think might have been his retort with a shrug. And he would have poured the wine for himself, and begun the dinner. Actually, his language might have been a tad courser than that. (BTW, my father has no idea who or what Kistler or Sherwood House are….love him as I do. He is not finicky when it comes to wine). It’s not that I didn’t have other whites in the cellar, it was the arrogance and stupidity of the stance that offended me.
Now, I am down with saying, hey, let’s try something different. Let’s try an Albarino, a Viognier, a Riesling, and Gewürztraminer, etc. Hell, a few weekends ago, I tried a wine made from a blend of Soviet era white grapes and I wanted to plant them immediately. I am always ready to try a new wine, or a new blend. That’s opening up the palate and seeing what else the wine world has to offer. That’s exciting!
So why have these two wines fallen down? Or have they? Chardonnay is simply slowing down because it suffered from over exposure. A number of California and Australian wineries made tons of inexpensive, sugary, buttery blobs they called chardonnay. It was THE white wine of the masses. And even as it was being mass produced, it was an insult to the winemakers who were making a quality chardonnay.
In fact, Chardonnay was planted copiously in New York state long before the grape came into fashion. It was planted by experts because of two reasons: to emulate the great wines of Europe, and because it grew well here. The ascent of Chardonnay didn't really hit until the mid-1980's. By then the Gold Seal vineyards were already 30 years old. The Hargraves planted in 1974. The rest of the North Fork planted many of its Chardonnay vineyards between 1978 and the early 1980s. Merlot followed the same pattern as the Chardonnay in the North Fork. So Long Island wasn’t following a trend, they were looking to make classic, timeless wines.
Now, there are classic Chardonnays that are some of the best wines in the world. A Channing Daughters, a Sherwood House, a Lenz, or a Kistler, a Hanzell, a Palhmeyer, or a Puligny-Montrachet, or a Macon Villages are wonderful wines. This is not in dispute. I have poured Sherwood and Lenz for some of the biggest Francophiles on the east coast with incredible reaction. In blind tastings too.
These white wines are indeed works of art And there are more than that that belong to stand alongside of those, or maybe even ahead of those. I can’t include all the great chardonnays of the world. The list would be too long. Great wine is great wine. You don’t have to love it. Some people like Renoir, some people like Pollack. Some don’t like either.
Likewise, as wine made its ascent in the US, to making us the number one consumer of wine in the world, Merlot was the Chardonnay of the red side of the list. Lots of medium bodied reds, loaded up with vanilla and sugar made for vast tankers of inoffensive quaffable reds for large dinner parties and Thanksgiving. And people drank them up by the box load.
And of course, the movie that set the trend for Pinot Noir for almost a decade, did it at the expense of Merlot. The movie made it almost a sin to drink Merlot in public. Foodies rolled their eyes like an army of art critics, turning their backs on the Hudson River School in the 1900s. No self-respecting wine person geek could write something nice about Merlot.  You needed ne grapes, new countries. Just not Merlot again.
Recently, Steve Heimoff wrote in 2012, “Neilsen again reported “that Merlot has the single largest consumer base of any varietal wine in the U.S.” Not only that: “More American households purchase Merlot than any other wine variety, red or white.””
Would you really turn your nose up at a Lenz, a Bedell, a Raphael, a Sherwood House, a Wolffer, a Duckhorn, a Cakebread, a Freemark Abbey, a Pomerol, a Saint Emillion?
Tasting fine wines is what life is all about. The chardonnays and merlots of this world are some of the best wines man has ever made. That mass producers have filled the marketplace with plonk is not to give up on the best wines you can experience. Fresh brook trout with a Puligny-Montrachet, a roast pork with a Pomerol, a Bedell with a Penne Arabiata, these are wonderful food and wine experiences.
Long Island makes lots of great wines. Pinot Noir. Sauvignon Blanc. Some of the best Rose’s in the world. But they also make some of the best Chardonnays and Merlots in North America. I think Long Island should be celebrating those.
So, why not try a few of the really good Chardonnays and Merlots, and stretch yourself… no, treat yourself! Experience some of the great works of art from the east coast when it comes to Chardonnay and Merlot. Here’s twenty-seven wines you definitely need to try. And remember, there’s nothing funny 'bout peace love and understanding.
Lenz NY
Sherwood House NY
Paumanok Vineyards NY
Bedell Cellars NY
Channing Daughters NY
Millbrook Vineyards NY
Oak Summit NY
Whitecliff Chardonnay NY
Jonathan Edwards CT
Sharpe Hill CT
Unionville Vineyards NJ
Jefferson Vineyards VA
Linden Chardonnay VA
Barrel Oak VA
Bedell Cellars NY
Wolffer Estate NY
Raphael NY
Paumanok Vineyards NY
Pellegrini Vineyards NY
Lamoreaux Landing NY
Dr. Konstatin Frank NY
Millbrook Vineyard HV
Hudson-Chatham Winery NY
Hopewell Valley Vineyards NJ
Bordeleau Vineyards MD
Boordy Merlot Reserve MD
Barboursville VA
Pollack Merlot VA