My name is Carlo DeVito, and I am the author of East Coast Wineries: A Complete Guide from Maine to Virginia published by Rutgers University Press. This blog is dedicated to primarily east coast wines and wineries including Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia. It will also feature products and information from other regions.
Friday, May 10, 2013
WHAT’S SO FUNNY ABOUT MERLOT, CHARDONNAY, AND UNDERSTANDING? 27 East Coast Wines You Must Try!
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
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
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
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
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.