When attending in Geneva the conference about women as wine consumers in Europe, I was surprised by a finding common to all women in every country: the first criteria to buy a wine was the varietal, even before the price or the origin. This is a very “un-European” attitude as the European wine traditions are based on origins more than on varietals.
I do remember a funny incident happening in a Paris wine store owned by a typical middle-aged man. I walked in and asked him a bottle of viognier. The man looked at me puzzled for a few seconds and answered: “You mean, a bottle of Condrieu?” My turn to be puzzled: “Viognier is grown in other parts of the world besides Condrieu. I drank a very good viognier in California.” I’ll spare you the long discussion on the merits of viognier from other origins besides Condrieu!
What could be the explanation? Without being really “new” consumers, women are newer in wine buying than men. They might have a different wine culture acquired through word of mouth and tasting: women are known for their practical mind and fine tasting buds! But certainly closer to reality is the fact that varietals are easier to understand and master than origins. After all Cabernet is available in many places worldwide but will be so different from one place to an other. That’s what makes international drinking so fascinating: I love to buy 3 or 4 bottles of wine from different origins but of the same grape to taste and compare the differences. It’s like drinking the culture of an other country and traveling in your living room!
Does it mean varietal wines are a new international trend? It could be. I saw a few days ago in a French supermarket a “collection” of varietal wines in half bottles – as if the wine maker wasn’t quite sure of his wine “saleability”. Price was reasonable and quality acceptable. Did he understand the future of the wine industry or is he surfing on a new trend? Europeans are always slow to catch up in the new trends: for 20 years, the “New World” sold varietal wines but is now working on analyzing the “terroir” of their wines. In California, Gallo created his line of Sonoma wines at a much higher price than his mass market brands, explaining to consumers that the Sonoma wines are crafted in the respect of their origins. Europeans are now jumping in the “varietal wagon” that is so loose in the New World and rejecting what was their signature for centuries, the origin of the wine. Who is right? Who is wrong? Future will tell us!