Is fruit necessary?
Today's hypothesis: Wine should taste like fruit.
Do I hear any argument to the contrary?
This seems like a simple truth, since wine is after all nothing more than fermented fruit juice. And yet, as with so many of the seemingly obvious principles about wine, the more we focus on this one, the fuzzier it gets.
For one thing, too much fruit can be too much of a good thing, if the wine maker hasn't handled it with skill. If we seek wines of complexity and balance, we soon find that the fruitiest wines may be the most one-dimensional. After all, the term "fruit bomb" is not usually meant as a compliment, often applied to wines with in-your-face, over-the-top fruitiness, the vinous equivalent of yelling too loud.
What's more, some of the most sought-after aroma and flavor characteristics in wine stray far from fruit. Many lovers of New World Chardonnay enjoy butter, vanilla and spice. Those who fancy the wines of Southern France - or even the pricey Burgundy - enjoy earthy, leathery, even "barnyard" flavors as a condiment that enhances fruit. Sherry offers delicious scents of walnuts and pecans, and the warm red wines based on Mourvedre often show an earthiness that can range from tree-bark and "forest floor" aromas to a wild "animal" scent.
Fine aged wines, too, gain attention because the chemical processes that occur in the bottle over time add subtle and interesting flavors to their natural fruit.
Turning to the wines we feature today, one hallmark of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc for me is a green and herbal green-chile quality that's more like vegetables than fruit; while many Austrian whites - in a delicious quality shared with many wines from Alsace and the Loire - bespeak a stony, steely minerality that prompts their fanciers to joke, "Why drink fruit when we can drink rocks?"
So perhaps we should restate today's premise this way: Fruit is important in wine. But so are all the other delicious flavors that result from the land and the wine maker's hand; and this helps explain why most of us fine wine much more interesting than just-plain fruit juice.
Bründlmayer 1999 Ried Loiser Berg Kamptal Grüner Veltliner ($13.99)
Straw color, clear and very pale. Distinct mineral scents, a stony quality with wet wool and delicate floral overtones. Full and ripe in flavor, tart and dry; fresh white fruit surrounded by nuances that follow the nose. Crisp and citric lemony snap in a long finish. Complexity, balance and cleansing acidity add up to a wine with exceptional affinity for a wide range of foods. U.S. importer: Michael Skurnik Wines, Syosset, N.Y.; a Terry Theise Estate Selection. (Feb. 17, 2003)
FOOD MATCH: A light but piquant lemon-garlic reduction brings up a pan-roasted chicken breast to meet the wine.
VALUE: Unusual complexity and balance for the price; good value.
WHEN TO DRINK: Grüner Veltliner is an unusually ageworthy white; this one is little changed over the past year and will last and improve for several years more.
WEB LINK: Click to Willi Bründlmayer winery's Website (in English) at
Omaka Springs 2002 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc ($13.59)
Clear, pale greenish-gold in color, this wine's aroma is focused on pleasant, citric lemon-lime enhanced with a whiff of the green chile pepper that's characteristic of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. Full and fresh, abundant citrus is given structure by zippy acidity; good balance and texture, with those appetizing green-chile notes in a lingering aftertaste. U.S. importer: T.G.I.C. importers Inc., Woodland Hills, Calif. (Feb. 5, 2003)
FOOD MATCH: A simple omelet filled with asparagus and mild green chile peppers and a little sharp Cheddar made a natural match with the "green" character in the wine.
VALUE: Good value; compares favorably to the more expensive Cloudy Bay.
WHEN TO DRINK: I prefer to drink New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc within a year or two after its release, while its exuberant fruit remains fresh.Administrivia
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Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2003