VQA system fosters mediocrity
At a wine tasting in Ottawa the other day, I was poured a very good riesling. I sniffed it, tasted it, spat it.
No question in my mind that this was a quality wine, and no question that it was a riesling. I have no doubt that if it had been poured blind, I’d have identified it as a riesling. I know that’s an easy thing to say — there’s nothing simpler than identifying a wine when you can see the label — but this was clearly riesling.
So I was stunned when the winemaker told me that the wine had been rejected by the VQA (Vintners’ Quality Alliance) panel for VQA certification, and that one of the reasons was that the wine lacked typicity — that it didn’t have the characteristics typical of the grape variety it’s made from. It was, in fact, submitted and rejected four times.
This struck me as another argument why the VQA system should be abandoned. The members of the tasting panels, who I’m sure are solid wine professionals, merely apply the VQA rules, and one of those rules is that wines must be “typical” to be approved. Why this riesling failed on that score is totally beyond me but, in my view, the whole “typicity” rule should go.
One of the things that wine professionals constantly bemoan is the “homogenization” of wine. It’s said that the big multinational producers turn out dull, mass-produced wines with no personality, that Old World producers are trying to make wines in New World styles, and vice versa, and that the search for a 90-plus score from Robert Parker has led producers to make wines in styles he prefers.
Whether all that is true, partly true or not true, I don’t think there’s much doubt we should be rewarding well-made wines that are distinctive and expressive of something individual, whether it’s the winemaker, the place the wine is from, or a combination of the two.
“Typicity” puts winemakers in a straightjacket, and tells them that their wines have to fall within a certain range of styles. Outside that range, the VQA says, we don’t want it.
We can be thankful there was no VQA New Zealand, when that outrageously pungent New Zealand sauvignon blanc hit the market in the 1990s.
It was nothing like any sauvignon seen at the time, from top places like Bordeaux and Sancerre. VQA Argentina would have put a quick end to that big, fruity malbec, nothing like the real stuff made in Cahors. And don’t get me started on California pinot noir. Typical (meaning Burgundian) in the 1970s? I don’t think so.
Meanwhile, I taste dozens of VQA wines I would have difficulty identifying blind – not because I’m such a bad taster, but because they taste generic. Others are just sub-par in quality. Under Ontario’s VQA rules, it’s too often a race to the mediocre middle, and I think it’s time the race was cancelled and a sensible wine law put in its place.
Beringer ‘Founders’ Estate’ Chardonnay 2010
From California, this is a very attractive style of chardonnay. The ripe fruit flavours are solid and layered, and they’re harnessed to bright acidity that makes for a juicy texture. It’s very versatile with food; try it with dishes featuring poultry, pork, or white fish. 13.9-per-cent alcohol; $16.95 (534230)
Terra Barossa Merlot 2010
This dry merlot from South Australia delivers concentrated flavours that are fruit-forward, but show good complexity and structure. It’s well balanced and medium bodied, and goes well with grilled or roasted red meats, burgers and well-seasoned sausages. 14-per-cent alcohol; $15.95 (218826)
BBQ Barbera 2011
This is a good price for the quality in the bottle. It’s a barbera from Piedmont that expresses verve and vibrancy in its texture and delivers solid flavours from start to finish. Sure, drink it with barbecued food, but it’s more versatile than that. Think pasta. 13.5-per-cent alcohol; $9.95 (234864)
Beringer Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
A quality California cabernet, vintage after vintage, this is a serious but very drinkable red. He fruit shows very good complexity and depth, and the texture is smooth, rich and fresh. With moderate tannins, it’s a natural for red meats.14.3-per-cent alcohol; $34.95 (352583, Vintages Essential)