Just What IS the Difference Between American and European Wines?

September 2, 2010

What is the difference between American and European wine? That’s like trying to describe the difference between American and European people: it can only be done with broad, sweeping generalizations. For example, men in America generally aren’t seen wearing berets (outside of a poetry reading), but in France, it’s commonplace. Women in America tend to shave their legs, but European women seem to prefer the more natural leg-warmer look. Drivers in America tend to use an organized system for navigating the streets, while drivers in Italy, well, let’s just say the automobile is probably something the Italians never should have been told about. Yes, these generalizations tend to be true but at the same time, there are plenty of exceptions. Generalizing about wines from the two continents is exactly the same, that’s why it’s so difficult to describe them; just when you think you’ve got it nailed, you find a wine that smashes the stereotype to pieces like your buddy showing up at the football game in a beret. In spite of all the exceptions, I’m going to take a stab at it.

 Wines tend to take on the personality of the land they come from. Therefore, American wines tend to be larger-than-life bold. European wines are often more subtle, more old-world refined. American wines show the boldness of a delicious fresh fruit salad while European wines resemble the understated complexity of an herb potpourri. In European wines you taste the earth; in American wines you taste the sun. Think of it this way: one is Pam Anderson while the other is Kate Winslet. Both have attributes that are desirable, but each displays them differently.

 When you grow up drinking one style (at least from the age of 21), it is sometimes difficult to make the change to the other. It’s kind of the taste bud’s equivalent of trying to change to the metric system. For that reason, I chose this week’s recommendation. It uses elements of both styles as seamlessly as a hotdog fondue.   

 Santa Duc Les, Vieilles Vigne 2007, Cotes du Rhone ($15.99):  This is France’s version of a Cadillac. SDL keeps all the old-world character and charm of a Citroen Duck but it’s got the big, bold, in your face charisma of an Escalade. I tasted flint and graphite and it’s a testament to a winemaker who can make those flavors (flavours?) taste delicious.

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