Do you remember when you were twenty-something and you knew everything? Back when being “authentic” was of paramount importance? I do, and the view was nice from that high horse where I could easily call out any poser in a punk bar. And now that I’m far from 20, it’s hard not to be annoyed by today’s 20-somethings: the hipsters. With the preening of civil war-era beards, the banjo music, and eschewing modernity while chained to social media; they’re a tough group to like- no different from any elder assessing the newest crop of “kids.” But there is one thing I would like to thank them for and that is the “authenticity” they seek in wine.
It’s glorious for wine nerds everywhere that millennial wine drinkers are more adventurous than generations past and that they insist on something different. According to Nielsen data, millennials are drinking more wine than the rest of us did in our 20’s, and they’re drinking very different wine, actively seeking out obscure or hyper-regional wines. California cabernet is a bore, chardonnay a complete yawn, and don’t even try to suggest a pinot grigio (puh-leese! *rolls eyes). Young people today would rather roll the dice on a Txakoli from the Basque region of Spain than the latest iteration of sauvignon blanc. They’ll also tell you all about how this crisp, sometimes fizzy white wine is perfect with the grilled fish, cured meats, and tapas dishes so popular in Northern Spain. They might also tell you that the Basque have been making this wine since the 1500’s when much of their Celtic-influenced mythology was being appropriated to fit into Roman Christian folklore- and this is pretty much where hipsters loose their audience.
However, thanks to them and their interest in the undiscovered gems of the wine world, the rest of us can find more and more interesting stuff because buyers will now have it on the shelves. Now, the grapes we’ve never heard of which are steeped in culture and tradition are all the rage thanks to the young bearded ones. Lucky for us, right? But wait, there’s more.
The fact that these lesser known wines aren’t from wine growing regions whose cache equals more cash per acre (i.e. Napa at 5 million/acre), they often cost a bit less. This works out well for recent college grads and makes it less painful to discover that Teroldego from Italy’s Alto Adige region might not be your wine. (It’s sort of like Zinfandel with a bit more acidity- great with food)
Of course, identifying “authentic” wine could devolve into hours of philosophical discussion and is one I relish yet have no one willing to take me up on it. Authenticity can be subjective. For some it can mean minimal manipulation or processing by human beings. For others, authenticity could mean a wine based on centuries of tradition and culture. Still others may qualify anything not mass produced as more authentic.
Since the opposite of authentic is fake, in my book all wine is technically authentic, but here are a couple I’ve tried that have an interesting story or provenance you might want to consider
the next time you’re entertaining young wine fans- or anyone with a beard.
Charles Joguet Chinon, Franc de Pied- Chinon is an appellation in Loire, France known for its cabernet franc. It’s single-vineyard and the vineyard is tiny at 1 hectare (2.47 acres). What makes it so great is that it was planted in 1982 with vines that were not grafted onto American rootstock. This is incredibly rare because almost all the vines in Europe make use of American roots and have done so ever since it was discovered that our roots are naturally resistant to phylloxera, a devastating aphid which killed off almost half France’s vines in the 1800’s. So this is wine made from grapes grown on 100% French cabernet franc vines. The vineyard is susceptible to phylloxera, for which there still is no cure, which decimates yield. Plus, Joguet will only release wines in years he deems worthy of bottling so the rareness factor here is great.
Barone Pizzini Nature Franciacorta: Everyone knows Prosecco as Italy’s bubbly, but few are acquainted with Franciacorta. Comparing the two is a bit of a disservice to Franciacorta which is truly world-class sparkling wine. No offense to Prosecco, of course, but they are completely different wines, made differently from different grapes. While Prosecco gets its bubbles in a tank, Franciacorta is made the same way Champagne is, with the secondary bubble-producing fermentation taking place in the bottle. The grapes are chardonnay, pinot noir (nero in Italy), and a bit of pinot bianco; as opposed to mainly glera in Prosecco. According to the Franciacorta wine consortium, sparkling wine was made in the area since the 16th century for local consumption, but it wasn’t until a 1960’s revival that interest in the area’s sparkling wines became a realistic business possibility. Almost as interesting as the wine; the name Franciacorta has its own, slightly unclear history. First used to describe the area near Brescia in 1277, Frainciacorta is believed by some to be a combination of Francia (France) and Cotre (court) named for the presence of the French king Charles 1 of Naples who stayed there with his troops in the 13th century. Others believe the name is from the time Clunaic monks lived in the area and enjoyed tax-free status: the name being a corruption of the words “francae” meaning taxes, and “curtes” meaning communes. If you do try a Franciacorta, Barone Pizzini is a tre-bicchieri award winner from the prestigious Italian wine guide called “Gambero Rosso.” Bonus: it’s organic, so it fits that definition of “authentic” as well.