Often when people first get into tasting wines, they feel that many wines taste alike but then as they get deeper into tasting various varietals they begin to notice the differences. But are the differences between the varietals began to disappear in order to satisfy the demands of marketing wines? Roger Dial has written an interesting piece for Appellation America
about varietal distinctiveness. In order to test whether or not various red wine varietals are starting to taste alike he gathered a bunch of wine enthusiasts for a tasting of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and Syrah. All the wines were Californian from designated AVAs, and as far as they knew 100 percent varietal. The blind tasting included one relatively high, and one relatively low alcohol version of each variety.
The results were interesting. The Pinot Noir won out with 100% recognition but even with the Pinot included in the stats, the overall varietal distinctiveness score from the expert panel was an unimpressive 43 percent. Without the Pinot in the equation, the varietal distinctiveness factor of the four remaining varietals shrunk to 29 percent. So what does this mean? Are California reds all blurring into one taste profile, a slightly sweet high alcohol fruit bomb? It may be that in the desire to make wines that appeal to a wide variety of palates that some individuality has been lost. It does make a fun tasting game to try at home with friends and see if you can determine which varietal is which. It also raises the question of whether or not varietal preference (as expressed most vehemently by Miles in "Sideways") has become more a question of brand recognition than of actual taste.