From Dictionary.com: Cool: adjective 1. moderately cold; neither warm nor cold: 2. not excited; calm; composed; under control.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
Cool : (aesthetic) “Something regarded as cool is an admired aesthetic of attitude, behavior, comportment, appearance and style, influenced by and a product of the Zeitgeist. It has associations of composure and self-control and often is used as an expression of admiration or approval.
In his seminal text Facing East from Indian Country: A Native History of Early America, Dr. Daniel Richter presents an intriguing narrative of early colonial history from the Native American point of view. The reader is asked to imagine what Native Americans thought when they first saw European settlers coming ashore. Richter essentially turns the tables on the Euro-centric version of American history. From their perspective, the native peoples lived in the familiar Old World and the strange white-skinned visitors were the ones from a brand New World, building on historian Carl Becker’s famous assertion that history is often “an imaginative creation.”
The dichotomy that exists between the Old and New World has been ingrained in the wine lexicon for decades. Old World wines are the product of European experience and taste, grown in less than perfect conditions dictated by agricultural evolution, terroir and tradition. Rather than referring to a homogeneous style, the term Old World describes an eclectic category, with grape varieties, viticultural techniques and winemaking practices adapted around their unique climates and landscapes.
Conversely, New World wines are described as grown in warmer climates, with dark, inky extraction, high levels of alcohol and overtly ripe fruit. New World philosophy generally places less emphasis on terroir, and more on the preservation of varietal fruit character, believing that the appropriate use of science and technology in the vineyard and winery can fix any flaws. Compared to New World wines, Old World wines tend to be lower in alcohol and hence more elegant and refreshing, with less extraction and a natural balance. Old World wines have been around a long time and are considered the archetype for many grape varieties. But like the Eastern Indians that Dr. Richter envisioned, East Coast winemakers are beginning to turn this long held state of affairs upside down; the wine districts in region of the New World where our country began cannot be considered “New” anymore.
Often, the cultural zeitgeist in the U.S. drifts from west to east – with trends developed and designed in California eventually making their way to the right coast. With wine however, the West seems to be more of a follower than a leader. We’ve seen it before, with California producers looking for love in all the wrong places – from the barrel-fermented Chardonnay euphoria of the 1980’s to the steamy yet doomed love affair with Merlot in the 90’s and more recently, the geeky young-love nerd fest with Pinot Noir. All these dalliances collapsed eventually, with California leaving each of their old flames crumpled in a heap on the bed, never once taking any responsibility for the failure of the relationship.
Over last 10 years, California seemed to be maturing and looked like it was going to settle down with a full-blown commitment to terroir and to furthering their fruit-forward, extracted (and often delicious) style. But the wandering eye of the West Coast now has a new muse – one that is the complete opposite of their long term partner. She is ethereal and elegant, refreshing and low in alcohol; she is European in style and grace, reminiscent of the Old World. One would have thought California was just too old for this anymore. They now claim that these are the kinds of wines they are supposed to make and can make better than anyone else – and we’re supposed to believe it.
Why is this happening? Simply put, wine consumers have become tired of high alcohol, overly extracted wines. They want variety and choice, but mainly they want sincerity, purity and something they can actually drink with a meal. I describe this trend as a maturation of the wine consumer – they’ve become secure enough in their own taste buds to no longer impress anyone. We’re seeing a higher evolution of the consumer palate leading to a more serious level of wine (and food) appreciation. This trend is especially strong in younger wine drinkers who are unimpressed by the Robert Parkers and the Wine Spectators of the world but instead want to explore and make up their own mind.
Ironically, nobody’s covered this phenomenon better than Matt Kramer at Wine Spectator. In 2011, Mr. Kramer stated that America’s wine palate is slowly trending toward lower alcohol, crisp and elegant wines. More recently, he wrote:
“California wines have changed…emerging from a longstanding and still powerful culture that prized power over finesse, strength over subtlety. As a culture begins to both value and pay for nuance, refinement and subtlety—wines change too. Anyone who visits California’s or Oregon’s best wine producers cannot help but notice that discussion about just these sorts of wines now is universal. This change is in the air.
He goes on the state quite assuredly:
“We’re seeing this in a growing interest in, and celebration of, wines made from grapes picked at lower ripeness levels (which consequently means lower alcohol levels, as well). Do such wines dominate? Not yet. But are they, however slowly, beginning to transform the wine culture? Count on it.”
The big problem with all of this is that the climate of California, Australia and other New World regions can’t easily produce this style of wine. In fact it’s getting more difficult to do so as our climate continues to change. Mind you it can be done – but not naturally. The West Coast push to produce lower alcohol wine started in the 1990′s with the use of spinning cone technology, eventually evolving into the now common practice of adding water to grape juice. But let’s be honest – the current trend in California (and other historically hot-climate regions) to produce wines lower in alcohol and higher in acid is based not on a dedication to terroir, but on a calculated, cynical manipulation of wine in the cellar that will meet the new market expectations. It seems the more things change in the New World, the more they stay the same.
The grand irony in this discussion is that East Coast regions like the North Fork of Long Island have produced aromatic, elegant, and low alcohol wines for almost 40 years – completely naturally – with ever increasing quality and little need for winemaker intervention. Our style has never wavered – we have a dedicated, monogamous relationship with crisp aromatic whites and soft, elegant reds – all with moderate amounts of alcohol and refreshing minerality. Thankfully for us, we don’t have to change to become fashionable. It’s what our vineyards genuinely produce and the wine we sincerely create. It’s what our terroir does all by itself – and it’s the coolest wine style going at the moment. We may not always be hip, but we’ll always be steady. It’s a long-term commitment we have going.
New York has always been where the best information, inventions, food, and fashions have come to be tested and accepted. The growing popularity of low alcohol, cool climate wines continues to rise in this country and is not going away. We know from our great reception in the New York City marketplace – and because our wines are now being copied by our friends in the West – that we have passed the test. Now we need more people to learn about what we do.
Perhaps there is a lesson we can learn from the Native Americans of Dr. Richter’s text – that the New World is not quite what it seems to be. We make wine in the oldest part of America – our country’s historic birthplace – in an entirely new style that is all our own. This requires a new definition along with a new nom de plume – one that breaks with the common dogma and accurately describes our region. It’s an edgy, temperate zone of four seasons, unpredictable rainfall, and cool ripening conditions. It’s a place near the sea with fertile soils, mild temperatures and lots of sunshine – all wrapped up in a distinctive New York groove. It’s a place like nowhere else on earth.
I like to call it – the Cool New World.