In his relentless campaign to build the reputation of California wine, Robert Mondavi liked to set Napa Valley against Europe in comparative tastings. According to witnesses, he would badger guests into conceding that while European wine was often good - California wines were "just a bit fruitier" -- and, by implication, just a bit better.
Influencing Americans to privilege fruit above all else gave Mondavi an edge since the ripeness that came naturally in California was hard to replicate in most of Europe. As his views gained ground, the range of flavors and aromas considered acceptable in wine diminished. Secondary flavors, the kind that experienced tasters often describe in earth, soil, and mineral terms were either deselected in the vineyard or, if present, hidden behind stout walls of primary fruit.
It may be premature to announce the dawn of a post-Mondavi era, but there’s no question that a backlash against fruit-driven wines is gathering force. A cadre of young sommeliers infatuated with the scent of rocks, stones, and dirt are packing their lists with mineral-tinged wines and and cajoling diners to take them for a spin.
Wines with advanced degrees in geology are winning shelf space in edgier retail shops, too. In Wednesday's Food section we take a look at the phenomenon, chat with some local somms about what they're up to and why, discuss what science has to say about how flavors of gravel and granite make their appearance in wine (hint: it's probably not what you think), and suggest a few rock stars for you to try on your ownStephen Meuse can be reached at email@example.com