It seems no matter how many centuries we've been around that Americans lack a certain self-confidence internationally. While perhaps not a big deal when it comes to food and wine, this attitude had caused more than a few foreign policy disasters and wars. We don't need to go into that here as there are a lot more political blogs than wine blogs.
This lack of vinous confidence despite decades of evidence to the contrary seems to have spawned two groups of fine wine consumers. The first group are the radical right wing winos who rant that big, bold American wines are the best and damn terroir, while the winey left wing socialists wax poetic about the intellectually superior wines from Europe. What both of these groups miss is the fact that American wines have come a long way baby. We make great wines here, but what we don't make (or try to make) anymore are European wines. The insecure, copycat days are gone and American winemakers make wines that are great, but different. Different is the important word as our wines have developed their own personality. You can like it or not, but that individuality is making American wines as exciting as European wines - in their own way.
Unfortunately the exciting Portland Oregon dining scene still lacks the confidence to appreciate the exciting diversity of wines from the Northwest. In their own backyard some of the world's finest wines are being grown, but restaurateurs can't get out of the confines of Portland to really taste and understand their own local wines. The really upsetting aspect of this is that it's hard to think of a restaurant scene that is more committed to local produce, but then features wines from 5000 miles away with food that they insist is local and sustainable. You can read my comments on this topic in my column in the Oregon Wine Press: Eat Local? Drink Local!.
Gone are the days when you have to feature European wines to have a great wine list. I suppose part of this problem is the fact that the best small European estates are represented by passionate importers like Joe Dressner who can market them as a whole bigger than the sum of its parts, while American wineries must go it alone. These dedicated importers give small European producers a bigger-than-life image due to their passionate sales efforts on their behalf. Small American wineries can barely afford a sales manager much less the travel and entertainment budget of a importer representing dozens of producers nationally. Because of this they get less attention from distributor sales staffs and the press. Strangely enough the American three tier system is stacked against American wineries, while giving small European producers that are part of a larger importer's portfolio an advantage.
The most important thing is that American wines no longer have to take a back seat to European wines. Neither is better, they're just different and that's the way it should be and American wine buyers should invest more time and effort to discover and understand our own wonderful wines. The self confidence of American wine buyers needs to catch up with that of American winemakers.
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