Why do you like the wines you like?

Photo courtesy of Augusta Winery

By Doug Frost, who is both a Master of Wine and Master Sommelier, one of only three in the world to achieve both titles.  He lives in Kansas City.

Doug’s Recommendations

2021 Seyval Blanc

Noboleis Vineyards
2021 Dry Vignoles

Augusta Winery
2021 Vidal Blanc
Estate Bottled

Stone Hill Winery
2020 Chambourcin

2020 Valvin Muscat

Les Bourgeois
2021 Chardonel

2020 Traminette

This column first appeared in the September 2022 issue of Missouri Life.

Photo courtesy of Doug Frost

Why do we like the wines we like?

There are far too many reasons to enumerate, and few of them are truly definable. Logic suggests that we like a particular wine, most often, because it tastes similar to wines we have enjoyed in the past. Most intriguing, the wines we might obsess over are those that taste like our familiar favorites but have some subtle difference that adds nuance to those agreeable flavors. 

It’s hardly different from food; we enjoy those dishes that meet our expectations for certain, favored characteristics. We like a burrito that tastes like the other burritos we’ve had, first, and that then exceeds those burritos of memories. Insert here any other foods or drinks, be they margaritas, Merlots, or macarons, pizza, Pinot Grigio, or pale ales. Missouri wine is no less captive of our expectations, with notions that can rightly be argued as lagging behind reality. 

Too many believe Missouri wines to be chiefly sweet, ignoble wines, best enjoyed at nearly frozen temperatures or by ill-educated relatives. That view is about three decades past its sell-by date. What much of the world thinks of Missouri wine is based upon tiring notions. Those expectations are not only outmoded, but they also limit our experience of the wines. 

How are consumers to understand the complexity of Missouri dry Vignoles if they assume the Vignoles in their glass to be sweet and fruity?

Missouri wine has been undergoing a transition, one that offers the culmination of decades of promise. Many of us have long believed that Missouri wines have ascended to the level of excellence, but only wines that had some residual sugar seemed to offer proof. Indeed, if tasters were honest, Missouri’s sweet wines were as good or better than most of their US brethren. The grapes grown in this area tend to have piercing acidity. That’s why Missouri wines have historically been sweet. If there wasn’t some sweetness in the finished wines, the prevailing belief was that they wouldn’t be as pleasant.

That was then. This is now. Improved vineyard practices mean better grapes, and more consistent ripening, with a corresponding growth in drier, more balanced wines. It’s not limited to one grape, though Vignoles is an ideal example. Other white grapes are developing their own reputations. Valvin Muscat and Traminette can make remarkably aromatic wines, whether dry or sweet, and Seyval Blanc and Vidal Blanc, for so long mainstays of Missouri white wine, are generating lovely dry, semi-dry, and sweet wines and even sparklers of complexity. And Chardonel, long derided as “Chardonnay from hell,” is allowed to be the delicate, elegant white that it can be, as vintners have stopped trying to force it to be California Chardonnay.

It is in the nature of wine that people want something to be what they expect, but a smart winemaker takes the wine as it is, rather than letting expectations interfere with an honest appraisal. Chardonnay has had centuries to congeal into a specific style and earn its reputation, and the grapes we are using deserve no less time. The development of our wines is gaining pace, but we must be willing to reset people’s expectations of what we can do and what these grapes can offer. The vineyards and the wineries are already doing the job. Can we challenge the media, the industry, and consumers to see Missouri wines as they truly are?   

To read more of this story, check out the September 2022 issue of Missouri Life.