The Wine of the Free


I never release blog entries in real time. It gives me time to edit, gather more information, take proper pictures, and be confident enough to release the entry.

This is, of course, my disclaimer as to why I’m releasing a 4th of July entry today (as of writing, I’m not even sure what date this will be released).

I decided on writing about American wines because I’ve been harping so much about old world wines (French, Spanish, and coming soon: Italian), and I wanted to shine the spotlight on a wine producing region whose language most Filipinos are required to understand.

I’m not such a big fan of the automatic assumption that US wines are of significantly lesser quality as opposed to its old world counterparts. The movie “Bottleshock” wasn’t entirely fictional: Once upon a time during a blind tasting, the experts who were present thought the bottle they deemed as the best Chardonnay was a Chablis. It ended up being a 1973 Chardonnay from Chateau Montelena from NAPA, CALIFORNIA. To add to that, in a similar setting, they thought they tasted a high end Bordeaux when they deemed the 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars from NAPA, CALIFORNIA the best Cabernet Sauvignon.

On a similar note, wine-os consistently think of Burgundian Pinot Noir as best in class when it comes to the grape variety. While I personally find that there is some merit to this opinion (a Romanée Conti is the quintessential definition of what a Pinot Noir is supposed to be: a “velvet glove on an iron hand”), Oregon has been putting up one heck of a fight. Pinot Noir from Oregon is said to be of such good quality that some educated alcoholics like myself may be able to mistake them for a mid to high range Cotes de Nuits. Unfortunately, these mythical wines are incredibly difficult to find in Manila (I have yet to find one).

Indeed, wine critics are consistently surprised by the quality of USA wines. What I find attracts the Filipino market especially is its ease to interpret. After all, they are in English, and the grape varietals are on the label, leaving the research (or educated guesswork) out of finding the appropriate wine for the dinner you’re having at home.

Another thing that attracts us is that Filipinos like ’em sweet. No disrespect. I always believe that wine is a beverage, and you should enjoy drinking what you like. California is the source of these fabulous, sweet White Zinfandels that seem to be a staple in a Filipina cosmopolitan girl’s cupboard (see previous entry on the White Zin for more information).

In celebration of the 4th of July, let me tie this entry up to bits of American history: Most of the wines planted in California came from Italy. In fact, there is evidence that the first wine growers in that region were Italians. This lends to the notion that White Zinfandel came from Italian grapes (though the vines apparently show closer similarities to a Croatian relative).

Speaking of American history, I love their stand on democracy and freedom. This is even reflected on some of the lines in their national anthem: “The land of the free”. This is actually a nice way to look at their wine making procedures. They are pretty much free to do whatever they feel like (short of planting a next of kin in their vineyard), because they are not governed by similar standards as those of the EU (planting only specific grapes in specific regions, taking into consideration the terroir and ensuring quality quality QUALITY). As the previous paragraphs have mentioned, the quality is still there despite the lack of stringent regulations.

What’s also amazing about the American system is that they temper their freedom with a nice justice system. However, one can argue that they may have taken this a step too far in a certain point in their history: The Prohibition. See, the newly formed FBI in the early 20s equated the rising crime wave to the consumption of alcohol. So severe was their belief in this extreme fallacy that posters were made which insinuated children’s innocence being in trouble because of alcohol. This led to many innovative ways to counter these laws.

Since it was illegal to serve alcohol in public establishments (stores, bars, restaurants), they decided to make Speakeasies. Since it constantly shocks me that my students never know what a Speakeasy is, let me give you a few concrete examples in Manila: Blind Pig and Exit Bar. Never heard of them? Hard to find? Good. That’s what a Speakeasy is about. Very dark places that serve alcohol in which you have to be in the know to know.

Another way for them to be able to enjoy wine is through wine bricks. These are basically dehydrated grape juice made to look like soap bars, and it explicitly said on the label: “Do not add water. Do not add yeast” (duh). Some shops even sold it with yeast attached to the bar.

Of course, there was the time and again proven way of bringing it in illegally. Canada made their own Whisky, and since it only required land transportation… Well, you get the picture. Bootleggers galore.

America is, however, not the land of circumventing laws, and I refuse to end my entry in that manner. What I like about their laws is this thing called a Dramshop Liability. The etymology of this law came from the word “dram”, which is roughly the same measure as a jigger (or a shot of alcohol/beverage ingredient if you’re strict about it). Basically the law states that if an establishment (shop/restaurant/bar) serves alcohol to a person who is obviously capable of causing harm to himself/others, the damages caused by the buyer are the establishment’s liabilities.

On that note, belated happy 4th of July to my American friends. Party hard but do be responsible. 😉 Cheers!

About Gail Sotelo

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One response »

  1. Pingback: For the Love of the French | 2 Shots and a Pint

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