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Posted by Stephen Meuse May 4, 2012 04:11 PM
Internet search engines have taught us the usefulness of the 'more like this' function. Find just one thing that hits the spot, then ask for more results that deliver more or less the same goods.
Search engines do the hard work of figuring out which parameters will return results that are highly correlated with your spot-on hit. But in situations where you don't have an algorithm to lean on the process becomes rather more challenging. For example, you find a wine you really like. What exactly are the parameters that will return 'more like this?'
The usual approach is to seek out other wines from the same producer, from other producers in the same region, or just wines made with the same grape or blend of grapes.
You might have some success this way, but there's at least one situation where these techniques will leave you completely stymied: when the thing you most like about a wine is what I'll call its sensibility.
It's a word I like for the way it points to a particular intangible quality or qualities that set a wine apart from others otherwise cut from similar cloth. Sensibility isn't terroir; it's something the winemaker brings to the process.
I shot the photo above at a tasting event at a local wine shop (the splendid Vintages, in the Boston suburb of Belmont) last night. The wine is from the somewhat obscure Trentino region in far northern Italy, just east of the more well-known Alto Adige. The Pedrotti family makes no more than a couple of thousand cases a year, total, on their property hard by the magnificent Dolomites. The pale coral wine you see in the glass is made from the hyper local schiava nera grape. It isn't a pink, but a red wine whose naturally wan hue the Pedrottis make no effort to intensify. I liked it a lot (translation: I bought some).
It's an $18 wine with about a $100 worth of sensibility. The kind of wine I've long associated with the highly individual taste of its importer, Jeannie Rogers, whose Massachusetts-based Adonna Imports portfolio is replete with wines in which a similar aesthetic is readily recognizable - no matter how divergent the region or grape varieties involved.
It seems to me that the reason conventional 'more like this' techniques don't work for something like Pedrotti's schiava nera is because the factors responsible for its character are many, minute, idiosyncratic, and almost entirely intangible. Not only that, but you can't really get an idea what factors might be involved unless you'd been to the property and spent time getting to know the people involved.
That's work for a specialty importer and once you found one whose sensibilities are copasetic with your own, you've found something truly valuable.
More like this? For me, it's another Jeannie wine.
Stephen Meuse can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org