It is hard to believe that we are at the thirtieth Monthly Wine Writers Challenge, an exercise to make us write out of our usual box. The last winner was Shez of The Epicurious Texan and her distinct honor was to come up with the one word theme that we would all use, and that word is “obscure.” I went into my library and looked up the word, wondering if there was some meaning that was obscure about obscure that I wasn’t aware of. There were no surprises. As simply put, it gave the definitions of dim, indistinct, not clearly expressed or understood, or not distinguished or famous.
After looking it up, all I could surmise was that it is me. One blogger had once mentioned that my articles were dim and obscure, because I always leave the wine to the end, but I guess I just like to lay out a situation where wine will be found, and yes, I tend to bury the lead, as I was reminded often in journalism classes. The other aspect is that I am neither famous or distinguished, but I just keep plugging along, because I am having fun.
So, I was at a loss and a standstill, which is rather common when I start thinking about these challenges. There is really nothing obscure anymore about wine, as it seems that the grapes are grown almost everywhere in the world, excluding the polar ice caps. When I was first learning about wine, the world was obscure except for France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Portugal. I lived in the United States of America and the wines of California were obscure to the wine lovers back then, and as for some of the pioneers in the state of Michigan where I live they were not even on the map.
I went to my copy of The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson, which was published in 1971 to see if my memory was correct about obscure wine regions. There were seventy-two pages devoted to France, twenty-two pages devoted to Germany, Southern and Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean had sixty-two pages (including one page for the Far East) and the New World had ten pages for the United States, Australia had six pages, South Africa had four pages, South America had two pages and England and Wales had two pages. Most of the world was obscure to wine drinkers back then.
I remember that I wanted to discover the wine world, but the merchants back then did not agree with me. I would revel to myself if I could find a wine off of the beaten track. The Coteaux du Languedoc in France might as well have been on the moon. I remember once finding a bottle of Anjou and I got excited that I would finally try a wine that the Three Musketeers drank, or the chance to try a Muscadet or a Vouvray wine, as these were all considered esoteric when Bordeaux and Burgundy were the only areas that any serious wine drinker should consider. There was the romantic story of “Est! Est!, Est!” from Italy and I once even found a sparkling wine from Germany. The only wines that one could find from Hungary was Tokaji Aszu and then I could only find the Three, Four and Five Puttonos. At a small Hungarian market in my old neighborhood I found three other bottles that were not Tokay, and as you can see, I really tried. As hard as it was, I eventually found a bottle of Amontillado, because I was always fascinated by the Edgar Allan Poe story. My curiosity compelled me to keep looking for the obscure and I was pleased to find a bottle from Yugoslavia.
My searches were done in the Dark Ages, most of the California wines were in the handy-dandy gallon bottles back then, and Chianti wines came with a straw wrapping about the bottle. Wine was not the commodity that it is today. I had always though it would be cool to have tried every wine from the great Classification of the Medoc, but alas, I don’t think some of the chateaus actually crossed the pond.
Today, the variety of wines and regions are vast and one can actually find much more, even local restaurants and corner stores offer more wines then was available when I started. Today there has been a shift to locate obscure grape varietals and that has become much easier, because the consumer has become more knowledgeable about wines and there is a greater demand to try something new.
Though I realize that this article about obscure has been dim, indistinct and not clearly expressed by one that is neither famous or distinguished; I would not have my early days of wine education any other way.