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Wine Curmudgeon

Patrick Mata, Ole Imports

March 4, 2010

Patrick Mata is the Wine Curmudgeon's kind of guy, and not just because he's one of the world's best wine importers. It's because he understands the value of a buck.

"Why don't wine buyers want more for their dollar?" he asked me during a visit to Dallas this week. "What's the point of that?"

In Mata's case, that means Spanish wines. He is co-owner of Ole Imports, which not only brings in quality wines, but quality wines that are terrific values. Ole products are often candidates for the $10 Hall of Fame, and they get terrific reviews -- not only here, but from people like Robert Parker. Most importantly, they're honest wines, tasting like they're supposed to taste. Mata's producers make Spanish wines, not Spanish wines made to appeal to U.S. palates.

And that's not an easy sell, he says, given the way the wine world works. "That affects my life completely," says Mata, whose family has been in the wine business in Spain for 200 years. "The most successful wines from Australia, from Napa, they have very little typicity. They're one dimensional. They have no sense of place."

Fortunately, Mata has had great success selling Spanish wines with a sense of place. More about how he does it, along with his thoughts on the wine business, after the jump:

The good news? That the trend towards what Mata calls Hummer wines -- showy, over-oaked, and overly fruity -- seems to be ending. The Spanish have a term for these wines, in fact -- mazarotes.

His other insights:

? Mata has very little use for mazarotes. He calls them baby wines -- the kind that are sweet, over-ripe, manipulated and can be spoon fed to consumers.

? The world does not need to live by cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay. Spain's great challenge, Mata says, is that its best wines aren't varieties that U.S. consumers are familiar with, "aren't the language that most Americans understand. If they understood, they'd get a lot more for their dollar."

? The wine business is not like McDonald's, where everything tastes the same. It's much more complicated, where wines should reflect where they're from.

? There is a U.S. palate, just as there is a German palate (they prefer oxidized wines) and a French palate and so forth. We prefer wines with more fruit, and younger U.S. wine drinkers don't like tannins. So, rather than educate consumers that tannins can be good things, we get wines made with as little tannic structure as possible.

? Finally, to anyone who says that Mata's view of the world isn't realistic, he points to Australian wine. It dominated the U.S. market by making wines that appealed to the U.S. palate. Now, he says, Americans are tired of those wines, and that is reflected in Australia's declining market share in the U.S.

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