Because there are so many varieties of them, apples, more than any other fruit or vegetable, seem tailor-made for the fine wine treatment.

By the fine wine treatment, I mean the analysis of a drink or a food that goes on way too long and tends, in this beer drinker’s opinion, toward the silly.

‘Fine wine treatment’ overlooks fine apples

Andy Nelson
Markets Editor

As in, “This Cabernet has a nose of dark chocolate mixed with peat moss and furniture polish and tastes like a fruity yet salty, sweet yet sour combination of California (not Washington) cherries, cardamom, sheep’s liver and Yoo Hoo.”

Heirloom resurgence

Turns out my hunch was right. The Wall Street Journal has given apples the fine wine treatment in an Oct. 27 story about the resurgence of heirloom apple varieties.

There are some predictable, reasonable terms used in the piece to describe the Albemarle pippin, the Roxbury russet (it’s not a cross with a potato, by the way), the Arkansas black, the ralls genet and many others: words like “tart,” “sweet,” “spicy” and “aromatic.”

But the article also quotes some fine wine treatment types at apple-tasting parties who describe heirloom varieties like the winesap and the stayman using terms like “nutty,” “roses,” “cloves,” “cilantro” and, yes, “cardamom.”

The article, which is accompanied by large photos of some funky-looking varieties (the Arkansas black really is very dark, if not exactly black), is great exposure for the entire apple category.

Big, Bad Corporate Apples

I think it erred in its portrayal of an imagined conflict that pits poor, neglected, locally grown heirloom varieties against Big, Bad Corporate Apples.

In the story, red delicious, gala, granny smith and other top apple varieties come off as varieties chosen largely because of their color and hardiness.

If they ship well and they look good in the retail display, this argument goes, they’ll sell. As for taste?

Well, they probably don’t measure up to the locally grown darlings.

I find this division misleading because it ignores the fact that the Big Bad Apple Shippers of the world are constantly coming up with new varieties that fall in a huge middle ground between a red delicious on the one end and, say, an heirloom Pink Pearl or Granite Beauty on the other.

Taste is the key

What’s driving these grower-shippers in their never-ending search for new varieties? It’s not primarily color or hardiness. It’s taste.

The biggest story in the apple industry the past few years is the success of Honeycrisp.

It’s hard as heck to grow, it doesn’t stay on shelves very long and it doesn’t pop in consumers’ corneas like a red delicious does. What the Honeycrisp has going for it is a combination of taste and texture that no other variety has been able to match.

I have no doubt it would win a few blind taste tests among the fine wine treatment folks. Yet it doesn’t fall under “local” or “heirloom” or any other elite-sounding category.

The Honeycrisp is astoundingly successful. At last month’s Fresh Summit, one shipper told me retailers frequently tell him they make more money selling Honeycrisps for three months than they do selling other varieties for an entire year.

Keep the chestnuts, the haralsons, the red regents, the Frostbites, the firesides, the macouns, the state fairs and the keepsakes coming. The more apple varieties, the better.

But don’t forget: there’s more than enough taste and variety in the apple department of almost any grocery store you walk into.