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 drinkerâs opinion, toward the silly.
As in, âThis 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, sheepâs liver and Yoo Hoo.â
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 (itâs not a cross with a potato, by the way), the Arkansas black, the ralls genet and many others: words like âtart,â âsweet,â âspicyâ and âaromatic.â
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 ânutty,â âroses,â âcloves,â âcilantroâ and, yes, âcardamom.â
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, theyâll sell. As for taste?
Well, they probably donât 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
Whatâs driving these grower-shippers in their never-ending search for new varieties? Itâs not primarily color or hardiness. Itâs taste.
The biggest story in the apple industry the past few years is the success of Honeycrisp.
Itâs hard as heck to grow, it doesnât stay on shelves very long and it doesnât pop in consumersâ 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 doesnât fall under âlocalâ or âheirloomâ or any other elite-sounding category.
The Honeycrisp is astoundingly successful. At last monthâs 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 donât forget: thereâs more than enough taste and variety in the apple department of almost any grocery store you walk into.