Wednesday, March 09, 2005

It's all about style, Baby!

"Hey, if all you are doing is buying a style of wine, what's the difference."

That quote is from a comment on my post about whether
vintage dates really serve a purpose on wines priced under $10...

The problem is that I hear this type of comment more and more frequently. All I get from it is a level of pretentiousness which I find very disturbing. All wines are created in some style or another, and it's an exercise in personal choice when deciding which wine you wish to drink.

First, my question for all of you reading this blog is as follows: aren't we always buying a style of wine - be it a Chianti, Sauternes, White Rhone, Pinot Gris, etc...? We all approach a bottle with some expectations about what the contents should be like. And that's in response to the price, label information, overall package used, cultural biases, past experiences, and so on.

Second, I feel it necessary to point out again that it's a fallacy to assume that all wines which are created for mass consumption are inherently inferior, or that they will someday replace all other wines. I'm not sure what the source of this angst of wines for the mass market is, but I don't like the fear it fosters. There never has been a wine made without regard to style - ever (other than that very first wine ever consumed by mankind). Man has been trying to improve, control and enhance the flavors of this most primal of beverages since that first ethereal encounter with it. The thought some winery relies solely on serendipity and luck to turn out a wine is ridiculous; that any winery would then reapply that same model harvest after harvest is sheer fantasy. And anyone who tells you otherwise has something to sell you. All throughout history people have emulated wines from other cultures - Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Chinese, Celtic, Gallic, etc.

You see, anyone who's making more wine than fills their immediate needs (which would probably be around 2 barrels worth max) is looking to sell it to or barter it with someone else. By default that implies they are looking to make it attractive to others. In other words, they're going to adopt or develop a "style" of winemaking which appeals to someone other than themselves.

If all you see in wine is art then remember that art is bought & sold every day. Get over it. Get a corkscrew and have a glass, as wine wasn't made to be collected, hoarded, kept on a pedestal or elevated beyond everyday use.

It was made to be consumed.


Blogger Tom said...


No question, anyone buying a wine is looking for some sort of style and every commercial wine is made with a style in mind.

However, I do think that some wines are created by some for the purpose of collecting or putting on a pedestal. Not many, but some.

March 09, 2005 9:14 AM  
Blogger Huge said...

I agree there are some, to be sure, whose attempted style is that of a "collector's item".
And I have to say this for those who'd differentiate "cult" wines from those produced in quantities greater then 1,000 cases: Any wine you can buy is by default a "commercial" wine...I think that description has to include all wines that could be collected...

Personally, I feel it anathema to the very spirit of wine to collect it or put it on a pedestal.
Why? Because wine is an ephemeral sensory experience, it needs to have a human involved with it.

It's that very interaction which validates wine. Making wines solely to place them on some unapproachable level is done for egotistical purposes, and is similar to building the world's most luxurious car so that it can be placed in a museum & never driven and appreciated.

The equation just isn't complete without the evaluation & experience of tasting and consuming. Denying the experience by keeping wines until they're old & dried out is nothing more than waste in my opinion.

March 09, 2005 9:47 AM  
Blogger caveman said...

I think that you are taking this ‘wine to the people thing’ a bit far... Look , non-vintage is a great idea for those wines where the winemakers are trying to create wines (through whatever means they choose), that are consistent from year to year. Let them blend whatever they want, from wherever and whenever as far as I am concerned. That is cool because the public that is consuming these wines want that consistency and predictability (as well as the price). . Bonny Doon is even getting some Riesling from Germany for some of his blends and I find that idea of cross-continent blending intriguing, and possibly a way out for some of the bulk producers (I hear there is some juice for sale in France).

But this pedastel thing is a bit over the top. The majority of wines profit from cellaring, gaining complexity as the years pass…and these aren’t just the Marylin Merlots or Latours of the world. In fact, it is this part of the interaction with the winemaker that is the most gratifying. The winemaker makes the wine and then it is up to us to decide when, with what, whom and how to drink it. This could be in 1 month, 3 years, 5 years, who knows, it kinda depends on the vintage and the style of the winemaker. There is nothing egotistical about this, it is simply a part of good wine drinking.

And as it is an essential part of the skill set of any winemaker to know when to pick his grapes, it is equally important for the collector to know when to drink the bottle. Old and dusty is as abhorrent as over-ripe.


March 10, 2005 10:49 AM  
Blogger Huge said...

William, let me clarify:

First, I’m not against cellaring, there are some good things that can happen in the bottle with age if the wine can handle it. And if that’s what the purchaser wants to do with it then great…
I’ll give you a little hint from my experiences inside the wine industry – the majority of wines are NOT made with aging in mind, but you’re absolutely right in that it’s up to the individual to decide what, when & where to consume it. Some enjoy the bouquet to the extent that they’re willing to cellar most anything in order to develop some – and I’m OK with their choice if that's what it is. But I am one of many who hold the general belief that with aging flaws will become more pronounced while many of the positive attributes will decline, that is to say that flaws will be more exposed while the fruit fades out (which can be an interesting point of discussion in that if people think that Brdx should taste like tobacco, cedary smoke, snuff box, and leathery or barnyard smells – most of which is due to Brett contamination – as those “faults” will persist for decades, giving the illusion that the wine is still drinking well. But that’s another topic, and is entirely subjective…)

Yet another topic would be the hypothesis that aging wine originated not to elevate the beverage, but because some vintages were just literally undrinkable. They were ignored for years in favor of other wines which were more pleasing, and left in the back of the cellar. Perhaps after running through the other wines they were the only ones left, and were opened – upon which people discovered the changes & decided to try to reproduce that effect with other wines. But again, that’s another topic, and doesn’t diminish the unique beauty that a perfectly aged wine can achieve.

Second, what I do find disgusting & egotistical is the fact that some people “collect” wines not to drink, but merely to use as a status symbol. The majority of those wines are never consumed, and the collector goes off to oblivion having done nothing but remove those bottles from the general pool that everyone could have purchased them from. It sounds to me from your comment about “old and dusty” that we’re probably in agreement on that point.

Now, on to your “…taking this ‘wine to the people thing’ a bit far...”:
No, I don’t think I’ve gone too far – if anything I haven’t gone far enough. Since you’re in Quebec, I know the following won’t be wasted on your ears, and it needs to become the battle cry of all wine consumers: “Liberté, égalité, fraternité!”

Wines need to be available to all, without pretentiousness, and without regard to their social standing, income, or ancestry.
Wine in that respect should never have been elevated beyond the everyday beverage it is.

I believe that Jancis Robinson has stated the English were the ones who took wine to that level (and with the class-sensitive nature of British society I can believe it) and really introduced/propagated the concept of “noblility” in wines, and those whom consume them. Wines became associated with certain classes of society, to the detriment of us all.
Sadly it persists to this day, and wines are used to indicate status, denigrate outside groups, and divide humanity rather than to unify it.
Wine never deserved to be on a pedestal. It should be taken down & passed around to the masses, not hoarded and locked out of reach of all but an elite few.

PS – FWIW, I’d never think of aging a Marylin Merlot. Other than it’s gimmicky name & marketing (which is good as an attention getter), I really don’t enjoy that wine all that much, and don’t think it’d be ageworthy in any sense. It’s subjective, but it’s my opinion.

March 11, 2005 8:32 AM  
Blogger caveman said...

Hey Huge,

I agree with most everything. Obviously, the Brett thing will always be a devisive issue between those who appreciate these non-fruit aromas versus those who don't. But to throw anothe french phrase at you..'des fois la beauté c'est dans le defaut.'

I must admit that I don't have the same perspective on elitism.. I think that is very much more a problem where wine is not already part of the cultural fabric. IN Europe, and in Québec, wine drinking is an integral part of everyday life, so it is rare that I encounter those pretentious types aside from the above stated hoarders, or those who spend on big bottles solely for the purpose of impressing. But that is a marketting issue for the likes of you and Tom.

What do you think about international blending?
Now there is marketting potential...

March 12, 2005 4:58 AM  
Blogger Huge said...

Yes, I think the incidence of elitism in wine selection & availability is more pronounced here in the US, and a great deal of that is probably due to our puritanical forefathers (not to mention the influences of British culture, and prohibition).
As you suggest, unfortunately, the US doesn't include wine as part of it's regular diet.

As for cross-continent blending...Hmmm. Interesting thought, and man would that set the 'anti-globalizationists' off!
I'm not sure how that would be labeled...a Northern Hemisphere Appellation? Kinda scary in a sense...
Would 'NATO Red' be a contradiction in terms? Perhaps a 'SEATO Sauvignon Blanc'??
There's too many questions raised right now, and no structure for the product to exist in the current market.

A monumental marketing & PR project would have to undertaken to get that accepted in the marketplace, at least at anything other than the lowest price points. I think that for the most part all we will see is wines from one continent being shipped as bulk to another country to be bottled by itself. No too many wineries would see economic returns worth their while to take on that project by themselves. Companies that I could see potentially having some stake in a campaign like that would be the really large wineries already in the international playing field (Constellation, Gallo, Southcorp, etc), certainly not someone the size of Bonny Doon. At least not by themselves...

I'm not sure what Bonny Doon's got going right now with Reisling, but I'll start looking into it out of curiosity. Offhand I'd bet that they're only bottling the German wines here under their own label.

March 12, 2005 8:56 AM  
Blogger caveman said...

i believe the Bonny Doon wine is called Pacific Rim or something (it is their Sushi wine), and somewhere in the area of 15% of it is German grown Riesling.

March 12, 2005 11:08 AM  
Blogger Huge said...

I stand corrected.
The current blend is ~25% Riesling from the Mosel in Germany. The balance is from Eastern Washington apparently. Not that they're marketing that fact too hard.

I had mistakenly thought after reading about their German importation last year that it was 100% Mosel that they were bringing in, and had erroneously thought it was going into the bottle undiluted.

Seriously though, good for them. They keep pushing the envelope open further.

March 13, 2005 9:54 AM  
Anonymous BT said...


Actually vintages could potentially still be important in under $10 wines (or £6 here in 'jolly' old England).

First, vintages are useful for 'DYA' (drink the youngest available) type wines which die quite quickly in the bottle often while they're still on the supermarket shelves. Plenty of cheap French stuff needs to be drunk immediately.

Secondly, there is some regional wine which is produced to good to excellent standards and which will still show vintage variation (e.g., a Jayer Gilles Hautes Cotes de Nuits, or an AOC Chablis..) and may even benefit from cellaring.

I admit this is however a rather Old World/French centric view. I would agree that in most cases a $10 California Chardonnay doesn't need a vintage...


March 21, 2005 2:11 AM  

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