Wine Existentialism

My fellow colleagues-in-wine and I are always discussing, debating, and arguing about hot wine topics.  Sometimes it’s about oak, over-extraction of fruit, old world v. new world, and of course…terroir.  We also discuss what makes a wine good and what sells, and we often find that the good wines don’t sell.

A couple weeks ago, Patrick wrote about Malbec and it’s rise and fall.  Weeks before, Nic wrote about the concept of terroir. These blogs are the result of our on-going conversations.  Both blogs got my attention.

Patrick concluded that Malbec’s popularity is waning (a fact I would agree with), and, ironically, really good Malbec is now hitting the wine scene.  The problem is no one is paying attention.  Consumers are tiring of Malbec and soon they’ll find something else.   He makes a good point, and to quote Herodotus (the Greek Historian), ‘What’s past is prologue,’ meaning the best is yet to come out of Argentina!

Is “good” wine nothing more than just mere fashion?  It shouldn’t be, but it seems to be the case, particularly in the States.  Some have told me that they ‘should just learn to ignore trends,’ but I also understand that people will continue to follow trends when it comes to their consumption of wine, and therefore the wine business will continue to feed this mentality.  I was reminded of this when a customer once told me that, ‘people should be free to indulge in any fly-by-night “let’s market the crap out of something” life-style they want.’  There are, however, plenty of wines that are both good and fashionable and  I must admit, consumers do have the right to drink what they like.

Many of these fashionable wines lack something though…although let me point out wines like Sassicaia and other Super Tuscans.  Here are wines that are unique because they embrace both modernity and terroir.  They embrace modernity by applying modern viticultural and vinicultural techniques, and use international grape varietals.  They embrace terroir by allowing it to show through in the wine.

Why do I bring this up?  To point out that the conversation and relationship between the concepts of modernity and terroir can and do create truly splendid wines, that are real (i.e. not created by a lab and a marketing group) and, yes, fashionable!  They’ll please almost anyone, including a stubborn old world wine drinker, like myself.

In his blog, Nic concluded that consumers (and some wine professionals) don’t understand what ‘terroir’ means.  Real simple…and poignant!

Are consumers really concerned about terroir?  Most could care less, or don’t think of it.  Some are, but they are a minority, and yet their numbers seem to rise as they realize most wine tastes the same no matter where it’s from.

Don’t get me wrong: there are plenty of consumers whom I would deem ‘connoisseurs.’  They come to me looking for something authentic AND tasty.  They want to understand a varietal and/or a region and it’s nuances.  They are interested in the concept of ‘terroir.’  They have their favorites and will drink fashionable wines, but are also willing to explore.  They are not necessarily attached to trends that are the result of our consumer culture.  I’m encouraged by these consumers.  They challenge me, just as I challenge them, and I’m thankful for that.  I think they are too.  I once had a customer tell me that, he wanted ‘a personal relationship with an honest and knowledgeable merchant who knows my preferences, but at the same time is helping me grow beyond them.’ Without them,  I would feel defeated in my quest to spread the gospel of good, authentic, real wine!

I can’t help, but wonder what will happen if souless wine continues to be sold, wine that is seemingly crafted in a labratory and by a marketing firm?  Will producers care to produce wines that embrace terroir (and therefore are real) or will they cave-in to market pressure and make so-called ‘Parker’ wines?  Will I care to sell wine if all I’m selling is the newest fad that will fall as quickly as it rose.  How will all this effect the growing wine culture here in the States?

Yet I still have hope.  Good wine (that both tastes good and embraces terroir) will continue to be produced I have no doubt, and sometimes that wine will be in fashion, sometimes it won’t.  I can live with that.

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