Some People Shouldn’t Be in the Wine Business

sommelierHere is another in a seemingly endless parade of articles seeking to dumb down wine for the poor, overwhelmed consumer. This guy thinks that although the wine obscurantists of yesteryear have been vanquished by Parker scores  and Cellar Tracker reviews, wine is still too complex for people to understand, and it’s all because wine experts are just showing off:

In the past wine knowledge was linked to class. This is why it lends itself so well to British comedy, which is often about social status….This link between class and wine knowledge began to unravel with the rise of American super critic Robert Parker in the 1980s. He not only pronounced in an authoritative fashion on wine but he scored them out of 100. Many decried this as philistinism, asking whether you would score a Velázquez or a lover, but wine buyers loved it because it simplified or seemed to simply wine. Armed with a bit of Parker, the average wine drinker could now begin to navigate his way around a wine list….In the 1990s and 2000s, the public became better informed and wine democratised. Supermarkets began selling classed growth Bordeaux off the back of Parker scores. With one super critic in place and good wine seemingly available everywhere, the professionals were losing their grip.

So being “better informed” means going to the wine shop  and buying whatever Parker says you should buy. I guess “better informed” means realizing that 90 is higher than 85. Moreover, today we have CellarTracker where members of the public can rate the wines they drink according to a similar scale, the use of which of course requires the very same skill of being able to count.

But alas apparently we are still being flummoxed by wine experts. The culprits nowadays are sommeliers who put obscure wines on restaurant menus for the sole purpose of showing off their superior taste and knowledge:

Something had to be done. The answer was “natural” wine. This was ostensibly a reaction against the sort of wine that Parker liked, powerful, oaky wines made in a Bordeaux-meets-California style. But just as important, the producers were obscure and you couldn’t buy the wines in Oddbins. A new generation of writers, sommeliers and merchants staked their claim as keepers of arcane knowledge….A further advantage of these wines from the perspective of the initiated is that some of them taste awful, but they are meant to taste like that. So when customers try to send them back, they can be put in their place with a “you just don’t get this wine, man.”

Have you every had a sommelier insult you with “you just don’t get this wine, man”? I haven’t. It’s not the best way to get a tip or to hang on to your job. And the one example he provides  of  an offending wine list  is perfectly intelligible to anyone with a modest knowledge of wine, with the name of the producer, region and varietal listed. The wines include a few lesser known varietals and regions along with more standard fare, but all from small producers—what’s wrong with that?

According to this article we are to believe that people don’t drink natural wines because they enjoy vintage variation or vineyard expression but because they’re just trying to show off. And people don’t prefer small, lesser-known producers or regions because they’re tired of the same 20-30 wineries appearing on every wine list. They’re just trying to impress. I guess if it’s not Cabernet or Chardonnay from Constellation it can’t be good.

Of course, as one might expect there is the inevitable throat clearing at the end that undermines his whole point.

I’m not saying that wine is straightforward. It is an immense subject and changing the whole time, you can now buy wines from Croatia, Georgia and Greece at Marks & Spencer. And most wine professionals do do their best to illuminate, but the truth is we don’t want people to find things too straightforward.

No kidding. This is why we need experts to help us keep up and we want to keep up because the proliferation of wine styles and regions is itself fascinating. If you don’t like that you’re in the wrong business.

And this travesty is posted on the website of Master of Wine who purports to be a wine educator. Sheesh.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.