In all the activity surrounding Thanksgiving last week, I fear Jamie Goode’s insightful post about faux “champions” of the wine consumer might have gotten buried. So I’ll take this opportunity to reinforce his main point. Wine is inherently complex and if we over-simplify it we risk destroying the qualities that make wine compelling.
So in this new narrative of wine the cast and plot are simple.
On the one side we have the baddies. This shady crowd consists of the wine trade at large, and anyone who has wine expertise, or who finds wine interesting, and enjoys the culture of wine, fine wine, natural wine, sharing interesting bottles with geeky friends, small production wines, wine books and wine education.
On the other side we have goodies: the consumers. These are people who don’t know much about wine, don’t want to spend much on it, but really enjoy their wines and get a lot of pleasure out of them, who drink with friends, who are happy most of the time. They are simple, joyful folk.
It’s clear which side any right thinking person would be on, right?
‘We’re not like the rest of the wine trade,’ they say. ‘We get you. We are on your side. All this wine complexity? It’s nonsense. There’s nothing to see. Just enjoy the wines you are already drinking. They are great!’
The solution? Strip wine of its complexity. Get rid of all the experts with their annoying expertise. Make wine taste nice again. Sweetness is helpful here, because young people have simple tastes and want things to be sweet and easy. Young people are scared away by wine, and would rather drink sodas, alcopops, mixed spirits, fruit ciders and beer.
Needless to say, I agree with Jamie’s jeremiad against these faux populists. The quickest route to getting people to ditch wine for mixed drinks, beer, and soda is to make wine as easy to drink as mixed drinks, beer, and soda. Why drop serious coin on a bottle of wine if it offers the same level of quality and distinctiveness as soda? People are attracted to wine because of its endless and often quite mysterious differences. The premium wine business is kept afloat by people attracted to wines’ complexity.
I continue to be gobsmacked by people in the wine business who don’t understand this.
Of course, therein lies the problem. If you’re going to be fascinated by wines’ mysterious differences you have to learn to detect them and understand their significance. That requires a modest commitment albeit a commitment that is inherently pleasurable. I suppose if someone wants satisfaction without commitment then wine isn’t for them. But it’s not like these folks are deprived. There is plenty of simple, sweet wine with cute labels on the bottom shelf at any supermarket. They are deprived of our respect for their choices, but then they haven’t earned it.
I do think Jamie is bit too generous toward “the wine trade at large”. That covers a host of cynical charlatans who sell crap with the same language used to describe wines of genuine quality. We need to remember what the word “pretentious” means. Pretense is a form of pretending. Using extravagant or intricate language to describe extravagant or intricate wines is accuracy. Using that same language to describe ordinary, simple wines is pretense.
For more on the philosophy of wine visit my Monday Column archives on Three Quarks Daily