The wine business isn't that different from many others. Sure, from the outside it has sex appeal and romance. But for those working in this industry, the subject matter loses its sizzle before long. The folks who make, market, and otherwise participate in the supply/demand cycles get numb to what initially attracted them to the trade and just go through the motions the same way everyone else chases a paycheck. You can see this in the blank stares on the faces of retailers and distributors. And it explains why sommeliers, who have more contact with more different wines than anyone else, seem to embrace wines more for obscurity than for pure drinking pleasure.
In the absence of something new and different it's hard to get excited about much. In this respect, wine could just as easily be cars or widgets.
The endeavor of writing is in no way immune to this saturation desensitization. When much of the product you encounter is homogeneous, and when the events in the industry are recycled year in and year out, it's tough to get inspired. So, writers are always looking for a fresh angle or subject, or anything noteworthy, really.
Thankfully, inspiration struck recently - and from the most unexpected of places: a $16 bottle of
Montresor is a winery in the Valpolicella region of northern Italy. I'd never seen the Montresor label before the salesman at a Total Wine in Florida handed me the 2009 Montresor Valpolicella Ripasso 'Capitel della Crosara'. It was intended as a back up wine to enjoy with my sister-in-law's delectable cavatelli fra diavolo, playing second string to a $50 Armani Amarone.
Both wines were lovely and complemented the meal perfectly. What inspired, though, was the ripasso. Every bit the wine the Amarone was, but at a third of the price, the Montresor was polished and lovely and graceful. Empirical evidence is tough to argue with and there was plenty of Amarone left in the decanter when the last of the Montresor was drained. A fine wine indeed.
Its taste was the spark that ignited an important reminder. This wine didn't need a fresh angle or clever event to appreciate. And, despite sharing the limelight with a heavyweight, it stood on its own. It had been sitting anonymously on a shelf, devoid of critical acclaim and shelf-talkers, waiting for someone to take a chance on discovery.
What it reminded me is this: there are wines like this on shelves everywhere. Discovering underappreciated wines is a lot like kissing frogs. But this is the kind of exploration that keeps us pulling cork after cork after cork - and smiling the whole time. That's what wine should be about: a good accompaniment to a fine meal, a fun discovery, and inspiration to explore more.
For extra credit, revisit this piece from a few years ago about how sommeliers' saturation desensitization impacts what consumers get access to (both good and bad) - it's worth the minute it'll take you to read.