Monday, January 23, 2017

Corrective Action

Happy New Year! Those of you who have been checking back on occasion have probably noticed a significant drop in the frequency of posts. This rambling update hopes to explain why with a perspective on the state of wine, changing purchasing habits, what the deal is with samples, and how taste is evolving with age. 

To begin, why so much radio silence? The answer is unfortunately simple: I've had the blahs. In many regards, I've become somewhat disenchanted with what the mainstream wine industry is offering consumers these days. Perhaps most emblematic of this is the continued lamentable trend toward sweeter, more extracted wines (both red and white), a style I think of as Twinkielike.  These bottlings are also being subjected to rapidfire label changes, making it ever more difficult for consumers to understand what is actually under each screw cap or cork.  This complaint is generally directed at domestic suppliers, but, as style trends go, what starts in the west often spreads globally. (I'm talking to you, Spain!)

But to throw responsibility for this Season of Meh solely at the feet of the industry at large would be flat out scapegoating. A change in my own purchasing habits is as much to blame. Over the past few years I have found that the pang of regret is something I increasingly work to avoid in all aspects of life. Too many times I have enjoyed a bottle and not been able to procure any more of. So, over time, I began buying large quantities of wines that I found to be worthy of repeat enjoyment, often times finding them at substantial, tempting discount. The predictable result is depth at the expense of breadth. But there was another casualty I had not anticipated: discovery. Part of the disenchanted feeling of late is due to the absence of that thrill. There is no mystery in opening a wine you've had five times in the last year, no matter how good it is. Slow to learn, but certain to get there, this has helped shin a bright light on discovery as a critical element of enjoyment.  Yes, this is definitely a first world problem. An embarrassment of riches, really, but one that clearly demands corrective action.  My friend Paul offered his policy: two bottles of each, one to try, the other to affirm, then move on. I think I will adopt some form of that in the hopes that it will result in not only more drinking pleasure, but inspiration for writing. Thanks, Paul! 

Somewhat related is a topic I am asked about more often than any other: samples. I count myself darn lucky to be in the dwindling population of writers that public relations folks still deem influential enough to justify sending free wine too. But a dose of reality for those of you who believe it's nothing but cases of rarefied Barolo arriving on my doorstep… There is a reason why these wines are being promoted: they need it. When I am very fortunate, undiscovered gems that are having a tough time breaking into the market are among the samples. Most of the time, however, samples arrive because they just don't present a compelling product in the marketplace. This isn't just a function of quality, rather of value. There's plenty of evidence to support that if you price your product low enough, someone will buy it. $30 mediocre malbec, however, is a very tough sell, which is why it's shipped to writers in the hopes of positive press that will help move it.  At some point it becomes a struggle to find a shade of lipstick to apply to the pig that doesn't embarrass you.

Finally, a subject that deserves it's own research and rambling: how tastes evolve with age. In brief, the older I get, the more enchanted I've become with nuances of acidity, while simultaneously being less enthralled with the velvet hammer style that seems to remain in vogue. Wines that have the lacy, granular finesse that intrigues tend also to be lighter in body and lower in alcohol. That skews my preferences decidedly toward the Old World by virtue of American wines' generally bombastic demeanor. The Old World still has thousands of growers and producers who haven't been bought up by megacorp wine holding companies, making it a much better source for wines that are more appealing these days.  More on this another time.

So, there you are.  Answers to questions you probably didn't have.  Thanks for continuing to come back and stay tuned for the next chapter in wine.  Cheers.

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