Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Wine and snobbery

It was like watching two children in an 'I know more than you do' argument.

In the Seattle PI Steve Body, who writes as 'The Pour Fool' (why oh why oh why are we subjected to these appalling puns?) attacked 'some knucklehead' for berating the number of non-estate bottled wines in the USA.

I'm going to withhold the name of the author because taking a shot at him, here, under MY byline, is nearly as bad a choice as his uninformed rant.

So I'll spare you the trawling: the 'knucklehead' was Keith Wallace in The Daily Beast: How wine became like fast food.

Both articles are excruciatingly long, so I'll paraphrase.

Firstly, Wallace has got a few points and to be fair to him, he seems to have done some research and phoned a few people up. He says that the top 30 brands in the US are not the quaint, little, family-produced wineries we associate with winemaking. Most of us knew that, but never mind. His further points are (a) that some of the top US wines (including Au Bon Climat, Pahlmeyer, etc) are, or were once made, in custom crush facilities, not at an actual winery, (b) some wineries are creating white label wines (a phenomenon not restricted to the US) and (c) that looking for a wine that was made by a 'real person, in a real winery', was getting harder and harder.

Body attacked this. I wont resume his 2,300 word rant - it merely said that Wallace's points were misguided, that it isn't worth getting your knickers in a twist about this. And in many senses he's right. For instance, I'm not in the least bit worried that Au Bon Climat was/is/will be made in a custom crush facility, and I'm well aware that Yellow Tail is a family-run brand.

What worried me greatly about Body's article was the inverse snobbery that was its conclusion:

"What grapes are in this blend?" I asked.

"Do you...ah...like this wine?" Riccardo replied.

"Oh, very much, every vintage," I smiled.

He smiled and nodded.

"Then what do you care?" he beamed. And gave me one of those eloquent Italian shrugs.


It was like reading Jonathan Nossiter's epiphany. I had the reading equivalent of a double take. I like the wine, so I don't need to ask questions about it. What?

It's precisely because I like wines that I want to know more about them, where they came from, what's in them. If I didn't mind, didn't care, just enjoyed it, I wouldn't have got past Gallo. I'd still think Paul Masson wines were cool because their bottles were shaped like a vase.

That doesn't mean that all cheap, mass-produced wines are bad. Tesco makes (made?) a great blended white for under £5 that hit all the spots. It was fantastically good for the price. Wouldn't you want to know a bit more about that wine?

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Thursday, 20 August 2009

Cheap wine for everyone

You're all cynics. Oscar Wilde said cynics 'know the price of everything and the value of nothing'. A lot of wine collectors seem to fall into this category.

So it's a little bit refreshing when Fred Franzia says there's no wine worth $50.

He's right really, isn't he? Even La Revue de Vin de France estimated that the actual cost of production of a bottle of Château Latour was about €24. So where does all this 'added value' come from?

I don't mind people adding a bit of profit to their wines - that's fine, and normal. And you can't stop people adding value at auctions, and so on. But if a cap was put on prices at the start, estates would have to find out different ways to deal with the demand - reward loyalty, or visitors.

Because aside from the prestige of having a £1,000 price tag, the only other aspect influencing price is demand.

So lets go skiing. Back in the '90s when skiing was all the rage, top resorts found the influx was too much to handle. They needed to reduce numbers. What was the best way? Increase the price of the lift pass. A lot.

And it worked. Less people came because they were priced out, but people with more money came. Win-win right? Well what about all those kids that could be enjoying the experience but couldn't because families couldn't afford to go? They'll never learn to love skiing because they're a drain on resources. And I'll tell you another thing for free: the skiing experience is not enhanced by having a greater propensity of rich people on the slopes. Not one bit.

And if good wine (and I'll admit Two Buck Chuck isn't my idea of good wine) is such a wonderful, cultural product that is best enjoyed in the company of those we love, why is this enjoyment only for the rich?

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