Thursday, May 08, 2014

The Resistance Report - The Return of the Wine Snob?

Status quo is a tricky thing. If you fight to get your position to dominate, someone will come up from behind and try to make their position superior. We see it all the time in the rarified wine world. Some folks will make a particular wine or wine style popular. Ten minutes later and 180 degrees in the other direction, another group will make their plea for relevance. Chardonnay, with oak. Chardonnay, without oak. White wine, with acid. White wine, with fruit. Red wine with power. Red wine with buoyancy. And on and on. Everyone is looking to discover something no one has unearthed. We see it all the time in young wine buyers; they want to find it themselves. Problem is, it isn’t lost. It just has not been revealed to them.

With an old-timer yesterday, talking about this. His take was, “These snotty somms, what kind of life experience have they had, compared to you, to me?” I was shoveling in scrambled eggs, trying to fill up the hole in my stomach from the night before, where a lump of undigested onions was still seething. Last thing on my mind was the future as run by the current cadre of millennials.

“Maybe they do it to resist the present state of affairs,” I mumbled, sluicing hot coffee through a sieve like a baleen whale. I was in gastro-pain, and the thought of sommeliers gone astray wasn’t high on my list or worries.

My friend had had a better night sleep. He was not fighting a wrecked digestive system. “I don’t think so, AC. I think they’re inexperienced and feel entitled. A restaurant owner hires them for $50-60,000 a year and gives them a little power. They make waves, create a ruckus and get attention. By the time the owner catches on that they’ve bought a bunch of unsaleable wines that won’t make enough money to keep the lights on, the snotty somm will move on to a wholesale or supplier job or another restaurant group. They get a little press and all of a sudden they think they’re super stars. Or worse, infallible.”

Wow. And I thought I was just going to have an early and quiet breakfast.

Part of the problem, as I was driving out of the labyrinth-like parking lot, was that I have noticed some of this lately. But I chalked it up to people stretching their limits, learning their trade, pushing the boundaries. Hey, that’s how we start drinking different things like Gruner Veltliner, Riesling, Assyrtiko, Nerello Mascalese. It’s not all bad. Well, there are some pretty awful orange wines that have been poured into a glass and thrust at me. But there are also some I have liked. And, it’s a bottle of wine, not a multi-million dollar work of art that I might not like but will have to live with long after the awful wines are down the drain.

I think we all are playing a resistance game. The established folks are saying, “We have found what we like and it’s great. This is our universe of pleasure.” And the newbies are saying, “We have found what we like and it’s great. This is our universe of pleasure.” The thing is, they’re saying the same thing about totally different things. Or are they? Are we talking about an actual thing here? Or perhaps a process?

My thought is that, yes fashions do change, and there is a rotation of flavors in the wine world. Italy is no stranger to that, seeing as there are so many more choices to make there. This is part of what makes the puzzle so interesting. But when someone tries to say their perception of the puzzle is better than the other fellow, that’s where we get this weirdness. We used to call this wine snobbery. The reaction is that resistance sets in. And discourse stops. And then it stops being interesting to me.

I think that is what the two polarities are tugging at. Yes, the old vet wants people to respect the time and effort he put into his life work, bringing the best Brunello or Vino Nobile to America. And the young wine buyer wants to exhibit his or her enthusiasm for something that looks new (and interesting) to them. And they want the world to take notice. That is what young people do. They try things on, push them out and see how they fly. And that’s how we move things along. It’s really a continuum of what both generations are doing, even if neither of them can see that.

For those of us with the patience and an iota of contemplative disposition, all of this is part of a natural progression. This resistance factor, it creates tension, by which things are tested and tried. And if they work, they live and grow. I just hope we aren’t growing a new crop of wine snobs.

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