Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Swimming Pool, a Sports Car and a Mistress

I don’t recall when it was exactly but recently I was in the company of Italians and we were talking about all things Italian. Politics, the Euro, the malaise of young Italians and wine. Wine follows the culture for sure and so while we were talking about wine, other subjects, riffs, attached themselves to the conversation. We ventured into talking about a famous Italian wine impresario when one of the unfiltered in the group blurted out “What does he care? He’s got it made. He has a swimming pool, a sports car and a mistress.”

At that point the grappa came out and it proved to be a very long night, talking in depth about this propensity that modern folks who love money and power have for “things.”

In the reality of what wine and Italian wine has become, has it become just another trophy? I mean, for sure there are wines that are so easily enjoyed and drinkable. And then there are other wines that seem to attract folks because the wine is powerful or has been reviewed by a powerful critic. Or because the winery is owned by someone famous.

A few days ago one of my clients called me to cancel, for the second time, a tasting we had planned for his clientele – a Piedmont primer. Yeah, I threw in some big names, but nothing I couldn’t enjoy myself. The first time the tasting was cancelled because of a major sports event that had diverted everyone’s attention. The second time it was because we had just passed a major holiday. People were hot and distracted. I was actually relieved. And then I got to thinking about it.

If I were the nephew from a famous family whose wines sold for hundreds of dollars, maybe that would have been more of an attraction. Or if I had come from an estate in Bordeaux, maybe with a forty-year retrospective of wines, going back to the 1960’s, maybe a Pomerol or a Margaux, maybe that would have put some butts in the seats.

Or maybe if one of my wines that my family just released got 100 points from Robert Parker or Steve Heimoff, maybe that would have brought them in. But to taste through the different wines from Piedmont - Arneis, Cortese, Grignolino, Dolcetto, Barbera, Nebbiolo, Barolo, Barbaresco and Brachetto - how could that grip the imagination of those left in town that hadn’t already split for Crested Butte or Martha’s Vineyard?

In a word, for a certain crowd, there is no easy way to get them engaged in the appreciation of the “normal” wines. For one, they don't consider themselves “normal”. Secondly they are looking for peak experiences, in their lifestyle, in their cars, in their lovers. And wine appreciation follows suit.

And so, wine has become another object to serve the powerful and the wealthy and by golly those wines should rise to their level.

I was recently with a winery representative. He was pouring me a red blend and exclaimed how normal the alcohol in the wine was. I looked at the label. It was 14.3%. I had a tourrete's moment and this time it was me who blurted out. “You’ve got to be kidding me! Normal is 11.5% - 12%, in my book.” I had just spent a morning tasting German wines, red and white and nothing was over 12%. Nothing. And there were amazing wines in that tasting and wines to age for many, many years. I was a little rabid. “I remember tasting a 1970 Latour, recently, from my closet, and it was powerful, rich and not anywhere close to being ready to drink. And it was tagged at 11.5%!” I tried to calm myself down. After all, the fellow was a nice guy. But he was also right about who in our world is looking for these wines. And many times folks like these wines because they think powerful wines are important. And for those people these wines are made.

Which leaves a whole lot of wines for the rest of us folks who want to enjoy wine as a beverage or as a simple accompaniment to their meal, the conversation they are having, or as part of the conviviality they are sharing with their friends and loved ones.

They just aren’t looking for their wines to be their swimming pool, their sports car or their mistress.


Penny sadler said...

Very interesting and timely story. I think it permeates all aspects of our culture as you pointed out. I see it in my business as well and one of the reasons I get hired is sometimes simply because I happened to work with some reality TV star that everyone recognizes and has nothing to do with my exprience or qualifications for the job at hand. So what are us "Normal" folks to do? Personally I consider myself lucky that a nice evening can still be as simple as a good meal and drinkable wine with friends.

Wine Curmudgeon said...

Be careful, my friend. The high alcohol police will now come after you for daring to criticize the most important movement in the history of the wine business. (Which will probably happen to me again today.)

From Your Mindseye said...

Narcissism rules the world in all aspects of our culture right now. Evident in the gravitation to the famous, well critqued, close to celebrity pursuit some comsumers engage in today. Fortunately, it doesn't affect everyone that way, hence the appreciation for simple wines and food, good converstion and warm friendships by many folks.

Thomas said...

My wife considers the phenomenon about which you speak like little boys engaging in phallic comparisons for size and dominance.

Gratification for such people is not delivered either by the wine or by conviviality.

Unfortunately, those who sell wine are forced to have to deal with this nonsense on a daily basis.

Tracie P. said...

if finding the sublime in the simple is lost on the "thrill" seekers, then it's better left to those of us whose eyes are open wide.

Anonymous said...

That story about the emperors clothes goes a long time back, nothing new. Don,t agree aith the alcohol it is all about where you are I'm afraid. Bought some Tuscan wine from a lovely lady (yes that one) the wine is over 14% but (to) drinkable.

Alfonso Cevola said...

so prolific - you comment everywhere - not sure I understand what you are saying this time - but seeing as you aren’t spamming we let it in…

Wine is all about balance and the point I made was that it doesn’t have to be 14+% to feel big or to last a long time - in fact now we are finding that high alcohol wines are more often caused by winemaker preferences and as winemakers age and mature they go more for subtlety and nuance, not high horsepower and poofy hairdos.

After all those of us who love Port and dessert wines aren’t threatened by alcohol – but it’s all about the tango – the subtle interaction of the players.

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