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.

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