Thursday, August 23, 2012

Indulgence or Sustenance?

Americans can be so influenced by the oddest junctions between aspiration and sensibility. A retail friend was lamenting that this summer all of his big buyers, his “whales,” had disappeared. “They can go wherever they want for three months. They have the money to live anywhere and do their business from the clouds.” His business in the over-$100-a-bottle business was lagging. Meanwhile, I made him a sweet deal on a Morellino that tastes good and even has great press (91 from the Advocate’s Galloni). He can sell it for $10, half of the regular retail ($20) and make money, and he’ll offer a great product to folks who aren’t whales, maybe even people for whom wine actually sustains rather than indulging their egos.

The motif this week started out when I mistakenly thought, with the recent internet auction in Hong Kong, that 1982 Lafite went for $820,000 a case. Actually, that was the total for all the lots. When I looked it up, the Lafite went for around $3,500 a bottle. Still pretty untouchable for most of us. And, according to my retailer friend, down from $5,000 a bottle he sold around four months ago. Even the whales’ cellars are filling up.

Our conversation dovetailed around a recent article Matt Kramer wrote, called “The Big Lie of Wine Democracy.” Matt’s article is a must read. Read it all. One quote, though: "The Big Lie of our time is that you can have all the quality that comes from artisanal craftsmanship and true fine-wine grape sourcing available to you in unlimited quantity and limitless distribution wherever you go."

It’s been my experience that Europeans generally, and Italians in particular, aren’t as troubled about wine as Americans. How many times has an American come up to me with an empty bottle of white wine that they must replace with the very same bottle, vintage, etc.? A bottle of Sonoma Coast Chardonnay from 2004 that they just gotta have? Even if it has slid off the slope of pleasurable drinking? Even if I try to convince them to buy the 2009 or 2008, no chance. They act as if life depended on getting that very same experience. Is that sustenance? Indulgence? Or just plain silly?

If it’s a guy, I can usually say something like, “You know the cheerleader you lusted after in high school? She’s not cheerleading anymore. She has three kids, her boobs are drooping a little and she has a fuller tummy.” If it’s a woman, I try the old, “You love your old man don’t you? But he’s 20 years older than he was when you fell madly in love with him. He may be ageing OK, or he may not. Some of his parts might be drooping a little, too. But he’s not a white wine. No, that tired Chardonnay is not your old man.”

Italians have their favorites, even some collectables. But the whole sequester-it-up-in-a-closet thing usually isn’t the norm. Treasure chest wine isn’t that important in Italian life. Vacations are. Families are. Paid off housing is. Nice, really nice, clothes are. Wine? Kinda like zucchini or pasta or coffee. Pretty important that quality is high, but it doesn’t have to be stratospheric.

Mainly, I think, because the average Italian has had a several hundred more years developing their palate than the average American. Not everyone – yes, yes, I know. But for those who don’t live and breathe wine like many who read these posts regularly, Americans haven’t had the time to map their genomes in regards to the experience of eating or drinking that their average Italian (or French) counterparts have had as a matter of their everyday acculturation. Europeans seem to be more comfortable with not knowing what they don’t know than their restless American wine cousins, who want to catch (and not release) every hard-to-get, allocated treasure to put in their caves.

The whole motivation for indulgence versus sustenance rises from fear, perhaps of death? Some people seek validation to prevent them from slipping into the invisible chasm of irrelevance. So they chase the big trophy wines. For those whom wine is a part of food and living, this isn’t the case. Wine is liquid food, meant to complement the meal and sustain the pleasure of living. If one is looking to fool oneself into the impossible delusion of immortality, all these trophies will do nothing but gather dust and make work for those who will eventually parcel them out. That bottle of Morellino isn’t diminished just because someone would rather have the 1982 Lafite. It’s sustenance rather than indulgence. I would rather have that humble bottle of Morellino than the can of worms that accompanies the constant compulsion to prove to oneself (and the world) that they still “have it” in pursuit of rare and vacuous indulgences.

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W


Foodaloo said...

I could not agree more.
A French friend of mine once asked me, "What is with Americans? Why do they have to know what percent of every grape is in a blend? Can't they just enjoy it? I mean, no one knows every element that makes a perfume smell nice, but we enjoy that, no?"

Thomas said...

"The whole motivation for indulgence versus sustenance rises from fear, perhaps of death? Some people seek validation to prevent them from slipping into the invisible chasm of irrelevance. So they chase the big trophy wines. For those whom wine is a part of food and living, this isn’t the case."


After having been forced to deal with radiation to treat prostate cancer I've come to understand more fully how our fear of death makes us do the most vacuous things--that, and the male's desire to promote the size of his lower proboscis.

michelecolline said...

I'll try this again.....can you send me a couple of cases?

There is a good reason to know the blends(maybe not so much Bordeaux)as it helps in further tastings in identifying the varieties and the particular flavors they impart into the wines. I was lightly reprimanded in Roussillon a couple of years ago for asking however.

michelecolline said...


Real Time Analytics