Friday, May 30, 2014

My (Oh, So Superior) Wine vs. Your (So-So) Wine

Three weeks on the road, driving across Texas - Dallas to Houston to San Antonio to Austin to Dallas - there has been time to talk in the car with my travel mates. We go into a city and see clients, and then get in the car and head to another city. In and out. Over time patterns emerge. Here is what I have seen in these days.

Whether the person you are going to see is a seasoned veteran or a new-on-the-scene wine buyer, they all have opinions. If they are older, they often have a punch list of preferences by which they evaluate the Italian wines we are setting in front of them. If they are the new crop, they too have their list. How the two different types fill out their list is quite different.

The older ones have tasted, often for years. They have a retinue of wines they have come to prefer from experience.

If the person was born in the 1980’s or 1990’s, time isn’t necessarily the medium in which they access their experiences. Theirs is often a flat-screen gathering of impressions, ideas, influences and desires.

Which raises a challenge to those of us who are trying to make the world safe for Italian wine.

I sense there is this element in both buyers which they seek and by which they access from different reference points. Let’s call it the cool factor. What I mean by that is something about the wine or of the wine stirs the person to want to have more contact with it, whether it means buying it and putting it on the shelf, offering it as by the glass at their wine bar or restaurant or simply to pick up a bottle or a case and store it away for another time.

What I have been trying to find out, my entire career, with the person in front of me when I present a wine to them, is what they think cool is. This is not a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. No plug-and-play here. Everyone is different. Which makes life interesting.

I’m in a trendy pizza place. Great pizza, awesome wine list, the place is buzzing. The table to the left of my orders a Nebbiolo based wine from Northern Italy. I see the wine poured. Like the light color it presents in the glass. Then I see the label. I know the winery. It is enjoying a trendy following among the hipster crowd. The wine, while good, isn’t best of class. While there is nothing wrong with the wine whatsoever, it isn’t the wine that these people think it is. It isn’t the best. But the wineries, the importer, the distributor, a combination of these elements have moved this wine to the head of the class. Meanwhile the iconic wine from the appellation is seen as stodgy, not cool.

I’m looking at sparkling wines in a very good independent wine shop. In the shop one can find esoteric and many wonderful wines with great stories and provenance. Inotherwords, very cool. We are scanning the shelves to see what the buyer has brought in from a particular area where Italy produces sparkling wines. We see a couple of the hallmark wines. However on the shelf is a wine that has a label that we do not seem to recognize. On the back label, we find it is made by a co-operative way outside of the appellation of the wine, many, many miles away. On the front the label appears to be mimicking a more famous wine label from the appellation, one which is an iconic, established, famous label. How did the sneaky little interloper snag a place on the shelf? Somehow it made its way onto the buyer’s cool list.

It’s a Monday night and we're in a new Italian spot. It’s crazy busy. The wine buyer looks to be under 30, running around helping all the tables who are asking about wine. We order a red wine from the Northwest of Italy. The first bottle is brought. It’s corked. Another bottle is brought. It too is lightly corked. We then order another wine from a nearby region from a well-known and iconic producer.

The wine arrives, warm. We taste the wine and feel it needs to breath, blow off the harshness of being opened so young. Maybe the warm temperature brings out a little more of the brettanomyces aspect than is desirable. So we stick it in an ice bucket and wait ten minutes.

The wine is cooler. But the brettanomyces has reared its head like Godzilla and it is showing no sign of abatement. We suffer through it. I make a note to myself that this wine buyer is into very funky wines. I wonder if we just had a strange coincidence or if the wine list follows this pattern. I also wonder how the patrons think about these experiences. Is this what Italian wines represent to them? When they go away from this place (as busy as it is) will they run to their American bistro and order a Russian River Pinot Noir just to get the taste of Italian wine out of their mouth? “This is what cool tastes like?” will they ask themselves?

With older buyers one can find wines they have settled in with. With younger wine buyers, the idea of a brand, to have something for a year, is not so cool. Both approaches offer perils. To get comfortable with one’s wine program and offer only the tried and true, in our want-it-now culture, that’s not cool enough to be retro, just old and tired. But if clients find they like something and then they come back the next week and it’s not on the menu or the list, is that something that makes it more difficult for a wine shop or a wine bar, restaurant, to create an experience that folks remember and want to come back for? Has it becomes less about the brand and more about the wine buyer and their personal predilections? My preference vs. your expectations? My wine vs. your wine?

...a few thoughts from the front seat of a fast moving car on the road as I head back home on this sunny day somewhere in the middle of America.

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I couldn't help but read that paragraph regarding the sparkling wines shelf and not have one name....cough, cough Touton cough....jump into my head.

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