Sunday, November 23, 2014

Our Selfies, Our Wines

Can a wine cellar full of 90+ point wines make your life more meaningful? Will a 30+ year vertical tasting of an iconic wine make you happier? Could any wine make one’s life better? If you believe what you read and see on the eno-blogosphere, you might think that your life isn’t complete if you haven’t had these singular experiences.

A client has a client who wants to fill up his cellar with 90 point and above wines. That isn’t too difficult these days, as professional wine critics are awarding 90+ point reviews faster than Santa Claus handing out peppermint sticks at the mall. I have even compiled stock lists showcasing wines with those lauded acclaims. The question to my client “What is he going to drink everyday?” drew a Spock-like upturned eyebrow. When all wines in one’s cellar are the highest rated what makes them special anymore? When all that we seek is the peak experience, doesn’t that somehow lessen the importance of it?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, as social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Delectable have become a cat-walk of people’s special moments with great wines. It’s as if the mere notion of opening a bottle and sharing it with the world makes the wine (and the one experiencing it) greater.

Back in 1985 in Chicago, I was there for a wine auction. There was a pre-tasting and Michael Broadbent, who was the featured auctioneer, was milling around a bottle of 1959 Mouton. I went up to the table and got a taste as Mr. Broadbent chatted a little about the wine. In those moments, he revealed the times he had had the wine, what it tasted like then compared to 5, 10, 15 years ago and how it might develop in the next 10 or 20 years. I still remember that bottle and tasting it with someone who so eloquently shared his experiences with that wine.

A great bottle of wine on Delectable is posted by an “influencer” and there are no words. Nothing. Just a hastily shot picture, a “Kilroy was here.”

And as much as I occasionally like to see what other folks are opening, especially ones who I know and whose palate I like, a picture really doesn’t do anything other than mark the spot, like a dog with a fire hydrant. Compared to a moment with someone like Michael Broadbent, these new social media “shares” have no value. They are empty and devoid of emotion. But still we see more and more of them.

The preponderance of vertical tastings on these platforms is intensifying. Someone boasts of tasting 10 vintages of Redigaffi and another volleys back with 20 years of Sassicaia. Like a snowball on K2, it gains momentum. Someone marks a tasting with every known bottle of Screaming Eagle, all tasted in a single sitting. And somebody else is compelled to mark the bushes with a once in a lifetime retrospective of 60 years of RomanĂ©e-Conti. Meanwhile the reader is sitting there in front of the screen, eyeless in Gaza, with their glass of Selvapiana Chianti, wondering what’s next. How many times can these professional wine critics use the word “exquisite” in a note about just one of the wines before the rest of us run out of adrenalin? It’s just too much. There is no value in this for those of us who give weight to experience and context. I’m very happy for you to have tasted all of the wines from the last 50 years of a famous producer of Taurasi, but in the final analysis who really benefits from this but those who actually had the experience? Is this one-upmanship? Or onanism?

The client with the client who wants his cellar full of superior wines seems more akin to the desires of a suicide bomber who takes action with the hope that he will be rewarded in Heaven with 72 virgins. He fills up his cellar and there they all are waiting for him. Nothing in the heavens are special anymore, everything is stellar.

This wave of self-aggrandizement is turning us into social media voyeurs and seems to be trying to create a culture of peak-encounter wine wannabe’s. It makes me uneasy in that it inadvertently suggests I should desire another person’s experience. This is like an eno-porn addiction and it makes me feel empty because it lacks context and meaning for my life. In all likelihood I will never be able to taste that “once-in-a-lifetime” vertical tasting of 70 years of Monfortino and I don’t like having the feeling that I should desire such from an “influencer.”

All this to say when one is twitterpated with their life and the wines they have before them, it doesn’t always translate for those of us sitting in the cheap seats. And while it might increase the social currency of the twitterpater, I can’t help wondering how this is going to make the experience of wine a better one for Aunt Gladys at the Thanksgiving table.

Thankfully we’ll have real bottles of wine at the table for her and all of us who value the pleasures of wine in the flesh more than we do the Instagram moments of “friends” we have never met.

written and photographed by Alfonso Cevola limited rights reserved On the Wine Trail in Italy
wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W


James Biddle said...

"This wave of self-aggrandizement is turning us into social media voyeurs and seems to be trying to create a culture of peak-encounter wine wannabe’s."WOW! In words of the back-in-the-day sage: "stop the world, I wanna get off."
Your article stirred many thought-trails: contrasting your 1985 Broadbent moment with my recent experiences, fewer and fewer of the under 40's seem capable of being fully "present." At my very small dinner events (not parties), the table will have several wonderfully mature wines Sadly, far too many guests interrupt any engagement with the wines and those of us totally "present" by sending off cellphone photos of the bottles to everybody and nobody. It's as though they can't fully enjoy the wine without some one-upsmanship. Hmmmmmmm

Culatelloblog said...

I'm with you 100% Alfonso, though a lot of your posts are about the great wines you tasted and the great meals you've enjoyed. It's all good, just done via a different medium...the blog page.

Lewis Perdue said...

Truth at last! Kudos!

Marco Benigni said...

That's a great shot of you at Santa Clara. Is that a wig?

Alfonso Cevola said...

Thanks Marco - yeah got it after the chemo treatments - How y'all doing up there in Polar-land?

Marco Benigni said...


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