Sunday, May 15, 2016

The End of Conspicuous Consumption - A View from the Edge

2016 has taken this one down, and sometimes off, the wine trail. Personal detours along with a professional recalibration combined with an evolving re-alignment of what wine means in our daily life are some of what I have found on the journey this year.

I’m 87 days into my 100 day wine abstinence program. And I’ve discovered so many things that have shaken my relationship with wine, recreation and refreshment. It has also changed how I look at the business of wine. And it has altered my objective.

I no longer want people to drink more (Italian) wine. I want more people to drink (Italian) wine. But I want to see those people drinking better, not more. It’s that simple.

I see how much those of us in the wine and spirits trade drink, as if our enormous volumes of intake will make up the difference. All that does is make for dangerous drives home at the end of a night and for wobbly livers when we get there.

I see contemporaries posting pictures of massive amounts of wine, 30 years verticals of Ornellaia and what not and I now cringe. And even if someone is just tasting and spitting, I say to myself now, “What?” and then “So, what?” I see a dilemma.

First off, if one opens those bottles and doesn’t enjoy them, only spitting, how does that honor the spirit of the effort that went into making all those great wines? Secondly, if one actually tries to partake of all of those wines, not spitting, that level of gourmandizing seems to have crossed over into a territory that screams to me, “This isn’t what the winemaker intended.” I know this sounds a little like a Baptist preacher at his pulpit on a Sunday, but hang in there with me. That’s not where I’m going.

I don’t intend to sell my wine collection anytime soon. But I do intend to curate it, along with the wines I will drink on an everyday basis, with a different perspective. We don’t need more. We need better.

Italy surely has kept up in both the more and the better department. So the onus is on each and every one of us to decide which way we want to go.

I was talking to a dear friend last week. He’s been in the trade many years and is very conscious of his health. He runs, eats a Spartan diet and stays mindful of his intake. And he is a master sommelier, a cloak he’s worn for many years, so it is well worn and integrated into the tone of his life. He told me, “I found myself opening a bottle of wine every night, and drinking half of it, my sweetheart the other half. And I found I was getting mentally sluggish. I didn’t sleep as well. My digestion suffered. And when I finally got to sleep and woke up in the morning, I was slow on the starting line. So I cut back, took a day or so every week without opening a bottle and gave wine a more proper perceptive in relation to the other things in my life. It’s not a panacea; it’s just part of a larger expression of life.” Yessir.

And I see that in Italy, by the way. People there eat and drink less. And articles are written, bemoaning that diminishing consumption of alcohol (wine) per capita by the Italians. As if drinking two liters of a not so well made Barbera was the ultimate goal?

Actually, the Italians are on track. It’s just that the expectation was for “more.” And many of them are opting for “better.” Not “more and better,” which seems to be the path of many in my world.

I call on the well-recognized wine writers and critics to look at the way the write about wine and ask them how they are framing their reviews, criticism and reflections on wine. Are you getting more traffic because of your epic tastings of 50 Barolos from the 1960’s? Are you contributing to the feeding frenzy of “more” and the lust to taste everything in one sitting from Giacomo Conterno or Angelo Gaja? Is this your goal?

I read in a blog about the steakhouse wine lists in Texas which cater to the dick-waggers - the petro-fueled nights when an oil baron goes in and orders a round of Romanée-Conti, followed next by a round of some ancient Bordeaux first-growth, and then obscenely expensive bottles of Napa cult red. Not to mention the insanely demonstrative Jeroboam of Champagne in the beginning, the highly oaked and equally exclusive magnum of Chardonnay from California or France. And finishing with a rare bottle of dessert wine which no one, at that time wants, but when will one ever get to taste the ’67 D’Yquem again in their lifetime? Oh yeah, that goes on, in Houston, in LA, in NY, you know it does. All the time. It’s a “yuge” practice among the elite and well-connected.

Maybe it’s a stage some of us must go through. After all, those wines are made to be consumed, if even in a conspicuous manner. But I contend this might be a bit too much. Well, it is for me at this point in my life. I’d just as soon have a nice glass of an honest Beaujolais or Vino Nobile.

So, that’s where I’m at – that’s the view from here, at the edge of the country with a clear sighting on the Pacific all the way to Catalina Island. Murmurings of one who is privileged to have a quiet morning, facing the west, looking towards the east, in search of some kind of balance in life with this thing we call wine.

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W


redreid said...

Well said (and that comes as no surprise). Hope you are doing well and look forward to seeing you tomorrow.

Marco Guardiola said...

I understand what you have described so well. Sometimes, I am surprised when I look at the bottle we drank from the previous evening has so much left in it! I believe that it is a natural balance that is trying to make itself heard. I can no longer eat a 16 oz prime ribeye steak either. However, after 700+ days without wine, I am currently opting for the mo' better fork in the road.

Unknown said...

Many of my friends in Italy seem to be focusing on eating even better quality food (not more); and so, they're expecting higher quality wine. I attributed this, in part, to another manifestation of the difference between America's wine-as-cocktail vs. the Old World's wine-as-food-group mentality. In addition, I rarely see wine-as-trophy touted in Italy; pride in high quality/low price finds to be sure! Your comments RE winemakers' intentions for their wines points to the enjoyment of the total food/wine experience rather than trophy-wine as a stand-alone-cocktail. As always, your blog raises ideas worth pondering.

Marco Manduria said...

Dr. J, can quote you on fine wine?

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