Sunday, December 03, 2023

It All Depends on You

Jackson Pollock Salmon
It is so very entertaining observing from the edge of the river. Swimming along are the young fish, all bright and shiny and determined to show the world just what great swimmers they are. And aren’t they beautiful? Along with that, regulated by the river and depending on the fish, they might just be swimming somewhere to save their species, as members of their group have done for countless generations.

Likewise, it is a similar swim, on land with the up-and-coming crop of wine tradesmen and women. They’re all suited up and shimmering in the bright room, say, at a wine tasting. I love to study their movements in the room, who they talk to, what they talk about, which wines they are drawn to, and the people they connect with. We all did it, consciously or otherwise. It’s part of our humanity.

What I’ve been pondering, a lot, lately, is how the present iteration of today’s wine professionals - the movers and the shakers - is girded. And with the news coming out lately that wine, once again, is lumbering, due to economic malaise and several other factors, I can’t help but wonder how they will pull the wine trade out of the nosedive it seems to be finding itself in.

For myself, I had no idea just how severe the present crisis was. And surely some of the doomsayers can’t all be right? But we all love to see things bleed, don’t we? And some of us actually want to read about the rescue being a successful one.

I read this recently by Edith Zimmerman:

Not long ago, when I ordered a café au lait in downtown Washington, I was told my lait choices were oat, soy, or almond. “I’ll take regular whole milk,” I said. “Sorry, we don’t have that,” the barista replied.

It reminded me when I was taking a walk around my local shopping mall and stopped in at the Italian Emporium. In the cold box were wines that warbled the oat, soy or almond mantra, this time regarding Italian wines. There were orange wines. There was a Sicilian Viognier and a Piedmontese Riesling. There was no Soave, Verdicchio or Gavi to be found. “Sorry, we don’t have that,” the barista replied.

I’m all for inclusion. I’m befuddled when the basic building blocks, the ones that got us here, are cast aside for the idiosyncratic being presented as the standard-bearers. It took years to bring people over from France and California to Italian wines, and to Italian whites even more of a challenge. A Sicilian Viognier? It’s a bizarre anachrony. No wonder they’re reducing floor and display space in the store. 

I’m saying this because even though I am open to all, what happened to the rest of all? By the way, the Viognier and Riesling, strangers in a strange land, were selling for well over $20. Not your everyday ring-up. Who’s making these choices? Who is teaching the young decision makers how to run a successful business, not just curating a list of one’s favorite off-the-wall wines? What good is this for anyone involved?

Years ago, there was this buyer in a town in Texas who moved around from store to store. One could tell their current interests, at the time, by the set. In one store, they had 90+ Parker wines from Australia that were selling for over $30. In another they hand-picked a slew of Grosses Gewächs Rieslings from Germany, again, $30 and up, 90 points and up. And the wines sat there. Meanwhile the wine buyer moved on. Eventually that town in Texas became like a cemetery for said wine buyers’ current crazes, until the  person left the business and the state. And it took years to move those wines out, many of them suffering from sitting too long under the fluorescent lights of the wine shops. For what?

Look, we all have a learning curve. But many of us had teachers and guides, souls that steered us away from the cliffs of bad decisions. I don’t see those safeguards as clearly today.

I went into a local Italian place that just opened up. Nice decorations, pleasant environment, not too loud or bright. The server handed me the wine list. $12 for a glass of red from Abruzzo, essentially a co-op wine. Twenty years ago, this would have been a $5 pour. Now entry level is $12. Of course, the wine is probably better now than it was twenty years ago. But a savvy buyer could have readily found an even better wine and maybe it would have been seen as a good deal, by folks like me, at $12.

I didn’t drink wine that night. Ok, that was the other end of the spectrum from the “anything goes” curated selection at the Italian wine and food emporium. But I wonder what folks, who are just looking for a good Margherita pizza and a mellow glass of red, are getting themselves into when they step into some of these places which are governed by that shimmering crop of today’s wine tradesmen and women.

If I were new to Italian wine and I went into either of these places, I don’t know if I would ever become a fan of Italian wine. Seriously. I’m being told what to like by someone who hasn’t learned the basic blocking and tackling of the trade. Or someone looking to make as much profit off me on a glass of wine, to the point that the first ½ glass pays for the bottle.

There’s a lot of talk about the crisis in today’s restaurant industry, in regards to attracting servers and workers into the industry. Horrible hours, demanding work, questionable compensation. I think with what I am experiencing with today’s wine buyers (not all, but too many) that the reported restaurant crisis will solve itself. Because folks will just stop coming to places that are not elevating their tastes and needs within their budgets. It’ll be like X (formerly Twitter) and just fade into the past. Peut-être?

Of course, many of us will by then disappear. And that will also solve the younger generations annoyance with the elders who have handed them this world.

In a world that is still looking for whole wine, what will they do with all that unsold oat, soy, or almond wine? What are they going to do, follow us into oblivion? Or keep swimming to save the species?



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