Sunday, September 26, 2010

Can't we all just get along?

Our national wine dialogue is at a very adversarial stage right now. On one side, you have the "Natural Wine" et al faction that is staunchly advocating for wines produced as simply as possible with minimal human interference.

Because this styile is advocated by a young, hip set and because it stands directly opposed to the wine styles that have been popular in the major wine journals of the last decade, this has provoked something of a backlash from The Establishment.

Essentially we've pitted young wine geeks with black plastic eyeglasses and ironic pocket squares against overweight attorneys swilling Bordeaux from Riedel crystal while sitting behind a Commodore 64 running WordPerfect. Unfortunately, the conversation has ceased to be a discussion about quality wine making and has become a shouting match between two firmly entrenched sides.

This boiled over recently when Robert M. Parker, Jr. wrote this about his recent experience at a restaurant. The Twitter-sphere took umbrage to this particular part of his comments:

"Add the BYO and no corkage....and better precious sommelier trying to sell us some teeth enamel removing wine with acid levels close to toxic, made by some sheep farmer on the north side of his 4,000-foot foot elevation vineyard picked two months before ripeness, and made from a grape better fed to wild boar than the human species..."

I was not particularly shocked, as I already assumed Parker to be an out-of-touch ass when it comes to his understanding of the modern wine world, but the severity of his tone does reflect his frustration at the idiot level of wine hipsterism on the other side of the spectrum where, yes, some wines are selected purely for their absurd level of naturalism over all other criteria. Though I can't think of what real-life wine Parker could possibly be referring too.

My tastes do run toward the "natural," terroir-driven style of wine advocated by the wine Twitterati, but there can be excellent, well-made wines that do skew to the higher end of the alcohol spectrum. Also (d0n't shoot me) the presence of new French or (even) American oak in the right kind of wine can improve it. I promise it's true. Take, for instance, Ridge Zinfandels or the red wines from Paulo Laureano in Portugal.

It's not an all-or-nothing proposition and if you become so entrenched in your wine ideology that you're not going to even begin to entertain the validity of wines which exist outside of your vinous fiefdom you're going to miss out on a huge chunk of the world's wine and you'll miss the opportunity to try some gems.

(The only wines I would say to avoid on principal are giant production factory-farmed wines, the types of generic-labeled bottles on the bottom shelves at grocery stories and BevMo. These are character-less wines produced using destructive farming practices.)

And, really, what are the stakes in this game? You try a wine you might not like, have a few sips, and if you really don't like it then just move on to something else. That's it. Your world won't come crashing down, your balls won't retract into your abdomen and your wife won't leave you for her personal trainer. You just might have a mildly unpleasant taste in your mouth that'll go away quickly.

(And if you explain that calmly to your wife, maybe you'll stop arguing and find a new common ground in your marriage, too. I'd still recommend firing her trainer though.)

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