The Gen-X Lament
By Matt Kramer, columnist
It was one of those chance things. I was in back in Piedmont, my heart's haunt, staying at the small inn above Alba that I've called home for years. I returned from dinner late in the evening. When I awoke the next morning, 3 inches of snow covered the roads. I was marooned.
But I wasn't alone. A thirty-something couple from the Bay Area was in the same fix. We discovered that we could get to nearby Alba, the major town in the Langhe hills. And so we found ourselves in that most delicious of circumstances--a long Piedmontese lunch with no hope of doing anything else. Can you think of a better time to baste yourself in Barolo?
Over lunch, once past the introductory chitchat, wine became the inevitable topic. Why else come to the Langhe? My newfound friends loved wine, although they freely admitted that they were still coming along the learning curve. But they were frustrated. I thought it was a matter of learning a new "wine language."
As the hours passed and the wine flowed, they revealed what they had only hinted at earlier. And what was that? Simply that an older generation--the ubiquitous baby boomers--has sopped it all up, leaving my friends with their noses pressed against the windowpane.
"Is there nothing left for us that's really great--that we can afford?" asked the wife. "I know how that sounds," she said apologetically, "but you have no idea how hard it is to find something really good that hasn't already been discovered. It's like there's nothing left."
It's easy to make fun of this self-pity, but (amazingly) I was sympathetic. It was easier 20 years ago. Wines were cheaper. There wasn't anywhere near the pressure, the spotlight, the sheer avidity we see today for the best wines. There also wasn't much information, either.
And let's be honest: Many of today's best-known wines are out of reach for anyone with a mortgage to meet or a child to put through school. Like it or not, the baby boomers rule. (At a balding 47, I'm one of them.) Our snouts got to the trough first.
So what's a younger wine lover to do? That was the question of the afternoon. There's no sense in denying the legitimacy of their emotion. The fine wine life does seem harder today for all except the abundantly solvent.
Nevertheless, I have to say it: They're wrong. The world's best wines are not out of reach. Only the world's most publicized wines are.
This, I believe, is the source of the anguish. You look in the mirror and you don't see yourself. Everybody's touting this grand cru or that first-growth, this insider's offering and that latest triumph, and damn, you're not there!
This is real, and it's painful. But it's also a mirror game. Only a handful of wines from a handful of long-proven wine districts are going to get the golden glow of publicity. And only a small group of people will see their own reflections in that luster. If you can't live without that, well, you'll just have to make more money.
But if you really want to pursue fine wine, be assured that the jewels are there for the finding. Granted, it takes a bit more research. But then again, the info is out there. The fact is, wine lovers of more limited means (and I include myself in this category, by the way) can buy true wine wonders.
Look, for example, at Wine Spectator's recent "Top 100" issue (Dec. 31, 1998 - Jan. 15, 1999). The dessert wine of the year was Quarts de Chaume 1996 from Domaine des Baumard. One of the world's greatest wines, it costs just $35. Well, it used to, anyway. But this wine has been great for decades--just not spotlighted.
Believe it or not, there are hundreds of such wines. So where do you look? Two good places to start are Chianti Classico and the Loire Valley. Why? Because these two regions have thousands of wineries engaged in what will really be a 21st century renaissance. In both places, modern winemaking and a new ambition are harnessed to ancient insights about terroir. That's an unbeatable combination. Yet prices--and the press--are only now starting to catch up with their accomplishments.
To get there first, you've got to look for the glories themselves, not the golden glow.
This column, Unfiltered, Unfined, features the opinionated inside scoop on the latest and greatest in the world of wine, brought to you each Monday by a different Wine Spectator editor. This week we hear from columnist Matt Kramer, in a column also appearing in the new Feb. 28 issue. To read past Unfiltered, Unfined columns, go to the archives. And for an archive of Laube's columns written just for the Web, visit Laube on Wine.
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