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Drinking Out Loud

In a More Perfect World …

We'd see these changes

Matt Kramer
Posted: September 3, 2013

Sometimes you can't help but say, "You know, in a more perfect world, things would be different." For example, it will be a more perfect wine world when …

… All wines could be labeled as Chardonnay or Cabernet. I've dreamed of this for years, decades really. Everyone knows that there are hundreds of wines that languish in obscurity because, well, they're not sold as Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon.

We all know why. Your average wine buyer looks at the wine shelves in a shop or at a restaurant wine list and buys what's most familiar. Chardonnay and Cabernet have become generic, like saying Kleenex, as in, "I'll have a glass of Chardonnay, please."

Imagine what would happen if that glass of generic Chardonnay was actually composed of Riesling? Or good Sémillon? Or Garganega. And just think of how much more intriguing people would find their "Cabernet" if it were a Syrah, never mind a nice Sangiovese or even something weird and wonderful like a Trousseau from Jura.

Actually, this sort of thing exists. In the Alsace region of eastern France, a Pinot Blanc isn't necessarily what its blameless-looking varietal label suggests. In Alsace a Pinot Blanc, so called, can be composed of Pinot Blanc, Auxerrois Blanc (which DNA testing shows to be related to the Pinot family), Pinot Gris or even Pinot Noir.

In a more perfect world, dozens of grape varieties and many hundreds of wines would get their rightful attention and acclaim, as well as a more respectful price, if only they could be labeled as Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon.

… We would drink the wine and not the deal. I seem to know a disproportionate number of guys—and they're always guys in this case—who cannot seem to override what they know to be a substandard wine because "it's a deal."

I get these calls all the time. "Hey Matt, it's Murray. I saw an offering for Château Bleh and it's only $40. Whaddya think?"

Invariably I sigh and explain that for that kind of money, they could be drinking something really fine. And besides that, it wasn't a good vintage and it's getting dumped for a reason.

I may as well save my breath.

"Yeah, but it's only $40. It's a deal!"

In a more perfect world, people who ought to know better—and in fact often do know better—would drink the wine and not the deal.

… Wineries will sell wine love, rather than gimmicks, to Millennials. As is widely reported, marketers of pretty much everything are falling all over themselves to get a piece of the Great Millennial Cohort. Millennials are young people who are now in their mid-20s to early 30s. And there's a boatload of them, some 70 million or more.

Now, in any target group that big there's surely going to be room for all sorts of marketing ploys. But as best I can tell, most of the Millennial-oriented wine-selling seems to be for branded wines of no quality with smirky or even smutty names. Is there a market for that sort of thing? Of course there is. Party on.

But where's the Millennial pitch for genuinely good, worthwhile wine? After all, this same cohort knows more about really good coffee than Juan Valdez could ever imagine. And they're connoisseurs of craft beer. This is a cohort that knows about quality.

Yet I don't see much wooing of this group by what might be called the "real-wine world.” In a more perfect world, we'd be seeing this tremendously vital, significant group not pandered to but thoughtfully sought out.

And, you know, the romance-of-wine approach worked wonderfully well on previous generations of wannabe wine lovers. We wanted to fall in love with wine. Are Millennials that different? Maybe the romance of wine will have a retro appeal. I know I fell for it—hard.

… Buyers will really believe that $30 can get you incredible wine. Now, here, a more perfect world has already arrived, if only people would believe it. Never before in wine history have we had so many wines offered to us that are so well-made, so interesting and so damned cheap for their exceptional quality.

Yet there's a pernicious effect at work; a relative handful of highly praised wines that sell for hundreds of dollars a bottle has devalued the worth of a "mere" $30 bottle, never mind ones that sell for $20 or even less.

Give me an example, you say? Fair enough. The other day I tasted a red wine from Portugal that rocked my world. It was incredible. It was a 2010 from the producer Quinta de Foz de Arouce. Beautifully made, with succulent, characterful polished fruit and ultrarefined tannins buoyed by a just-so acidity, it's 80 percent Baga and 20 percent Touriga Nacional, grown on schist soil. I would have guessed, oh, 50 bucks a bottle. The actual price? $20.

In a more perfect world, wine lovers at every level of knowledge and enthusiasm will believe that $20 or $30 can get you a truly incredible bottle of wine. For now, skepticism—even cynicism—still holds sway. Big, big, big mistake.

… People stop buying the second-cheapest wine on the list. Where did this spurious "sophistication" come from that in-the-know wine sorts choose the second-cheapest wine on a restaurant wine list?

I can't tell you the number of people—ones who actually know about wine!—who have confessed to me that when they're in a restaurant, they choose the second-cheapest wine on the list. Why? Usually the answer is a sort of embarrassed shuffling about how they heard it was an insider's trick.

In a more perfect world, this mishegas has got to stop. Ask any sommelier: The only difference between the cheapest wine on the list and the second-cheapest is that one costs more than the other.

Paul Jacroux
Kirkland, Washington, USA —  September 3, 2013 3:54pm ET
In a more perfect world I would be able to walk into a wine shop and that mind blowing $30 bottle would leap into my hand. With thousands of winemakers and hundreds of thousands of wines it's a task I just don't have time for. And wine critics aren't much help. I've learned that my palate is in total agreement with only one wine critic and The Oregonian dropped him years ago. So I'm on my own and rely on the old saw "if it costs more it's better." MOST of the time that's true.
Douglas Johnson
Appleton, WI —  September 3, 2013 6:37pm ET
When reviewers stop gushing over boutique wines, like the ones from Screaming Eagle, that sell for ridiculous prices, maybe they'll buy the wine, not the hype. I have had many great wines and have never spent more than $50 for a bottle and usually much less.
Kc Tucker
San Diego, CA —  September 7, 2013 4:37pm ET
Go to a good wine shop and ask. We taste thousands of wines every year and are always seeking value and not scores.

Jim Kern
Holiday Wine Cellar
San Diego, CA
Dennis D Bishop
Southeast Michigan, USA —  September 12, 2013 2:15pm ET
In a more perfect world wine tasters would require stringent, independent certifications for each of the regions that they report on. As an example, when several (unnamed) internationally acclaimed tasters have a spread from 88 pts. to 97 pts. on a rather simple Riesling, something is wrong and requires fixing!

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