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Monday Manifestos
Money Talks: the New Battle for American Hearts and Minds

By Stephen Eliot

In the land of the Coca Cola drinkers, sugar is king—or so some wine pundits would have you believe.

Last week, I had a bit of fun with the claim by Lettie Teague of the Wall Street Journal that Italian wines are the best to be had when it comes to matching food with wine by dint of their acidity, commonplace bitterness and the fact that Italians apparently drink with food more frequently than anyone else. I get the point, and my reaction to that little trifle was one of amusement.

I am less amused, however, by the trite and tiresome look down the nose at the American palate as being one so governed by a love of sugar, and thus being incapable of appreciating or creating wines that find a comfortable place at the table.

Still, come the next day, I was grinning over my morning coffee about such silly perceptions and those who would offer them up as the premise of some invalid and useless conclusion when I read a thought-provoking piece of reporting on Jeff Lefevere's Good Grape website. Suddenly, I started to wonder about this and other perhaps-not-so-random championing of the virtues of Italian wines.

It seems that European Union (EU) wine producers –- Italy being the leading exporter of the bunch -- has launched an aggressive, very well-funded marketing and advertising campaign, and the American wine drinker is very much in the crosshairs. Jeff’s piece on the subject is a good one and will set any fan of the grape to thinking.

Now it may be simple co-incidence that Italian wines are recently grabbing a fair share of the media spotlight—check out the October 31 issue of The Wine Spectator, for example—and Jeff is making me wonder. The wine-reporting game is a cyclical one, and every subject returns in time, but I confess that we who write about the stuff are always on the look for a good story, something with a little more shine and shimmer.

A new, well-polished packaging of classic, “terroir-driven” (yawn), history-drenched-but-still-innovative wines from Europe cannot but get attention. That is, after all, what good marketing is all about. Maybe this is just the beginning, and, since no one save the Chinese can afford finer French wines, get ready for the EU song-and-dance set and their tales of Italy, Iberia, Germany, Greece and the sadly neglected regions of France.

The funny thing, however, is that if Ms. Teague and her many fellow travelers are right in their condescending opinions of Americans as mostly sugar-dulled dimwits that would not know vinous sophistication if it bit them in their butts, then is the EU wasting its now diminished money. Maybe European vintners should cynically embrace global warming for their own economic good and start producing an ocean of the lumbering, low-acid, over-oaked plonk that plays to the look-down-our-noses interpretation of American taste. But, perhaps, just perhaps, they really do believe that “the colonies” are not a lost cause after and, that with a little education and training, we can yet discover what wine is really all about.

I expect that among those in the wine business, there will be many with axes to grind and debts to pay as the new global wine market finds definition. And there will be honest voices and those who at least believe they are honest and tell us so even as they go off on fancy junkets and write tasting notes on the wines they taste “over there”. Of course, there will also be those who know how to make a buck—we know them for their “pay for a label and we will run your wine review” approach. In short, it will be business as usual. I just hope that the polarity of latter-day politics, the “us vs. them” mindset that thrives on damning the other side can be kept at bay. When was it that real wine appreciation required choosing up sides?

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Money Talks
by Jeff
Posted on:10/4/2011 1:55:15 PM


Thank you for referencing my story on EU marketing dollars.  It took an incredible amount of research to whittle the EU Wine Reform into something wieldy, and, as you suggest, I think the long-term implications will be interesting to watch.  But, we know this for sure -- the U.S. is close to leading global consumption, the U.S. leads in EU exporting / EU wine importing and the countries have discretionary cash at hand and will for the forseeable future.

This next decade is going to be incredibly interesting...


No Subject
by Sherman
Posted on:10/4/2011 9:06:44 PM

"Maybe European vintners should cynically embrace global warming for their own economic good and start producing an ocean of the lumbering, low-acid, over-oaked plonk that plays to the look-down-our-noses interpretation of American taste."

I believe we've already seen that approach used, much to the detriment of the Australian wine producers. It would seem that the American wine consumer ain't quite as benighted as some might think -- oh sure, you may have to hit us upside the head with a 2x4 to get our vinous attention, but eventually we learn the lessons. Ignore the critters on the label and pay more than $5 for a bottle -- you'll get better juice!

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