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Monday Manifestos
The New Wine Demagoguery

By Stephen Eliot

There is an old saying that someone who is so bound up in concerns of small details “cannot see the forest for the trees”, but in the contemporary realm of wine writing, both professional and amateur, I am beginning to wonder if it is not the other way around. I am increasingly getting the uneasy sense that too many true-believing folks are so concerned with preaching a new one-way orthodoxy ranging from from low-alcohol to “natural” wines, from wholly hands-off winemaking to impossible-to-define “balance” and such that they, in fact, no can longer see the trees for the forest.

In my world, a wine should stand or fall on its own, because it tastes good, meets my standards for balance and provides intrinsic pleasure and not because it fits within some tidy and inevitably simplistic paradigm. And, I am tired of enlightened charlatans screaming from the pulpit and brandishing their sets of commandments as to how any wine worth drinking must be made.

Anyone who pays even sporadic attention to wine has heard it all. All wines over 14% alcohol are failed. If it is not natural, it is not worth drinking. If a winemaker actually puts his or her individual stamp on a wine that some sacred covenant with nature has been violated. All Napa Cabernets are woefully over-made, and Russian River Pinots have lost their identity. There is no difference in one New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc from another, and Bordeaux has sadly become a parody of its once-great self. I could go on, but you get the drift.

Now sometimes the message is sneaky and subtle and sometimes so blatant as to be downright laughable, but at the heart of them all is a self-righteousness certainty that makes comprehending the vast world of wine far simpler. I mean, after all, there are thousands and thousands of wines out there, and getting to understand even a significant fraction requires time, real study and extensive tasting. It is just too much work. Just as religion makes a chaotic and terrifyingly inexplicable universe livable, perhaps the new orthodoxies do the same for wine.

The great irony in all of this is that almost every commentator says that taste is a matter of choice, that the consumer should like what they like and not be dependent another’s opinions, but then they turn around and impose rules and sniffle derisively at those who would disagree. Worse, they all want to remake the world in their own vision. It is not enough to say what you like, now you must out the offenders and get them to change their errant ways. Yep, it’s getting a little too close to religion to me.

Demagoguery thrives when it promises to bring order to chaos, but, when it comes to my favorite drink, I think that a little chaos and infinite variety just might be the stuff of real art.


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No Subject
by Brian Loring
Posted on:9/10/2012 6:19:45 PM

Great blog, Stephen!

I especially shake my head at the people who talk endlessly about terroir... and then criticize a wine because it doesn't taste like something grown a continent and an ocean away. 

To quote Inigo Montoya, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

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