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Wednesday Warblings
Looking Beyond The Classics For Great Wine Choices

By Stephen Eliot

It is easy to slip into “old fart” lamentations of how things used to be different…always better, of course. It is the “good old days” syndrome, and few of us are immune. It happens in most every discipline, and it surely has happened in wine. I hear it all the time. Sometimes it is subtle and even unrecognized by those who wistfully muse on the past…and sometimes rather more blatant and grating with something approaching religious indignation at the utter heresy inherent in most anything new.

I confess that my moments of retrospection sometimes give rise to a certain suppressed jealousy that I can no longer afford to drink those marvelous wines that sparked my life-long love affair with the fruit of the vine. Wealthy trophy hunters have conscripted those iconic bottlings that were once my close, if ultimately disloyal, friends.

I would also be lying if I did not admit that I occasionally look back on a simpler time when mastery of the vinous world was easier. There were fewer well-made wines for consideration, and the boundaries of greatness were essentially agreed upon as being innate and not subject to the “eye of the beholder” rationalizations that 21st century criticism invokes but rarely believes. There were exhalted vineyards and vintners that any rightfully attuned wine lover would recognize as being superior, or at least so it seemed. I recall that when I was disappointed with this or that wine of high pedigree, I took the blame rather than damning the wine. I assumed that a little more education and experience would open my eyes, and a bit of welcoming wine journalism was there to help. I do not recall being insulted about my likes or dislikes, and winemakers were not subject to the pious scolding that has become all too frequent these days.

Yes, there are reasons enough to look back and sigh, but, as they say, you can’t go home again, and I do not know that I would really want to even if I could.

Today, there are far more really good wines to be had that ever before, and the diversity of varietals, vintners, vineyards and winemaking style is nothing less than extremely exciting. In his explanation of why he ceased publication of the Quarterly Review of Wines, John Elia bemoans the loss of culture and the colorful winemaking personalities and the ascendance of nameless and faceless technocrats.* I would argue, however, that there are conscientious winemakers galore in all corners of the world whose talents, pure passion and driving curiosity make any lamentations for a past golden age seem silly at best, and they know how to make wine. I may drink far fewer (far, far fewer) Classified Clarets and Cru Burgundies than I once did, but I do drink great wines on a more frequent basis simply because there are so many of them. They may be not priced for everyday gulping, but neither are they prohibitive in cost.

Fond remembrance is fine, but I have grown increasingly impatient with those who tirelessly whine that we have gone astray, that big-budget production on the one hand and the toadying pursuit of critical praise and points on the other have destroyed the winemaker’s art.

This consumable and impermanent art we call wine is in fine shape folks, and the proliferation of clean, affordable , simple, quaffable wines in no way threatens the good stuff. Those who bemoan a loss of culture and see a barren, sterile future are simply not paying attention. There is a new generation of wine drinkers, and it is a global one. Not everyone in it will become a connoisseur and collector, but there will be plenty who do, and they are the certain insurance against the demise of fine wine. The culture of wine will change as any culture must, but great wine will go on.



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No Subject
by Brian Loring
Posted on:9/27/2012 11:37:08 AM

When I hear people gone on about how much better Cali wines were in the 70s and 80s, I wonder to myself if they were actually drinking wine back then, or have only tasted the wines that were the cream of the crop - and that aged well.   Because I remember those days, and it wasn't wine nirvana.   There are soooo many better wines now.   And as you point out, so much more choice.  Personally, I'm a much happier drinker now. 

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