don’t worry, drink happy
Rule No. 1: If it tastes good, drink it.
Thursday, February 5, 2004
This is a fascinating time to be a wine drinker (I know, the more wine you drink, the more fascinating it becomes). Never before in history have so many types, styles and colors of wine been available to winos (an endearing term used in the trade to define serious wine drinkers) of all financial means in all corners of the earth.
Here in California, we have the luxury of being able to buy wine just about anywhere. Stopping for gas, you can pick up a bottle of some widely distributed favorite by producers like Gallo, Kendall Jackson or Mondavi. In the supermarket you can stock up on those, plus any number of higher-end selections produced by hundreds of larger wineries from throughout California, Washington, New York State and the rest of the world. If you’re looking for rock-bottom pricing with limited selection, pick up wines from the big discount stores—even Target and Wal-Mart are entertaining the idea of adding wine to the inventory.
Don’t forget the liquor stores, where folks have been stocking locals’ favorites for decades. And, of course, for the person interested in carefully chosen wines from more diverse producers, along with knowledgeable and caring interaction with wine professionals, you can always choose from a number of high quality wine shops scattered throughout the area.
Meanwhile, top-notch restaurant operations have sprouted up everywhere, promoting and educating wine drinkers about their favorite new discoveries. This has led to increasing wine savvy on the part of just about everyone. However, wine savvy is not necessarily as easily attainable, nor readily identifiable, as some might think.
An important component of wines’ many equations, as has been the case since the beginnings of wine, involve the myths surrounding this near magical elixir. They veil an already hazy picture of just what wine really means. Myths old and new abound: the need for cork as a closure; the presumption of boxed wine as being inferior—and conversely, bottled wines (with corks) superior; the location of certain geographical regions as the only areas capable of producing great wines; the use of pesticides and chemical additives as a requirement for hearty grape growth; the necessity for newly fermented wines to be infused with overwhelmingly powerful new oak flavors; the misguidedly irresponsible wine press that anoints certain wines, producers, grape varieties, styles, climates and people as great, thereby rendering all else in the wine world irrelevant; the scientifically artistic marketing employed by wineries to create auras of greatness about their products…the list goes on and on.
Another driving force behind what wine has become and how it is chosen involves the globally empirical nature of big business. Until the entrepreneurial blitzkrieg launched by Ernest & Julio Gallo, wines throughout the world were pretty much grown and produced as a local enterprise, from grapes found in the area, usually on the producer’s own land. Sometimes, as is still the case throughout many Old World wineries, families continued the grape growing, harvest and fermentation started by their ancestors, on the same land, using the same old vines.
The past half-century or so, and especially the past decade, has brought to the wine-making world a new, very powerful influence on how wine is made, sold and consumed. Ever-expanding conglomerates, many that run wineries from home bases in other continents, are consolidating control of an industry that is expanding—judging by the addition of more esoteric styles of wine from more diverse regions—yet simultaneously shrinking, as bigger and bigger companies buy up existing wineries while colonizing land in emerging growing regions.
The result on the one hand is mass-marketed, globally distributed, uniformly standard, unflinchingly similarly-styled wines versus the grass-roots emergence of small, dedicated wine pioneers—individuals willing to tend the grapes, handle each cluster, keep careful watch over every step from dormancy to bottling and maintain as much integrity with as little manipulation of the grapes’ expression as possible. In between lay thousands of other producers accomplishing, to varying degrees, a bit of both.
By the time you pour that glassful of fermented grape, so many factors have contributed to what you paid for it, what it tastes like, where you bought it and how you enjoy it that sometimes the simple act of drinking it becomes a bogged-down intellectual, moral and emotional—not simply sensory—activity.
We each face a daily avalanche of information and stress, threatening to bury us all. Wine can provide a powerful barrier that helps defend against that avalanche. The relaxing, wholesome benefits of regular moderate wine drinking are widely documented. Don’t diminish those benefits by complicating everything.
Try all types of different wines at different times, with different foods, for different reasons, with different people, in different glasses without worrying whether it is correct, trendy or traditional. Pull the cork, or twist the cap, or tap the box, then pour, swirl, smell, sip and savor.
Life will get better right away.