Richard Hemming: Don't dismiss being a slave to fashion
I remember when having an undercut with curtains was fashionable. I got mine done at Tony’s Barber Shop in Foster Hill Road in Bedford and, to complete the look, I wore 10-hole green DM boots, baggy jeans and a long-sleeved U2 T-shirt.
Ah, the nineties. Best decade ever to all those who grew up during it. But fashions change, of course, and we’ve all got photos (printed on actual paper and delivered to your door after sending off a 35mm film in one of those Truprint plastic envelopes) of our younger selves which look mortifying now.
Similarly, we deride oaky, buttery Chardonnays these days, but at their peak these (mostly) Australian upstarts were heaped with praise for their tropical fruit and potent barrel influence. Then came modish New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, revered for its oak-free citric fruit purity – though for some years now, the UK trade (if not the wine-drinking public) has spoken of its boredom at this onslaught.
Incidentally, vinous fashions always seem to be more marked for whites than reds. The closest recent trend for the latter has probably been Argentinian Malbec – but 2014 Wine & Spirit Trade Association figures suggest that Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah are more popular red varieties. Then again, Lambrusco is apparently the latest hipster fad, after having been a pariah wine for the past few decades.
The point is, the wine trade should be open-minded and positive about trends. To a certain extent, they reflect the taste of the nation, so deserve to be supported by every off-licence. On the other hand, wine retailers have the chance to influence trends by keeping in touch with the latest developments, then choosing their range and promoting it accordingly.
Ignoring fashions in wine because of some lofty ideal against mainstream trends is ultimately fruitless, because in retrospect, everything looks silly at some point – it’s just a matter of time. I don’t doubt that future generations will regard our current favourites with scorn, just as we may laugh about brands which seem passé to us today but which continue to go about their business with way more success than most people assume.
Furthermore, changes in fashion indicate vibrancy, excitement, vitality. Yes, they may become overexposed and exploited, but they still indicate health in an industry. The alternative is to have a stale, boring wine trade devoid of innovation.
Vitality in the UK wine business matters because we are a diverse, competitive, mature market with one of the widest ranges of wine anywhere in the world. Being at the forefront of wine’s latest trends is an integral part of that. Plus, you never know when something might come back in fashion. Which is why I’m off down to Tony’s.
■ Loyal OLN readers, allow me to briefly hijack my column to shamelessly plug Skin Côntact Live, a charity gig in aid of Wine Relief. I’ve formed a wine trade supergroup to play a one-off spectacular at Vinopolis on March 9, and the whole wine trade is invited. See skincontactlive.com for tickets and more information.