Do anything too regularly and it soon becomes a chore. Stop sniggering at the back. It’s as true for wine tasting as it is for data entry. I know, poor us. Try telling anyone with a normal job how unlucky we are and I doubt you’ll get much sympathy, but the fact remains that there are thousands of different wines and most of them taste pretty average.
The same applies to books, albums and films. Most of them are trying to cater for the masses. Bestselling examples such as the Da Vinci Code, Adele or the Fast & the Furious franchise rarely receive acclaim from experts and critics, but they enjoy huge success based on their mainstream appeal.
For those of us in the wine trade, it’s tempting to champion the outlier and eschew the commercial brands. Indeed, there’s an argument that this should be our duty. All of us who work with wine have expertise beyond that of the average wine drinker, so surely it’s up to us to promote interesting, worthy wines – and to explain to people why they should care about them.
Take the recent Wines From Spain tasting as an example. I tasted around 50 wines. They came from different parts of the country, different vintages and different varieties – yet the majority of them were similar in price, style and quality. All of them were technically well made and pleasant enough to taste, but had no distinguishing features or points of interest. They were the equivalent of mainstream entertainment – unchallenging and easily digestible.
I don’t mean to single out Spain, incidentally – the same can be said of almost of any big tasting, whether it represents a country, an importer or a retailer.
Five wines really stood out for me, all of which had a recommended retail price above £12 and came from relatively obscure origins – Godello from Valdeorras, Bobal from Manchuela, that sort of thing. These are wine styles with decidedly esoteric flavours, which were interesting and memorable, illustrating the outer reaches of the wine world.
It’s easy to forget that most casual wine drinkers will find such wines alienating for the exact same reasons I found them appealing. They would probably much rather choose one of the Riojas or Ruedas for familiarity and a conventional, mainstream style.
For wine retailers, getting the balance right requires constant fi ne-tuning. As I’ve said here before, the secret to great retail is understanding your different customer types and ensuring you have the right wines in stock to satisfy their demographic.
Hopefully many of you reading this column will be coming to the London Wine Fair. As the pre-eminent forum for our industry, it’s the ideal environment to potentially discover hundreds of new wines. So, remember to evaluate how they will suit your customers. And remind yourself – this should never be a chore. Finally, don’t forget to get your tickets for the wine trade party of the year, Skin Côntact Live Again, on May 12.