Richard Hemming MW: beware inverse snobbery
Few things can bring communal pleasure so intimately as wine. Apart from a hot tub, perhaps. Sport can trigger mass jubilation, film gives us shared empathy, but wine has a nigh-unique ability to bestow conviviality among us through a shared bottle – which makes it especially galling that we spend so much time divided over it.
Historically, the wine trade was a largely elitist group, selling fine claret and port to only the wealthiest in the country.
When supermarkets began selling it in the 1970s and 1980s, and wine became a drink for the mass market, this snobbish image became a ready target for derision. Then came New World producers with an accessible, easygoing style that democratised wine and drove out much of the remaining snobbery.
That’s a simplified account – but it’s basically true. Today, however, snobbery seems to be sneaking back into wine like a rat into a hot tub.
Specifically, there is a sort of inverse snobbery emerging in which the old guard of classic wines are eschewed in favour of on-trend, new wave style wines. The same sort of thing can be seen with beer, to a certain extent – the bearded Camra bores of the 20th century have been supplanted by the bearded craft hipsters of today.
So, rather than hero-worshipping top-shelf claret or Burgundy, the trend is for youthful red vins des soif or orange wines. Out go new oak, pin-striped merchants and noble varieties; in come qvevri, somms and alternative varieties.
In each case, the fervour of their advocacy soon becomes disdainful of any opposing view. This is most visible when it boils over into bad-tempered spats between wine writers.
Incidentally, I am not taking sides here. I drink and enjoy all sorts of wines, be they natural or conventional. Indeed, that’s the whole point: there is room for all wine and, while everyone will have different likes and dislikes, there can be no possible benefit in sniping at people whose views don’t align with your own.
I’d like to think that the wine trade can be open-minded enough to see merit in wine of every persuasion.
That sort of unity is doubly important in the light of recent research from the Office of National Statistics, which shows that alcohol consumption is falling across the country, especially among younger people.
If we want to sustain a healthy interest in wine and keep the trade vibrant and profitable, then snobbery of any kind must be avoided.
The next generation of potential wine lovers aren’t likely to be won over when the supposed experts are squabbling among themselves.
People like to say that wine is just a drink, but the fact that there is such passion for wine is testament to its diversity and intrigue.
In a time that seems increasingly full of division, surely the primary function of wine should be to bring us together, whether there’s a hot tub involved or not.