Agreeing to disagree
Disagreeing about wine is a fact of wine-trade life, like drugs in sport or corruption in politics. Because taste is entirely subjective, debates about our personal preferences are as inevitable as they are interminable. Indeed, these long-winded, wine-fuelled arguments are precisely what make our jobs so much fun.
But I was surprised to hear a table of wine professionals disagreeing about more fundamental aspects of our industry recently, disputing things I had thought indisputable. Agreeing to disagree is all very well, but to keep something progressive there has to be some degree of consensus on the fundamentals, as the shuddering Brexit process is currently proving.
So here are the wine truths I hold to be self-evident.
The consumer doesn’t exist. Not as a homogeneous entity, anyway. To sell wine effectively, consumers need to be segmented, and each segment requires
a different approach. The idea that people buying
the cheapest available supermarket plonk need to be upsold on to “better’”wine is sheer snobbery. Let’s instead be thankful they are buying wine at all, and focus on promoting the simple daily pleasure that inexpensive wine brings to so many.
Simplification is impossible. Since the beginning, wine has been complicated. That fact is part of its very nature and is integral to its appeal at the top end. But that hasn’t stopped people calling for its simplification, especially by those who are new to the trade – I remember having the same feeling myself. It may seem frustrating, but past experience tells us that a subject so complex and fragmented as wine resists almost every form of simplification. We need to embrace its intricacies rather than dumb it down.
Wine is unique. Wine can’t be like craft beer any more than fondue can be like hummus. Just because they occupy the same general category doesn’t make them comparable. What works in the promotion or serving or production methods for one is not automatically applicable to the other. (Besides, just you wait: fondue will make a comeback one day, and hummus will go the way of Liebfraumilch.)
Natural wine is all terrible. Kidding, kidding. OK, it’s a cheap trick, but the point is that such generalisations are lazy, pernicious and inflammatory. Being dogmatic about wine goes against everything that wine should stand for – conviviality, communion, camaraderie. People should be allowed to judge a wine on its own merits and according to their own taste. In return, none of us should make rushed judgements about wine of any creed or colour.
Democracy is overrated. The idea that wine is “characterised by social equality” is plainly wrong. Music streaming might be democratic; wine isn’t. Today, wine is a globally traded product that reflects the reality of the markets, with a chasm of difference between the cheapest and most expensive bottles, and therefore its accessibility to people – but that doesn’t mean it can’t still be beautiful and delicious and meaningful at every level.