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From the Old Guard to the New Guard: Lighten up

22 comments

 

I suppose I may be part of The old guard who’ve long influenced our drinking habits (and resisted change in the industry),” but I’ll tell you what: I’ll give you a dollar for every bottle of Gruner Veltliner and Spanish Txakolina sold in this country this year, you give me a dollar for every bottle of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and we’ll see who ends up in the poor house and who can buy a beachfront manse in Malibu.

Well, we know who the loser will be: The Txakolina-istas. Because despite the prognostications of “outspoken personalities” and “social sommeliers” who supposedly are revolutionizing what we drink, America’s top-selling wines today are going to be the best sellers tomorrow and five years from now. And that’s all there is to it.

Why is it so important for some people to invest so strongly in a belief system that says the world of wine is turning upside down and nobody can stop it? Why are these same people so angry at “old guards”? What makes them so sure that “Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, and even Lebanon” are going to be the next superstar wine countries?

Look, it’s easy to dig up some young somms in L.A., anoint them as “the new guard,” and imply that they’re the vanguard of some vast, radical movement that’s sweeping the country. Only problem is, it ain’t necessarily so. The majority of somms are still opening bottles of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon for the majority of American wine consumers. Why is that so infuriating for some people?

There’s nothing wrong at all with a somm having a personal preference for whatever might turn her on, but we should realize—if we’re going to view the world realistically, which is usually a good thing instead of dwelling in fantasyland—that 99 percent of consumers don’t really care about wines from Lebanon, or biodynamic wines, or anfora-aged, skin-fermented whites, or any of the other “esoteric” wines that the author of this Los Angeles Magazine piece celebrates. There are, and always have been, plenty of esoteric choices when it comes to wine, and these alternatives can occasionally be amusing, delicious, even memorable. But I continue to shake my head at the ferocity of a small crowd of writers and critics who seem to have smoke coming out of their ears at the very mention of Chardonnay or Cabernet, or anything traditional. It’s as if they were bulls, and these wines that most of us like were red flags waving in front of their snorting noses. Hey, you iconoclastic lovers of the esoteric, lighten up!

As for “social sommeliers,” what’s up with that? This was the first time I’d heard that particular neologism, so I Googled it to see what else I could discover. Well, it doesn’t seem to mean anything, beyond some personal handles and a generalized marketing outlook. Is a “social sommelier” an advanced version of a regular sommelier, sort of a sommelier 2.0 that’s better than its predecessor? I always thought being a sommelier was social to begin with, so calling someone a “social sommelier” would seem to be gilding the lily. It’s like calling Stephen Curry an athletic NBA player. We can assume that, if he’s good enough to be in the NBA, he’s a pretty athletic guy.

Am I “resisting change”? If I am, it’s change for its own sake I’m against. Just because something is different doesn’t make it remotely interesting. There has to be a compelling reason for me to buy a wine, other than simply “I’m not like anything else you’re ever had, I’m different.” I’m not saying that a Finger Lakes Gewurztraminer or a Sicilian Grillo isn’t a nice wine. Not saying that at all. But it’s not likely that more than a handful of Americans has access to these wines, nor are they produced in the quantities needed to fill America’s belly. And there’s really no good reason for consumers to seek out esoteric wines when they’re perfectly happy with their Chards, their Pinots, their Cabs and Merlots and Sauv Blancs. Why are some people so angry at seeing American wine lovers happy?

  1. You really don’t get it, do you?

  2. I have to agree with Kyle. You do sound like an old guy who does not get it. Us old guys who do not get it greatly outnumber the young, hip guys who do get it.

    But, here is a point that Kyle may have overlooked. Despite the fact that you seem to be dissing lightly spritzy Basque whites and Austrian imitation Riesling and orange wines from white grapes with incredibly high phenols for a white wine, you really are not dissing diversity–I assume.

    Because diversity is not be dissed. While I have yet to meet the Gruner that I like, I do have a certain fondness for a light, easy-sipping Txakoli and once enjoyed a wine from Lebanon. I am delighted to see wines of all stripes in this world–even Sicilian Grillos.

    What Kyle does not get is that you are addressing the lemming-like swarm of new commentators, be they somms or young writers or Alice Feiring, who are chasing the next big thing and think they have found it.

    Your experiences teach you, and frankly Kyle does know this as well, I believe, that the holy grail of “the next big thing” is incredibly alluring and totally illusory. There is a reason why the “big grapes” are the big grapes–because they provide more and better experiences for people.

    Which is not to diss diversity or new experiences. Just not to worship in that church simply because it is the newest religion.

  3. You are correct, Charlie: “What Kyle does not get is that you are addressing the lemming-like swarm of new commentators, be they somms or young writers or Alice Feiring, who are chasing the next big thing and think they have found it.” That is what I am pointing out. That, and the anger these somms & writers display when they disparage so much.

  4. The thing is none of those cultivars are “the next big thing.” The next big thing IS diversity. Steve continues to attack a Straw man. This “new guard” is not saying the Chardonnays and the Pinot noirs of the world are going extinct. What we are saying is that the wine world is opening its eyes to the Gruners and Txakolinas. The world’s gaze is not solely on the Napa Valley or Bordeaux, but has drifted (yes, only a bit) to Virginia, Slovenia, and the like. But at least we’re looking around.

    Just as in biology, we can describe three different versions of wine diversity. There’s the basic number of wine varieties that exist (gamma-diversity). Fact: Many more varieties are available to the general public now than when Steve was a young velociraptor. When you scale down to Steve’s area of expertise (CA), the richness of wine styles (alpha-diversity) is greater than it used to be. And even within Steve’s wallet-filling Chardonnay category is a greater differentiation of styles (beta-diversity) than existed when he was even a raptor in his prime. CA Chardonnay isn’t simply big an buttery anymore. There’s a lot more to Chardonnay than mass-produced, off-dry Chardonnay with toasted oak and butter. Chardonnay can mean many things, and that is a good thing. But, yes, it still wildly popular and makes Gruner Veltliner look like a timid little mouse in the corner next to the giant elephant in the room.

    The “smoke coming out of their ears” of the New Guard against the “Old Guard” has been because of the ignorant and arrogant disdain for these alternative varieties as not being “remotely interesting,” or “insipid,” or “innocuous.”

    Charlie, I agree that chasing the next big thing is like chasing your own tail. Yes, the “big grapes” are big for a reason, but they are not the only grapes. I also don’t believe in worshipping in any church, but celebrating the fact that there are so many wine churches that make people happy. Steve seems to be stuck in the pew of his temple and is yelling at the carolers to get off his lawn.

    And there’s really no good reason for consumers to seek out Chards, their Pinots, their Cabs and Merlots and Sauv Blancs when they’re perfectly happy with their dull, low-alcohol esoteric wines from Friuli or Humboldt County. Why are some people so angry at seeing American wine lovers happy and eager to try different things?

  5. Steve, I will stand by you 100% about the uselessness of disparaging others’ preferences. Those in glass houses…

  6. Bob Henry says:

    Charlie,

    My first — and still best — exposure was to the 1999 Grüner Veltliner Spiegel Alte Reben from Fred Loimer in Kamptal, praised below in this piece found on Jancis Robinson’s website.

    Ten years ago, I asked Manfred Krankl (famous Austrian-American winemaker) “why” he didn’t make a Grüner. Paraphrasing his reply: Alas, because no was was growing it on the West Coast.

    And now they are.

    I sell a lot of Zocker brand from the Paragon Vineyard in Edna Valley. A nice alternative to green apple aroma/flavored Chardonnay without the malolactic buttery notes or toasty oak barrel treatment.

    Bob

    Excerpt from Jancis Robinson, M.W.’s Website
    (July 26, 2002):

    “Chardonnay vs. Grüner Veltliner: A Knockout Contest”

    Link: http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/chardonnay-v-gruner-veltliner-a-knockout-contest

    The jury consisted of 39 wine journalists and other experienced tasters from 13 different countries. The wines were tasted blind in flights of six and were scored on a 100 point scale, the highest and lowest score not counting. There was also some bottle variation and here only the good bottles were scored.

    First we tasted 18 wines from 1999 and 2000. Here the winner was the 1999 Grüner Veltliner Spiegel Alte Reben from Fred Loimer in Kamptal, ahead of the 2000 Grüner Veltliner Exceptional Reserve from Freie Weingärtner Wachau – probably the world’s best cooperative winery.

    In the third place came the 1999 Chardonnay Monte Bello from Ridge Vineyards, California.

    . . .

  7. Keaster says:

    I was invited to dinner the other night for a special celebration at a prestigious Northern California restaurant ($200 prix-fixe and an extra $100 for the wine pairing) and left feeling a little lackadaisical. The sommelier was probably in his early to mid 30s and bragged about the wines he chose to pair with the four course meal; a Vermentino from Sardinia, a Gruner from Austria, a Pinot Noir from Germany and a Chateauneuf-du-Pape. As he poured each course he described the wine and why he chose it to pair with the food. Each wine was good by itself, but only the Vermentino paired well with its course. I didn’t express my disappointment in the pairings but left thinking how such a great restaurant, who prides themselves on local farm to fork ingredients, doesn’t have at least one California wine on their pairing list… Especially since only one of the European wines actually worked with its respective course. Surely a steely Sonoma Coast Chardonnay would’ve done just as well, if not better with the lobster salad. When in Rome. Cheers.

  8. That is a good showing for a Ridge Chardonnay. A very OK wine, a wine I like, but it would not finish third in my reviews of Chardonnay.

    And, just because I am not a fan of Gruner does not mean that I think anyone who likes it should not.

    But, Bob, when you tell me that a Jancis-led tasting chose Gruner over anything California, I am neither surprised nor insulted. I just don’t see that result as anything universally definitive.

    And Gruner had a good runout here in SF but it still lags way behind. No reason to diss the grape over that, but its position does sort of confirm Steve’s view that Chard will continue to outsell Gruner no matter what the new somms think.

  9. Kurt Burris says:

    Having sold both Gruner Veltliner and Txaolina in my Sacramento/Tahoe territory I can attest I made more money in a week selling Rombauer Chardonnay then in a year of selling the imports. But, I could sell my Rombauer samples because no one ever wanted or needed to try it and I got to drink the imports. And I thoroughly enjoyed them.

  10. I find it almost incomprehensible to write this, but Kyle is correct. 😉

    Diversity *is* the next big thing. Actually, that’s not true, personalization is the next big thing, but diversity is a natural compliment to that.

    Does it mean that Picpoul will outsell Pinot? Probably not ever, if due only to availability and production numbers. However, it does mean that it’s easier than ever for people to connect with the products (like wine) that speak to them, whether those be off-the-beaten-path varieties or not.

    In the end, ALL of that is good for the world and market of wine in general.

  11. I’m probably going to regret this but …

    Steve is more right than the original article, which is mostly bullshit.

    It’s one thing for somms to say, I really like this wine, or this wine goes great with our food, or you should try this wine. I agree with all those and often write such things myself.

    But go read the original article. A bunch of sommeliers are declaring a bunch of obscure wines the “next big thing.” There’s no sales data, not even at their own restaurant. Just because you like Txakolina doesn’t mean it’s going to be everywhere soon.

    I like beverage diversity as much as almost anyone. I had junmai ginjo with dinner last night, Napa Chardonnay, yep, the night before; Turkish Narince the night before that; premium Lambrusco the night before that. But I’m not going to tell you that’s the way everyone is going to be drinking. It’s not accurate, and to claim it’s so is bad journalism.

  12. Dear Blake, please don’t feel guilty about occasionally agreeing with me. Like the proverbial broken clock, I’m right at least twice a day.

  13. The original article was nothing more than 3 1/2 paragraphs, +8 and anecdotal quotes about nontraditional wines that industry professionals have noticed on wine lists. I’m not so sure why that is controversial or bullshit. And the only near-mention of ‘next big thing’ was this: “Italian sparkling wines on well curated wine lists are the next hot thing.” Hyperbolic? Yes. Bad journalism? No. The entire premise of the article is that nontraditional varieties appearing on wine lists is now a normal thing to seeing. Twenty years ago that was unheard of. There was nothing about these varieties overtaking Chardonnay or Pinot Noir or Cabernet Sauvignon in overall sales. I don’t know from where you’re getting that idea!?!

  14. Bob Henry says:

    “But, Bob, when you tell me that a Jancis-led tasting chose Gruner over anything California, I am neither surprised nor insulted. I just don’t see that result as anything universally definitive.”

    Charlie, to set the historical record straight, Jancis did not attend the alluded to Chardonnay vs. Grüner Veltliner comparison tasting. Nor write it up.

    “. . . Jan Paulson, a Swede living near Munich . . . under the auspices of the VieVinum wine exhibition in Vienna . . . organised the . . . blind tasting of some lauded Chardonnays, including some of Burgundy’s most famous white wines, with just about all of Austria’s top Grüner Veltliners.”

    Last year I attended a Greek wines trade tasting in Los Angeles. The best whites exhibited a Granny Smith green apple aroma and flavor. I could see how they complemented Greek cuisine — and how somms would embrace them. Some whites were questionable. Were they “off” sample bottles — or converts to skin contact “orange wines” with Sherry-like hints of oxidation? (I dunno.)

    From a “diversity” and history perspective, Chardonnay in California was a “big deal” when it was championed in the 1960s. As I have commented elsewhere, in that era plantings of Chenin Blanc handily eclipsed Chardonnay here in my home state.

    Wine writers — encouraged by Robert Mondavi — championed the upstart Chardonnay grape. And wine empires were born.

    As for curated wine lists by Somms, let’s be candid here: How long do they last at any one establishment? Sustain a career in the industry?

    (Restaurants are notorious for rapidly going out of business.)

    You can’t be a “tastemaker” if you have no street corner soapbox to speak from.

  15. Bob Henry says:

    Picking up on Kyle’s observation . . .

    “The original article was nothing more than 3½ paragraphs, +8 and anecdotal quotes about nontraditional wines . . .”

    . . . let’s go to the tape (as they say in the sports broadcasting world) and “de-construct” the touts:

    Re-edited excerpts from Los Angeles Magazine
    (May 18, 2015):

    “Wine Lists of the Future;
    Here’s what you’ll be drinking, according to L.A.’s new wave of sommeliers”

    By Jonathan Cristaldi
    “Drinking, Wine” Column

    The paradigm is shifting in the wine world. The old guard who’ve long influenced our drinking habits (and resisted change in the industry) is giving way to a modern movement — a new wave of outspoken personalities, i.e. the social sommeliers, who champion iconoclastic winemakers, emerging regions, and novel approaches.

    These days, when the competition for space on wine lists is so fierce, new styles of traditional varietal wines are becoming the norm. Grapes like Grüner Veltliner, Riesling and Albariño are stealing the spotlight, and radical new techniques — from anfora-aged, skin-fermented whites to wines aged in concrete eggs — make for compelling (and sellable) narratives.

    Additionally, the rise of the social sommelier has helped to catapult an esoteric range of natural, organic, and biodynamic wines from boutique producers in the U.S. and smaller countries, including Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, and even Lebanon, while also ushering in a young, rebellious set of winemakers from countries like Italy and France, who have thrown off the gloves of tradition to create some of the most exciting wines in recent memory.

    Here’s what some of L.A.’s new guard has to say about what you’ll be seeing on wine lists (and drinking more of) in 2016 and beyond.

    Hirutza 2012 Hondarrabi Zuri, Getariako Txakolina, Spain, $17

    Buoni Anni 2012 “Bianco” Santa Barbara County, USA, $32

    Bellwether Cellars 2013 Riesling “A&D Vineyard” Finger Lakes, New York, $22

    Rovellotti 2005 Costa del Salmino Riserva, Ghemme DOCG, Italy, $50

    Kellerei Bozen-Cantina Bolzano 2014 Weissburgunder, Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy, $13

    Occhipinti TK “Il Frappato” Sicilia IGT, Sicily, $37

    Habit 2014 Rosé Vogelzang Vineyard, Happy Canyon, Santa Barbara, USA $23

    Camossi NV Brut Satèn, Franciacorta DOCG, Italy, $20

    Here’s what some of L.A.’s new guard has to say about what you’ll be seeing on wine lists (and drinking more of) in 2016 and beyond.

    Jason Eisner, beverage director, Gracias Madre

    Guy Gabriele, owner and wine director at Love & Salt

    Matthew Kaner, wine director and co-owner of Bar Covell and Augustine Wine Bar

    Taylor Parsons, general manager and beverage director at République

    George Pitsironis, wine director, Union Restaurant

    Piero Selvaggio, owner of Valentino

    Elisa Terrazas, assistant wine director and manager at A.O.C. Wine Bar

    Christine Veys, wine manager at Sotto

    [Bob’s rhetorical question: We will be seeing these wines come (and I quote the article) 2016 — not now circa 2015.

    How many of these restaurants/watering holes will be in business by the end of 2016?

    Two for sure: Valentino and A.O.C. are mainstays in L.A. dining. The others are upstarts.]

  16. Bob Henry says:

    From Jancis Robinson, M.W.’s Website
    (date unknown — composed sometime after Jan Paulson’s tasting in 2002):

    “Grape Varieties: Grüner Veltliner”

    Link: http://www.jancisrobinson.com/learn/grape-varieties/white/gruner-veltliner

    By Jancis Robinson, M.W.

    Until the 1990s very few wine lovers outside Austria had even heard of Grüner Veltliner. Today, no self-respecting restaurant wine list, whether in New York or Hong Kong, can afford to be without at least one example of this, Austria’s signature white wine grape.

    I would submit that this is only partly because of Grüner Veltliner’s undoubted inherent character and quality. Another reason Grüner Veltliner has impinged on the consciousness of the wine world recently is that the quality of all Austrian wines has become so excitingly and consistently high that no fine wine enthusiast can afford to ignore them. And since it is Austria’s white wines that are even more distinctive than her reds, it is inevitable that the country’s most planted grape variety will gain recognition – especially since Austria’s other major white wine grape is Riesling, which has, unfortunately, not been an easy sell for half a century.

    As a confirmed Riesling enthusiast, I was slow to recognise Grüner Veltliner’s charms. For a long time I thought of it as a poor second to the great Riesling in Austria’s wine lexicon. It took one of several significant blind tastings staged by Munich dentist and fine wine merchant Jan Paulson of http://www.rare-wine.com to convince me that Grüner Veltliner was truly a great grape variety. It was an audacious exercise. In each case a panel of renowned wine tasters was invited to taste a range of top Austrian Grüner Veltliners mixed, in flights arranged by age, with top Chardonnay-based wines made around the world. Best of all, we in London were allowed to choose the opposition, so it included such names as Montrachet, Corton Charlemagne, Leflaive and Ramonet.

    Before this London tasting back in 2002, I could not imagine it would be anything other than a walkover for Chardonnay in general and white burgundy in particular. After the tasting I could hardly believe the results: seven of the top 10 places had been taken by Austrian wines, some Chardonnays but mainly Grüner Veltliners — but this was a result that replicated similar ones in the other, similar tastings. This proved to me that Grüner Veltliner is capable of producing very fine, full-bodied wines well capable of ageing. The top wine of all was a Knoll Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Vinothekfüllung 1990 which obviously had years more ahead of it — unlike many white burgundies of the same age.

    [Bob’s interjection: recall alarm over “pre-mox” in white Burgundies.]

    Of course the Austrian examples in this tasting represented Grüner Veltliner at its best. When it’s overcropped it has — like any other grape variety — much less character. But in general Grüner Veltliner produces very refreshing, tangy wines with a certain white pepper, dill, even gherkin character. The wines are spicy and interesting and in general this is because of the grape’s own intrinsic qualities because the great majority of them, unlike Chardonnays, see no new oak. They are generally fermented in stainless steel and aged either in tanks or very old, large casks, although there have been recent experiments, not always successful, with barrique-aged Grüner Veltliner.

    One vine in every three grown in Austria is Grüner Veltliner, and in Lower Austria (Niederösterreich) in the north east of the country, this proportion rises to one in every two. The vine is hardy and naturally productive so that from the less distinguished vineyards of Lower Austria come large quantities of relatively neutral Grüner Veltliner, some of it used as base for Sekt. Much of the Grüner Veltliner grown around the city of Vienna is drunk very young in the famous Heurige inns in its suburbs. But the finest Grüner Veltliners in the world come from seriously distinguished sites, with the greatest concentration of them being west of Vienna on the Wachau’s famous south-facing terraces on the bank of the Danube – the ripest examples being labelled Smaragd – and on similar slopes in Kremstal and Kamptal. There are also some fine sites for Grüner Veltliner in Donauland and the Weinviertel. A host of quality-conscious producers include Bründlmayer, Schloss Gobelsburg, Hirsch, Jurschitsch and Loimer in Kamptal; Felsner, Malat, Sepp Moser, Nigl, Salomon, Dr Unger and Winzer Krems in Kremstal; Alzinger, Donabaum, FWW, Hirtzberger, Jamek, Knoll, F X Pichler, Rudi Pichler, Prager and Schmelz in Wachau; Graf Hardegg and Pfaffl in Weinviertel; and Fritsch and Ott in Donauland. Wines are typically rich but dry.

    For many years Grüner Veltliner has also been grown just over the Czech border in the Czech Republic, as Veltlin or Veltlínské Zelené, and just across the Hungarian border in Sopron where it is known as Zöldveltelini. But since top quality Grüner Veltliner has begun to make an international impact, we can expect to see the variety being planted much further from Austria. The vine ripens relatively late, which will limit it to relatively warm climates, but there are already plans afoot to plant it in Central Otago in southern New Zealand. The only likely brake on its expansion, the difficulty English speakers have with pronouncing the name, has already been addressed. Some retailers and even producers, call it Gru-Ve.

    Grüner Veltliner means literally “green grape from the village of Veltlin in the Tirol”, and it has been commonly believed that it must be closely related to two other varieties making something of a comeback at the moment, Roter Veltliner and Früher Roter Veltliner, otherwise known as Frühroter Veltliner. Nowadays however we have access to DNA typing which can identify once and for all the relationship between different grapevines (and everything else with a genetic make-up). This shows that, while Frühroter Veltliner is the result of a crossing between Roter Veltliner and Silvaner, there is no relationship at all between Roter Veltiner and Grüner Veltliner. Roter Veltliner turns out to the parent of two other Austrian grape varieties, Rotgipfler and Neuburger, and is today much less widely planted than it once was. At one time it was grown in Lower Austria for table grapes as well as wine. Today it can produce some rich, aromatic wines in warm years, particularly in Donauland’s Wagram district.

    Some top Grüner Veltliners include Hirtzberger, Smaragd Honivogl; Knoll, Smaragd Schütt; F X Pichler, Smaragd Kellerberg; Prager, Smaragd Achleiten; Bründlmayer, Käferberg; and Loimer, Spiegel Alte Reben.

  17. Adam Lee says:

    Been thinking about this blog (and the associated responses here and on Twitter) and have a few random thoughts:

    1) In Jonathan’s original article he mentions that the Old Guard “have resisted change in the industry” and I find myself wondering how he sees that this has happened? I asked him last night on Twitter but have yet to get a response. Myself, I have a difficult time seeing that active response of resisting change. As examples, Steve over his years at Wine Enthusiast rated more Pinot Meunier wines 90 plus points than any other major wine writer (I know this because I make one). Wine Spectator, in this calendar year alone has released reports on Finger Lake Wines, White Bordeaux, Cru Beaujolais, Campania, and South Africa. And the last issue of Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate included reports on Smaragd Gruners and Riesling from Wachau, Puglia, Conceito, Israel, Greece, Campania Felix, and Bulgaria.

    2) I think the greater point was made by Kyle, when he mentions that “the next big thing IS diversity.” I think he’s probably right and it is something of a revelation to me. But I also think it cuts both ways. As Keaster implies in his comment, just because you embrace Gruner and Txakolina doesn’t meant that you embrace diversity. There are wine buyers (somms, retailers, etc.) that only seem to recommend and embrace wines that are out of what is described as the “old guard.” And, if Kyle is right and that diversity is the thing, then those buyers will find themselves on the outside looking in eventually, IMO.

    Adam Lee
    Siduri Wines

  18. Michael says:

    I agree with Blake. The original was B.S. in it offered no real facts to support a narrative. This is the way of typical journalism and now apparently wine journalism. Kyle, personally I believe you are beating up your own straw man in making assumptions of your own. I think that Steve is being “real” and some people are having a hard time with it because it doesn’t support some people’s Utopian vision of where the wine world is headed.
    There is nothing wrong with diversity. I often seek out alternative whites to enjoy; a Torrontes in lieu of a Viognier, or a Rhone style white in lieu of another Sav Blanc with seafood. I think that introducing people to new wines to expand a diner’s palate or your own dinner interesting is on par with variety of tastes and cultures our world is now exposed to. What is tired is a somm lecturing the common folk with nothing but his ideas and selections with a wine pairing dinner or obscure wine lists as if he or she owns the list and his patrons are misguided sheeple that need to be “shown the light” and spared from their own ignorance. Their is also an ignorance in not finding a balance in all things and realizing that if a patron is spending his or her money in a particular restaurant they have every right to their respective tastes.
    As an aside I find the best restaurants are most accomodating. My fiance and I dined at the River’s End in Jenner, California recently, and upon not being able to decide on an appropriate wine with dinner we were comped a three pour tasting of various whites which allowed us to settle on the right wine for our meal. The server was most gracious in doing so and was tipped accordingly.

  19. Michael says:

    original article that is

  20. They say no publicity is bad publicity. That fact that you guys would even think to acknowledge the existence of gruner veltliner warms my heart. As someone who is paying my bills making gruner, I will be the first to admit that it will never outsell chardonnay. Sufjan Stevens will also never sell as many records as the Beatles, but that doesn’t mean I should listen to the White Album everyday.

    My friends are mostly not wine-industry people, and they never drink chardonnay. One friend drinks Txakoli because she tried it in Europe, and was happy she could find it in the states. One friend drinks gruner because she like the 1-Liter bottles. To accuse people of drinking these wines as “change for the sake of change” may be true, but it is equally true that drinking chardonnay is “status quo for the sake of status quo”.

    To me, people who say that chardonnay and cabernet will always be the kings of wine are the same people who say that the Beatles and Rolling Stones are the best bands of all-time, and today’s music stinks by comparison. I won’t try to convince you otherwise, but I promise you that a generation raised on indie rock is perfectly happy listening to bands you’ve never heard of.

  21. If we take the conversation away from wine and into food, this may additive to the discussion.

    Take beef or pork in restaurants. Most everyone has had a filet, New York steak or ribs. Let’s think of these as the Cab and Chard of the beef and pork restaurant world. These cuts of meat are in every supermarket across the country, Maine to Alaska. Many chefs regularly cook filet and sometimes (with much disdain) have to cook them well-done (think over oaked or over extracted) because it’s what the customer ordered.

    Then let’s take the “the new guard chef” article very popular in food magazines or “the latest cut of beef turning Bay Area restaurants upside down” headline. Most typically that chef is working with a cut of beef that is offal (esoteric); heart, kidney, liver, brain. Not mainstream cuts and really not that tasty unless the cut is super fresh and the chef knows what they’re doing (same could be said for the winemaker playing with an orange wine).

    Turn the clock back 60 years and liver and onions was a common dinner and household meal in CA (and my grandparents were making some funky wine in their basement). Fast forward to 1989 and liver and onions is hard to find. Fast forward to last week, and I’ll bet good money, a major food magazine with a 20-something writer had an article on liver and onions in a one-star Michelin.

    Take a trip to Italy or France or Basque Country and the chances of you eating offal are pretty high, especially outside of the big city or major tourist area.

    The point is everything that is old is new again here in the United States and all the while influenced by our friends in Europe. Recycled, rebranded, “rediscovered” by a 25 year old (with an outspoken personality) who just got back from Europe and ate a spicy pig heart for dinner in Bari, Italy with a 16.7% alcohol Primitivo! Imagine the confusion and wonder of a super-ripe and un-oaked Zinfandel with less than a year of aging, errr Primitivo from the Old World served with offal.

    So when is the rush of wines from Mexico and Guadalupe Valley coming? Is that the “next big thing”? Turn the page…or did I miss that?

    Steve, you’re not ‘resisting change’, you’re a realist with the economics that back you up. Pig Heart Ragu is never going to sweep the nation either, no matter how many articles are written on the subject, no matter how many NY and SF chefs work with the product.

    I happen to like Pig Heart Ragu and remember eating it my first time at Oliveto back in something like 2001. Last I checked, Pig Heart Ragu is still something of an esoteric dish despite how well it was cooked by Bertolli.

  22. As a server in a highly trafficked wine bar in S.F. we get a whole range of tourists and locals. We do flights which gives exposure to both a cabernet sauvignon and a teroldigo side by side. The important thing is to share your enthusiasm and curiosity. Share a taste of picpoul with someone- they may love it! If they want to stay with a safety wine so be it. Your not going to covert anyone with a snobby attitude- many people are intimidated by wine, find a way to open that door a bit with a generous spirit and an open mind- I’ve converted many people to nerello mascalese as a counterpoint to pinot noir.

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