Grrrrr(rilling) Wines

An unexpected rant on the four culprits of conformity in the wine world



Two weeks ago, I wrote a brief email talking about Vermentino as one of this summer’s potential breakthrough wines. I heard back from a few of you, enthusiastic in regards to the wine, though doubtful about its prospects. Such is the state of wine. Distribution makes wide-scale adoption a challenge at times, and the general stranglehold the retail/critic wine mafia has on the marketplace can make it it particularly resistant to change.
 
I’ve mentioned it before, and it’s worth mentioning again, that as far as I can tell there is a vicious cycle at play in the world of wine. Retailers, often through no fault of their own, rely heavily on critics’ scores, both to buy and sell wine (though ultimately it’s all based on sales, of course). They know that shelf talkers, and the general awareness of scores in the marketplace, drive sales. Critics, on the one hand, recognize that bigger scores tend to be displayed more prominently, an incentive to boost one’s scores if there ever was one. After all, critics live and die by name recognition, and there is no better branding than millions of shelf talkers throughout the country. 
 
I don’t want to get sidetracked, but there is this system in place that tends to favor the status quo. Retailers don’t want to have to change over their inventory each year, so life is much easier for them if their 91 point 2011 Chateau X Chardonnay can be replaced by the 90 point or 92 point 2012 vintage. There’s a built-in demand for the wine, making it a much easier sale than, say, a 92 point Vermentino. The lack of diversity in the marketplace is a result of laziness and complacency on the parts of consumers, retailers, and media alike. The question is what, if anything can be done to alter this landscape?
 
The media, myself included, will continue to write about less well known wines, but they will also continue to get emails lamenting the fact that the wine we’ve described sounds great but is virtually unavailable except in limited markets on the East and West Coasts, dragging in yet another protagonist, our antiquated three-tier system.
 
(Wow. When I started writing this, I was planning on talking about grilling and asking you all for your favorite wines for grilled dishes, but before we get there, I guess we’ll have to take this brief detour...)
 
So now we have all four players on trial here. The question remains the same: what can we do? How can we best convey to the wine drinking public that a 92 point Chardonnay is not interchangeable with a 92 point Sauvignon Blanc, or a 92 point Vermentino? Do they even care? Is there a fear of being disappointed by the unfamiliar that lays at the core of this issue, or are we all just very boring people by nature?
 
In all honesty, it makes me sad to see how narrow the choices, or selections, made by consumers tend to be when it comes to wine. I also write about food to a certain extent and it seems that the world of food is celebrated for its diversity, while the world of wine celebrates something more akin to conformity. Conformity, driven by point scores. Which brings us back to the wine mafia conferring high praise on some styles of wine, which in turn tends to push more people to produce wines in those styles. One need look no further than what passes for a 95 point Cabernet these days (these days being since 1997) to see this in action.
 
I don't know why consumers settle for this narrow selection of wines. There are enough choices to go around, after all. Why do they voraciously explore all the cuisines of the world, only to pair them all with the same old wines? That was the germ of thought that spawned this bit of ranting, no doubt driven in equal parts by frustration and disappointment. For relief I can continue to turn to food, not necessarily eating it but rather writing about it. As I mentioned, this was supposed to be about grilling, and the wines that are best suited to accompany grilled foods. I would love to hear your thoughts on the matter. What are your go-to grilling wines? What should be the next big wine that makes a perfect partner for your favorite grilled recipes? 
 
Me? I’m thinking that Zweigelt should be given more attention, though my go to wine remains Petite Sirah. And I am really looking forward to trying more Fiano di Avellino this summer with grilled fish. Ah, this industry—rants and all, I love this industry. 
 


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Comments

  • Snooth User: Felis21
    267146 19

    Excellent post Greg!! Spot on!

    Apr 13, 2013 at 7:50 AM


  • Snooth User: Erica Landin
    Hand of Snooth
    1073671 32,274

    Sorry, old account, this is me endorsing your thinking around points and writers and availability (and the three tier system, which is topic enough to warrant its own post, eh?)!!

    Apr 13, 2013 at 7:54 AM


  • Snooth User: chrisc
    30334 87

    Please don't assist in making Vermentino popular.The mass producers will destroy it,ala,Moscato.Pinot Grigio,Shiraz and every wine from Australia.cc

    Apr 13, 2013 at 8:45 AM


  • Snooth User: garyburhop
    Hand of Snooth
    91689 5

    good vermentino is a delight; alas there are poor ones available and even more if it becomes a craze. Great Wines & Spirits in Memphis uses few 'scores.' We taste the wine before stocking and constantly replace old items with new, much to distributor's reps chagrin - wines have to be worthy to be on our shelves. Back to vermentino - it has been a go-to recommendation for 3 years. garyburhop@greatwinesmemphis.com

    Apr 13, 2013 at 10:07 AM


  • Tannat is 'the' grilling wine! Tannat, originally from France, is the signature varietal of Uruguay and produces rich, bold, full-bodied red wines with black and red fruit and spice aromas and flavors. The perfect accompaniment with beef, lamb, and just about anything from the grill. http://www.artesanawinery.com.

    Apr 13, 2013 at 11:39 AM


  • Good article and as a retailer, it can be a challenge to change up products and introduce new ones to customers who are seduced by big marketing and points. As a boutique style store we regularly have tastings and help our customers try new things and new grape varieties. Definitely more to wine life than Shiraz and White Zinfandels!!
    alison@aligrawineandspirits.com

    Apr 13, 2013 at 12:46 PM


  • Snooth User: Seeker1114
    811843 46

    Shhh! I enjoy trying new wines but I know the ones of whom you speak. I like chrisc's comment though. I would rather the rare varieties stay rare and be enjoyed by the lucky few rather than be mass produced to the point of mediocrity. Thank you for your observations and your insight.

    Apr 13, 2013 at 4:18 PM


  • You...are a good writer. Bit funny too : ).

    Apr 13, 2013 at 11:38 PM


  • Snooth User: marti1
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    439582 16

    An interesting read this article. As you say, there's so much more varieties than Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Furthermore, all these scores 'may' give some indication to the quality of the wine, but your 'taste' may be completely different from the writer's taste. As a Dutch retailer we sell Vermentino and Pigato wines from Liguria produced by Azienda Agricola Durin. This small family owned winery produces excellent Vermentino and Pigato wines as well as a stunning blend of these two grapes called 'A Matteta'. For some of their wines like the Pigato Braie only around 2,800 bottles are being produced each year! Comprehensive descriptions of their wines (also in English) are available on their website http://www.durin.it For the Dutch and Belgian market these wines are available via http://www.wijntje-bestellen.nl So many interesting new wines and 'new' grapes to discover, just enjoy doing so!

    Apr 14, 2013 at 7:14 AM


  • Valley Wine Shack in Sonoma has the best wines from all over the world for incredible prices. The owner, Windee, knows her stuff. We need more small wine shops that are so good the community will support them.

    Apr 16, 2013 at 1:33 PM


  • Snooth User: Stevern86
    909211 36

    I like your observation about the public seeking out interesting and exotic foods and pairing them with the same narrow range of wines. You make a good point there and about distribution as well. I live in Los Angeles and believe it or not, I find distribution to be an issue here. I buy much of my wine from an east coast on line seller that gives me access to european wines that are not seen on my local sheves. Conversely my Sister comes to visit from NYC and takes home some great boutiqe wines that barely get out of the zip code in which they are produced. Some of those are produced in such low quantities that they will never make it very far from home. My point is that there is wine being made in so many more places than ever here in the US that I encourage people to find and try some local wines where ever they live and give them a try. There are some gems out there that are off the beaten path.

    Apr 17, 2013 at 3:35 PM


  • Snooth User: SM
    1097030 218

    Another interesting post Mr. Dal Piaz, yes in many aspects the wine mass market is frightfully boring with rows of dull and insipid Chardonnay, Cab Sav, etc.

    I do think that one has to be adventuresome in life and in cuisine, pity that many who are in quite a few aspects draw the line at wine. This is in part by the fault of the media promulgating the same old boring wines or by people in the wine business who see wine as a way to make money but have no passion or soul when it comes to the spirit or essence of wine.

    In regards to your question about grilling, don't have loads of experience regarding this one but for red meat I would try a gutsy Portuguese red from Douro or Alentejo and/or a Zweigelt/Kekfrankos(Blaufrankish)/Cabernet Sauvignon from either Villany or Szekszard.

    For fish or seafood a Torrontes Reserve from Salta, Argentina or dry Furmint from Tokaj, or perhaps a good Soave Classico.

    Cheers!

    Solomon Mengeu

    Apr 22, 2013 at 10:57 AM


  • I couldn't agree more! There are so many unique varietals and I love to explore new new wines that are hard to find.

    Tying back to interesting wines and grilling, a unique wine I love to grill with is Tess, a red and white blend. It drinks like a white but has the complexity and texture of a red wine. And it's served chilled! So it's perfect for warm summer nights grilling on the back patio.

    I will have to try Fiano di Avellino this summer too!

    Apr 24, 2013 at 8:35 PM


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