This mental masturbation requires a more indulgent attitude that I allow. It presupposes that in someway one the of wines is inherently better than another. The general gist of the current crop of talking heads is that natural, noninterventionist wines that respect terroir are superior. Unfortunately, for far more reasons that I can explore here the market disagrees.
While we can't rend the entire discourse open in but a few paragraphs, we can take a look at a few issues upon which the smaller issues hinge. And maybe we can also take a look at how your interests intersect with those of the markets you serve.
Here I'm really talking on two levels. You as the retailer, wine server or sommelier have to assume some of the responsibility for the performance of every wine lover. Notice I said wine lover and not connoisseur or aficionado. Let's face it most consumers are simply wine lovers, they don't want to spend time learning about wine. That's your job, and the winery's. The familiar label is a guarantee of something. Recognition if nothing else. If you're not going to step in and serve that purpose consumers will continue to rely on the familiar labels.
Here's where there is a giant disconnect between our attitudes and our actions. We like to talk about the geeky wines we love, but when it comes down to it and we're called upon to recommend a wine to someone we will tend to recommend those geeky wines without taking into account what the customer actually asked for. It's a natural reaction, wanting to share our great discoveries, but does it really help the cause of promoting the wines one loves when you set up a wine for failure by serving it to a set of expectations that can't likely be satisfied with anything other than the expected?
This is fairly self explanatory, and is the biggest beef I have with many mass produced wines. We have a fear of something different, even slight inconsistent from vintage to vintage. Orange juice is the greatest example of this. Our 'Fresh Squeezed' orange juice is neutered in the orange juice factory, and then flavored with a proprietary flavoring mix to ensure that each container tastes exactly like the other, day to day, month to month, and year to year.
Sadly, consumers are being trained to expect this sort of consistency from everything they consume. It's also the key to the success of fast food restaurants, and many big name wine brands, and I'm not only talking about value brands. Much of the guilt for this phenomenon lies with wine critics and vintage charts, charts that tend to assign value to vintages as opposed to style. So a consumer tastes a 'great' vintage, associates the characteristics of that wine with the concept of 'great' wine and producers who are subject to vintage variation are instantly relegated to second class citizenship.
What can we do to help broaden the wine market then? Stop dissing vintages for what they don't offer and start celebrating them for what they do offer. Vintages can be rich or light, savory or fruity, for cellaring or early consumption instead of good or bad because the truth of the matter is that with rare exceptions vintages are rarely bad in the traditional sense of the word. They are just different and if we don't celebrates those differences why on earth would your average consumer?
Here things gets very sticky indeed. What are people doing with their wines? Giving them as a gift? Then why not gift that well known bottle of Caymus or Silver Oak. They are well liked by many people so stop with the snide remarks. Not everyone wants great wine. Many people want to be seen to be drinking or gifting great wine. That obscure producer from Ribera Sacra does make fabulous wine but if other people don't know about it, it can't satisfies everybody's needs.
I was also going to discuss whether the wine will be used for aperitifs, cocktails, or dinner here as well but I've already had second thoughts. I can always drink a characterful, even slightly defective wine on many more occasions than a big brand consistent if somewhat mediocre wine, but that's just my palate. Which brings me to the finale point to be made here. We all have a palate. We all have traveled down some road that delivered us to where we are on our vinous journey.
We like what we like and that's the end of the story for us, and yet we try to proselytize for our favorite wines. Somehow believing that we know more, or better than the people we need to convert to 'real' wine. Get over it. You used to drink and enjoy those very same wines didn't you? So your journey took you someplace different than the next person's. That is frankly meaningless. It's one thing to educate and inform people, which I support and applaud, but it has to be done with respect for the person you're educating.
Let's not get into grand discussions regarding the life expectancy of wine trends or big name brands. Here’s a secret, not. Geeky wines are finding larger audiences because the wine audience is getting larger. The movement away from big brand wines has been minor at best for one simple reason. The two groups, those who buy big brands and those who buy geek wines have very little overlap.
Chances are both segments will continue to grow, one faster than the other, but not at the expense of the other. The wine world if just too diverse and complex to have such a convenient zero sum solution. We should stop expending energy looking for one and instead spend some time celebrating the diversity, all the diversity that the wine of wine offers us and all consumers. Never has there been such a bounty to be had, and never have more people complained about it.