My wine is better than your wine

Time for a little humility and perspective


Everyone is counting on the Millennials to break with tradition and create a new paradigm in the wine world, except for those out there who think that they're just at the start of the same trajectory as the current crop of trophy hunters and points chasers.

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.
1) Surety

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?

2) Consistency

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?

3) Use

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.

Mentioned in this article


  • Snooth User: cabluvr
    74295 145


    Nov 16, 2013 at 8:44 AM

  • Snooth User: btotheman
    Hand of Snooth
    156958 4

    OOVVDA Winery whole heartedly agrees!

    Nov 16, 2013 at 12:55 PM

  • Snooth User: EMark
    Hand of Snooth
    847804 8,731

    "It's one thing to educate and inform people, . . . but it has to be done with respect for the person you're educating."

    Probably the best sentiment I've ever read here on Snooth. Well done, Greg.

    Nov 16, 2013 at 3:53 PM

  • Snooth User: djlevin
    478367 156

    Definitely have it right! I quit making quality judgments based on flavor a long time ago. The only difference in wine quality should be: balance, structure, texture, complexity, finish... When a wine is made well, these qualities stand-out. Whether the fruit is forward, or behind - if the taste is of black, or red fruit - if it has a big approach, or is more refined - these are just styles and it shouldn't impact an opinion of quality! We are all different. Respect for other tastes and preferences should be an important part of the wine experience.

    Nov 16, 2013 at 5:20 PM

  • Snooth User: Mike Madaio
    Hand of Snooth
    1068140 204,714

    Though not mentioned by name, I think this same sentiment applies to writers/bloggers as well. Especially in the blogosphere, there's quite a bit of navel-gazing, or writing for people who think exactly the same was as the writer. Though there can be some interesting debates, more often it has me wondering what the point is. On the other hand, though it's a noble cause to open the minds of big brand drinkers, sometimes it seems just as pointless. Do they even care?

    Nov 16, 2013 at 10:37 PM

  • Snooth User: lingprof
    Hand of Snooth
    155607 1,110

    I think maybe the Snooth regulars should get bracelets that say "WWGDPD?" ;-) Another great article. And I'll go ahead and confess here that I kind of like Silver Oak (the alexander valley one). And I got it for a friend who had had a baby and hadn't drunk alcohol in a year or more. She loved it (without having any idea what it was or how much it costs). It was just right for that occasion, attention getting, not subtle, but clearly different from the $10 cab she drinks on a regular basis. So to every bottle there is a season, maybe?

    Nov 16, 2013 at 11:07 PM

  • Snooth User: djlevin
    478367 156

    Mike, what a sad observation. While I agree with you for the most part, I also believe you can change people's perspective. That change only happens one person at a time, face-to-face. For those of us who are passionate about wine and the culture surrounding it, I believe we have an obligation to share that passion with others. It is why I enjoy presenting wine appreciation programs. Don't feel defeated. I have steadily been introducing small production fine wines and wine travel to an ever-growing circle of friends. Now, I have many friends with whom I can enjoy popping some of my best!

    Nov 16, 2013 at 11:13 PM

  • Snooth User: Mike Madaio
    Hand of Snooth
    1068140 204,714

    I agree it's a slow process, and I didn't mean to imply it was totally pointless, just that it can sometimes make me feel that way. I don't agree that it has to be face to face. I do believe good wine writing can make an impact too, but it may only affect small numbers at a time. Thats why it can be frustrating, especially in our culture of immediate results. ;)

    Nov 17, 2013 at 12:44 AM

  • Snooth User: Richard Foxall
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    262583 4,003

    I propose that we call wines that emphasize consistency over variety "Pringles" wines. You know, extrude the potatoes into the same shape, put them in a tennis ball can. Which is fine: Someone will always eat Pringles. I don't have to, and I don't choose to.

    But we do have some expectation that when we buy a wine it reflects the consistency of that site or maker. If it's too far from the house style, we are likely to move onto something else. If you want to be Frank Cornelissen or Scholium Project, then you will probably be pretty small, and that's a fine and interesting choice, too.

    Just as I am disappointed if I pick up a wine list and there's no wine on there I am unfamiliar with, I probably once felt that disappointment if I looked at a list and there were none I was familiar with. I think wine shops and restaurants can certainly pitch themselves at whatever market they choose, but both the accusations of being numbingly dull or being elitist can be fairly leveled at many establishments, even though taking either extreme is unnecessary in this era.

    Nov 18, 2013 at 5:52 PM

  • Snooth User: Mike Madaio
    Hand of Snooth
    1068140 204,714

    Pringles wines! It could definitely catch on.

    Nov 20, 2013 at 9:08 AM

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