If the customer is always right, why is the wine establishment so snobby about mainstream and less complex wines?
Guest writer Aleesha Hansel reflects.
In any field, the more we learn, the further removed we are from our humble beginnings – the things that drew us in in the first place. In wine, this distance means we start to speak of terroir, structure and balance – terminology that seems more suited to architecture than the product of grapes.
When I first started working in wine, I remember really enjoying Beaujolais. When often asked what my favourite wine of the moment was, I very quickly learnt that responding with Gamay did not instil a great reaction, and definitely didn’t help me being taken seriously. Feeling slightly embarrassed, and wanting to be respected as a wine professional, it led to me abandon drinking Beaujolais until only a few months ago.
Nudged and cajoled by wine politics, reverence for tradition and a sense of hierarchy, wine folk are often found espousing the virtues of Pinot noir, Chablis or something else just as predictable. Adhering to well-known dictates allows us to present ourselves as one of the ‘in crowd’: knowledgeable and as authoritative about the subject as our peers. But is it working against us connecting with a wider audience?
One great example of this is acidity.
‘Enamel stripping’ is a tasting note I have read countless times, and makes me wonder why anyone would promote a wine as being a turpentine equivalent. While I understand from years of study that acidity does help the balance and structure of the wine, the love for this characteristic seems to go above and beyond just being a component in what makes a wine objectively ‘well structured’.
Holding almost a cult status among the ‘wine elite’, high acidity has become a sort of Freemason’s handshake – a social signifier allowing those in the know to recognise each other among the hoi polloi. Because, high acidity isn’t generally something that appeals to mainstream consumers. They tend to want wines that are rounder, sweeter and more approachable. The very same hoi polloi that we rely on for our livelihoods. Despite all of the romanticism attached to wine, which I myself enjoy, ultimately if we don’t sell wine we are all on our uppers.
Winespeak may excite us wine geeks, but can lead consumers feeling like they need a degree in grape science to enjoy a glass. With Hardys being the best-selling off-trade UK wine brand wouldn’t it makes sense for us to accept then that perhaps a healthy and successful wine industry is one that advocates for all. After all, Radio 1 has a place next to Classical FM, as does fish and chips next to haute cuisine.
Like many things that you first enter into, you play by the rules. It’s only when you learn a bit more that you build up the confidence to throw a few of them out the window. Something that I have found great freedom and fun in doing so. It also allows me to happily shout out about my re-ignited enjoyment for juicy, soft, fruity Beaujolais and confess that all those times I said I liked Pinot Noir – I was lying.