I've Tried, But I'm Not a Wine Snob
Yes, I’ve been the wine-tasting parties with the index cards to fill out sip by sip. I’ve compared the 1984 with the 1986 variety of French wine and commented on their subtle differences. I’ve swished and swirled and learned how to affect a face of revelation just from the mere passing scent of a light white or a big red.
And I’ve listened as the wine tasters say things like “raspberries,” “lemon grass,” “oak,” “saddle leather,” and “mulch of spruce” And as soon as the words come out, the wine in your hand magically reflects those very properties. Then you suddenly discover with embarrassment that those around you are actually talking about a different wine from the one you are trying!
But, look, I’m just going to say it. After a lifetime of trying, I just can’t pretend anymore. I’m not a wine snob. I like it all. I like everything. I used to draw the line at the big jugs with the screw tops, but no longer. I like those too. I can buy a random case from anywhere, take it home, and enjoy every single bottle.
I no longer even pretend to be critical. All wines are wonderful. Sure, there are differences, and if they are next to each other, I can easily distinguish them. And there are times when a great bottle appears before me and I know it, love it, and call it dreamy. But how much more do I love it than a bottle one-tenth as expensive? Not that much.
How do I buy wines? Apparently the same way as most Americans (and I don’t mean the people who attend wine tastings). I buy on price, name, and label. The price has to be low. The name has to be clever. And the label has to be pretty and fun. If one of these is wrong, I won’t buy. So I’ll buy “Oops!” before “Clos de la Roche, Grand Cru.” I’ll take home “Arrogant Frog’s Big Ribbet” before anything with the words “Medoc Chateau d’Armailhacq,” and “Mad Housewife” before “AC Chassagne-Montrachet.”
For this reason, I’m partial to wines from California, Chile, Argentina, South Africa, Oregon, and other places that seem to have figured out that the best way to market your product is to…well…market it! Starting about ten years ago or so, it became rather obvious to industry specialists that the snob factor was dying out and that they had to start reaching a mainstream audience. That’s when the industry went through upheaval with what is now called the advent of “labels gone wild.” It changed everything.
Nor do I care about the year the wine was made. It seems to make sense to me that there, in fact, ought not to be any difference if I wine is made in 1997 or 1998. It would be one thing if wines were like iPhones, so that 4G is definitely better than 3G, and so on. But that’s not what the year on wine refers to: they aren’t getting better and better at making it. It refers instead to the fact that the production process is so unstable that they can’t even make the product consistent.
This is apparently a big deal especially in France, which has the equivalent of a Gosplan put together by bureaucrats and old-world industry technocrats for the production of wine. You can’t just show up and stick some grape plants in the ground and make wine. No, no, that would somehow violate some precious tradition. You must obey the bureaucrats to make real wine.
And until recently, this central plan even forbid you from “artificially” irrigating your crops. It was believed that proper wine production required you to sit on your hands and wait for mother nature to decide to bless you with rain. This is what accounts for the big differences between vintages. Talk about primitive! If all producers had this view, we’d still all be living in caves or sitting under trees waiting for fruit to fall into our hands.
Fortunately, the great American wine company Gallo – the world’s largest wine maker and it does make plenty of great wines – has made huge strides in recent years in cracking into the French market. The French government loosened up and let the American company in, and actually let the company water its plants, much to the derision of the traditional French wine industry experts, who love to sneer at Americans while watching their bottom line get ever worse and their dependency on government subsidies grow ever stronger.
So they watered their plants and the result was a smashing success. The wine Red Bicyclette became a giant export. And you didn’t have to become a wine and vintage expert to enjoy it. French wine became fun for the first time ever. Together with Fat Bastard, made by the Seattle company Click Wine Group, it is the Americans in France who have finally made the French wines a giant commercial success in the United States. By cutting through the wine world’s traditional thick air of pretense and pomp, wine has once again become what it was in the ancient world, a drink for every man, every day.
Of course the French weren’t going to sit by idly and let its precious traditions be tramped on by crude and rude Americans. So they did the traditional thing: they sued Gallo in court. It seems that someone found out that Bicyclette’s Pinot Noir (popularized in the United States by a movie of course) was only 85% Pinot and the rest a variety of grapes. It was a criminal conviction but the sentence was suspended. People predicted disaster for Gallo. Nope: the wine and the company enjoyed the new fame and the ever higher sales.
This is the glory of capitalism at work. It has the capacity to reinvent the most stick-in-the-mud traditions and make them live again in new times. It has a wonderful way of stripping away the artifice, leveling the classes, and bringing wonderful things to everyone in a way that everyone can appreciate and understand. We don’t have to put on airs. We can be ourselves and still enjoy the finest things in life.
This is because, eventually, capitalism turns every luxury into a necessity and make things once enjoyed only by the rich available to the workers and peasants of every land. This is why Gordon Gekko carried a cellphone the size of a brick in 1987, and today bums on the street surf the web with iPhones. The system that made this possible is the most democratic, most pro-people, most common-man social system ever conceived of in history.
Capitalism is the system for the 99%. This very feature is why the elites, and particularly the governing elites, truly hate it, and, if they have their way, they will never fully legalize it.