This may come as a surprise, but I generally don’t read wine-related books aimed at wine drinkers. I find most of these are filled with irrelevant wine trivia (which may or may not be accurate), current wine trends, descriptions of lavish/unattainable experiences in exotic locations, and occasionally a collection of “rules” that are based upon the author’s wine preferences and not those of the reader. So it was with some hesitation that I picked up the New York Times’ Book of Wine, which released earlier this year, on a whim.
I don’t think I have to tell you that this blog is not mainstream by any means, and if you asked me what wines are “hot” right now I most certainly would not be able to give you an answer. Looking at one of my bookshelves right now I have two wine sciences books, one of which is an actual text book and a how-to guide on setting up your own vineyard. Not exactly the readings of a guy who knows what’s hip and cool with the kids these days. And that’s why I picked up the book; It’s a collection of the NYT’s wine articles over the past 3 decades. What better way to see what the wine trends have been for the last 30 years and to actually figure out what’s been “hot” in the trendy wine world?
At around 550 pages, this behemoth of a collection was a heavy companion as I took it on my hectic travel schedule through the end of fall. In my mission to extract the flow of wine trends over the past 30 years, it did not fail. Unfortunately though, the majority of articles were focused on the very topics I listed above which have driven me to avoid reading wine magazines and op-eds. So despite having to sift through descriptions of obscene opulence during dinner parties in mansions only accessible by boat and pronunciations that this bottle of wine that has only been tasted by 10 people is the best one ever (Because really, who are you to say it’s not? You’ll never be able to try it.), I did in fact glean some interesting tidbits from the collection.
- The NYTimes has not so much been trying to shape and guide the conversation about wine in America over the past few decades. Instead, it had the conversation, it’s telling you about it, and you shouldn’t question their conclusions because you’ll never have the money to experience what they did. Fortunately, I believe Eric Asimov, their newest head wine writer is changing that.
- The idea of drinking Wine as a “cocktail” (without food they are meaning, not that it is a mixed drink), is a concept uniquely American. And even though they just barely hinted at it in the articles, perhaps this is why Americans are generally accepting of wines with more and more alcohol in them which we don’t usually consider to be food-friendly.
- Locally grown and made New York state wine would probably be as little known nationally as Minnesota wine is if it weren’t for having the New York Times nearby.
- In wine writing, high price has always trumped any other factor in determining whether one will enjoy an experience with food and wine or not.
- It’s good to be a wine writer for the NYT.
- Wine vintages used to matter a whole darn lot, but have been slowly leaking out of the conversation about wine.
- The wine world will lambaste anything new, but is really quite accepting of new techniques and methods after they produce good wine.
- France, France, France, Italy, Spain, France…Napa! France apparently maintains the gold, silver, and bronze standards of wine culture according to wine writers who constantly ask themselves WWFD?
- Robert M. Parker Jr. sets prices with his 100-point scale for the wine industry. Little is known what will happen when he’s no longer around which may be soon as current rumblings suggest.
- The American wine drinker has evolved from the subset of rich Franco-philes (which believe me, still exist; I’ve had dinner with them) to a large swath of the upper-middle-class. While wine in Europe may be enjoyed by the working class and nobility alike, there is still a class division in beverage choices in America.
- Eric Asimov has been the only wine writer for the NYT to actually ask questions at the industry. This is a much welcome change from a reader perspective and something I try to do in my own writing. Whether it is to confirm traditions or to usurp prejudices, questions should always be asked. Not only does this shake up the stodgy feeling of wine writing and bring it “to the masses” if you will, but Eric’s article entitled “Can Sips at Home Prevent Binges?” is a fantastic jumping point to a conversation about wine’s effect on our society. In the article he debated whether or not to give his kids sips of wine at dinner in hopes to not only instill in them a love of wine, but show them how it is properly used (to enhance a meal) and to teach them that it shouldn’t be abused or used as a crutch to relieve stress. What a wonderful conversation to have in a society where underage binge-drinking and alcoholism are a problem!
So despite me having to grumble through some more-than-poetic descriptors of wines and events 99.9% of people in this world will never experience, I have hope in wine writing. It’s moving from descriptions of high society to a conversation about wine’s role in society, albeit with some resistance. So while I generally focus on how you, the individual are interacting with and experiencing wine, I might start to look more at how groups interact with and experience it. But after it all, your guess is as good as mine as to what’s hot right now in the wine world. According to Google Trends the most common search term accompanying the word “wine” is “red” so….there you go. Red wine is where its at right now. Use that insider tip to impress your friends and don’t forget to tell ‘em where you got it!