A Matter of Respect

Wine enthusiasts think about what they drink—it’s part of the fun. Why aren’t we given the same consideration as self-styled gourmets?

Be careful what you wish for, I reminded myself as the bottles kept coming in…and coming in…and coming in…

More than a year ago we decided to do a story on Syrah. We wanted it to encompass this global phenomenon—we wanted to taste and compare as many of these versatile, flavorful wines as possible. It was already clear that Syrah was poised to become the hot variety of the new century. As you will read in the article, the statistics are startling: a 1,200 percent increase in plantings over ten years, sales of Syrah in certain venues up 85 percent in a single year, and so on.

Even so, we were not prepared for the industry’s response. We invited brands to submit two bottles each, one priced at $20 and under, the other $21 and over. We were inundated. There were so many submissions that we decided to divide the World Cup of Syrah into two parts, dictated by the price point we’d already established. (Look for the over-$21 Syrahs in our November issue.)

Clearly, this is the wine many people want to drink right now. Cynics might say that there’s a herd mentality, that people will drink whatever the media and advertisers want them to drink. I don’t agree. Most wine enthusiasts think about what they drink, whether they’re trying something new or enjoying a favorite variety; they give careful consideration to what they put in their glass. That thoughtfulness, that summoning of memories and preferences, is part of the fun.

I am most vividly reminded of this thoughtfulness by its absence…when I dine with someone who doesn’t even glance at the wine list, doesn’t examine the label when the bottle is presented, or orders generically (“I’ll have a glass of Chardonnay”). That’s fine; again, it’s a preference. But when I’m confronted by this attitude from an individual or company that professes to know and to care about wine, I am irked.

I recently traveled in business class for a transcontinental flight. I was delighted to find in my seat pocket a brochure with colorful, wine-related graphics, valuable information about winemaking—and a wine list. On the list were two wonderful fourth-growth Bordeaux—Château Beychevelle and Château Lafon-Rochet—as well as intriguing Mt. Tanglefoot Shiraz from South Eastern Australia. Of the white wine selections, the Greg Norman Estates Chardonnay caught my fancy. As the plane took off, I anticipated such a superb wine experience that the time would literally fly by.

However all my hopes were dashed when I was informed by the flight attendant that “unfortunately, we don’t have any of these wines on board” and “would I mind selecting one of these substitutes?” I scanned the list. Ordering one of them would be like going from the big leagues down to the minors. I was disappointed, but I received no sympathy from the attendant, who couldn’t understand why I wasn’t just as happy with what she was offering. After all, she said, it was “only wine.”

What if the menu was offering filet mignon? Would it be proper to serve ground round? Would the customers of this airline be happy with eggs sunny side up if they were promised Eggs Benedict? Why is it that food is treated with such respect but wine is an afterthought? It’s sad, because some well-intentioned people went to a great deal of effort to create a superb wine program for this airline and then it was poorly executed. Wine doesn’t yet earn the level of respect that fine food has earned in most people’s minds.

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In addition to our Syrah tasting feature, in this issue we visit the heart of Argentina’s wine country, for Michael Schachner’s profile of the superb Malbecs and other wines being produced by that forward-thinking country. And West Coast Editor Steve Heimoff offers a tour, closer to home, of Lodi, California. Also in this issue, you’ll find great information on Scotch whiskies—these relatively inexpensive blends people have been overlooking in favor of hotter, hipper single malts. In every area of wine and spirits, people are either immune to, or subject to, trends. But at least they think about what they’re drinking. It matters to them. That makes for smart drinkers and smart readers.


Published on October 1, 2001

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