Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Michael Rolland, Big Ratings and Hummers

Eric Asimov’s interview with Michael Rolland set me to thinking. One of the more interesting things Rolland said was, “They [U.S. wine consumers] don’t want loser wines.”

He was obviously referring to wine with “loser ratings,” and he is correct.

We are a country obsessed with high-rating wines, big houses and conspicuous consumption in so many ways. A walk around most wine stores will illustrate the truth of his statement.

Of course, we all are influenced by “ratings” whether they are from WA or WS, or from the guy at the wine store or a friend. But when it’s all said and done, we like wine with big numbers and, therefore, we get the wine we demand.While some wineries surely make the wine they want to make with no concern for consumer taste, these are the minority.

Tom Wark, of Fermentation, has an interesting posting on over-done wines and high ratings. Check it out.

Most wineries make wine to sell wine, as Rolland points out. When consumer taste demands soft, fruit bomb wines, that’s what wineries produce. I’ll be the first to admit that I admire some of the effects of Rolland’s work. The full, plush, beguiling wines creates or inspires can be very seductive—like an evening at a brothel.

These wines are also more accessible to many wine drinkers and drink well when young, which are two good things in my opinion. And if soft, easy, seductive (promiscuous?) wines get more people drinking wine, why not?

I can remember a tasting I hosted when I was at my first wine store job. We opened several bottles of Rhone wines, one of which was a bottle of Château Beacastel Châteauneuf du Pape (don’t remember what year). The crowd was mostly casual wine drinkers, and they loved the Côtes du Rhône we had out.

But when they got to the CDP, almost everyone hated it. I was new to wine, but was completely fascinated by the earthy nose, the complex flavors and the sense of terrior of the Beaucastel.

It’s not that I had a better palate than my guests. I just was at a point in my wine drinking experience that I could appreciate what was in that glass.

If you had handed me the same glass ten years earlier, when I was drinking Beringer white zinfandel, I would have had an entirely different reaction. The more wine you drink, the more your palate evolves, and this leads you to seek out more challenging wines.

I’m glad that the New World wine style has made wines more accessible, easier to drink young and more palatable to new wine drinkers. There will always be wines that are funky, complex, in-need-of-bottle-aging and not-for-everyone. The only way people can find those wines is if they cut their teeth on the other stuff.

And, (hopefully) as people tire of over-done, fruit bomb wines, they will start to demand wines that are more subtle and understated. Maybe they'll even be embarrassed by some of the wines in their cellar.

Just like they’ll be embarrassed by the pictures of them driving a Hummer.

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