I want to share some thoughts about wine drinking generally in an environment that seems to be fixated on craft beers and local spirits. I love beer, am a huge fan of the Brown ales, porters and stouts that we offer. I have a small collection of the bigger stouts in my basement as an experiment in aging beer to see if they age well, and if so, what they taste like and whether it is worth doing. So far, all good experiences! I’m happy to share my results but at this point I can openly encourage others to pursue this sort of experiment. The beers are great, I love the different flavors that are becoming possible, and I really like supporting local and regional brewers.
I also know my way around a small selection of cocktails, although I confess if there are more than three ingredients… well… Let’s just say I shouldn’t quit my day job and become a bartender! That being said, I’ve been a big fan of the Single-Malt Scotches, and am happy to follow folks into Bourbon and Rye land. It’s been awesome tasting my way through all the new offerings in these departments. Gin is my friend… but I have found that I am more particular in this area than I thought I would be.
So, since I am the WINE department manager, you may be asking yourself, when does this dude have time to be sober? Indeed! But seriously, why do we drink wine at all when there are so many other super-interesting choices in the market for alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages?
It really wasn’t all that long ago (three or four decades) that wine was not very highly valued by Americans generally. Now, we can fairly observe that this has changed, and has changed dramatically. Wine is now a huge part of the adult beverage conversation, to the point where, I would argue, the dominance of wine in this category has now forced the spirits and the beer businesses to reinvent themselves in order to get noticed by the American consumer. Why was wine becoming so popular? What is it that makes it fundamentally different?
The answer I believe, can be seen on the label of every bottle of single-malt scotch, and every bourbon, and in the story told by all of the cutting edge beer producers. Look at these products some day on our shelves. They proclaim these common themes: point of origin is important, place matters; styles that are protected by law or deep historical custom and are based on where the product comes from, how it is made, and what its contents are; many (particularly beer) products have become seasonal to the point where customers wait in line for the seasonally appropriate releases; and local local local sources for the ingredients that go into nearly all of these products, many are again agricultural, seasonal, and above all, fresh. Did the wine industry invent these concepts? Certainly not. However, I think we should pay some respect here to the men and women who, over the last several decades, stood in front of customers and preached the gospel of terroir, vintages, appellations and varietals. They educated the
American consumer in concepts that were not at that time being talked about in any other field aside from perhaps the deepest pockets of organic gardening. Did I say organic? Yes this concept came from hard-core agriculturalists (my father was an early adopter of Organic Gardening in the 1960s, AND he was a Republican who believed in the concept of stewardship… just to give you an idea where I come from!). But see that! Agriculturalists who really, deeply, care about what they grow and how it tastes, not just this year, but over a period of many years, stretching into generations. Certainly, not every American vineyard manager was always motivated by this sentiment. But again, through a process of trial and error, scientific advances, and education, including cultural exchange with the folks in Europe, our American vineyards are more healthy than ever before.
French, Italian, and Spanish wineries are thriving because the world is finally recognizing that what they make is unique and culturally valuable, not merely as a vehicle for alcohol. What makes their product unique is the combination of the specificity of where it is made, what it is made with, how it is made, AND importantly, that what they make is fundamentally agricultural, and changes from year to year based on the vagaries of nature, chance, and human intervention and circumstance. The key concept here is not merely the uniqueness of terroir, or the vagaries of vintage, or the flavor finger prints of the vast array of varietals, or even the concept of the appellation and its indicator of status and quality, nor is it even that wine is agricultural. What IS key is wine’s genuine ability to claim all of these themes at the same time.
I will also add that wine can be consumed across the entire variety of human purposes to which it is put. It can get you drunk if that is all you are looking for; but it can also connect you to thousands of years of humanity; AND it can provide you with “something different” (and delicious) to drink when you just want something to taste good without thinking too hard about it. You can find wines that are essentially manufactured and taste the same all the time (because sometimes we all need that), AND you can find wines that are different one bottle to the next.
So don’t get me wrong. Not every bottle of wine is special and different and a work of art. That is not what I am trying to say. But when you look at the Bourbons and the Scotches and the Craft Beer and you marvel at the burgeoning selections (which I find wonderful by the way), I ask you to just look for the things that the producers of these products claim makes their product special and why you should buy it. Almost always the claims come from concepts that form the foundation of the wine business. So I argue, try these products, please! The reasons why you should try them are the same reasons why you should drink wine. I would just submit that there are MORE reasons behind every bottle of wine than there are behind any newly-antiquated bottle of bourbon, or stout brewed with fresh cranberries and herbs.
- Andy Hall, Wine Department Manager
Palacios Pétalos • A refreshingly complex and vibrant wine that hails from lesser-known northwestern Spain. The wine reflects the quartz and slate found in the soils and the biodynamic farming by the owner’s nephew. $23.49 Buy Now
Château Thivin, Côte de Brouilly • A great example of what cru Beaujolais can offer at a fraction of the cost of wines from Burgundy. It shows complex flavors of earth, flowers and plum, supported by tannins and acidity. $25.99 Buy Now
Alois Lageder Pinot Grigio • Alois Lageder Winery is now under the fifth generation of family ownership, and they have a strong commitment to reflect the unique land of Alto Adige, using biody-namic farming to high-light the mineral flavors found in the mountain soils. $16.99 Buy Now
This originally appeared in Drinks Magazine, Winter 2016