With all the signs that have been hovering about us lately you would have thought our collective unconscious would take the hint. But as it seems to be less collective and more unconscious, maybe this should be no surprise. The past few days in tastings and with encounters there are still people looking for that peak experience when it comes to drinking a wine. One such gent was regaling over his latest trip to Casanova di Neri, where he secured a stash of verticals of their single vineyard reds. Forget that there is a cloud over the whole of Montalcino. What was that old Jim Morrison line, “We want the world and we want it now?”
So as with everything else, it appears to be that way as well with wine. Big, bold, powerful, rich. Pre-recession fantasies craving for that in a wine which is just out of our grasp for other longings.
When was the last time you heard someone asking for a little housemaid of a wine, something inconspicuous and barely noticeable, a little fruit, no tannins, easy to forget? It just doesn't appear we are wired to recognize the unremarkable. Why is that? Take cars for example. It seems that what so many people are looking for in a wine is akin to a Hummer H2. But those vehicles are sitting on car lots piling up. Meanwhile try and find a deal on a VW Jetta TDI. Not a spectacular car in terms of styling or sex appeal. But they are hard to find.
Yesterday at a wine store I was in during a 20% off sale, most of the people were asking for wines under $15. 90% of them wanted value and then a deal on top of that. They weren’t asking for the big old Amarone that will last for 20 years. It was selling for $70 ($56 after discount). Nope, they just wanted to talk about the big old bathing beauty red, but they were slipping the housemaid wines in the carts.
That same day I was invited to dinner at a “French” restaurant of some repute. Not many of those around these parts any more. I was asked to pick the wine. Now usually there is a token wine on the list for the wine lover who just doesn't want to spring for Silver Oak or Corton. As I looked around the dining room, in an alto-borghese neighborhood, I noticed people were ordering wine as they were perusing the food menu. Odd, but not altogether unusual in a mid-western town on the Big Night Out. Cabernet was king in this room, even though the food was tempered to the tastes of a Burgundian or Loire or Rhone setting. After seven very difficult minutes the folks at my table were getting impatient with me. My inner Alice was fuming; there was nothing of interest on this wine list. Finally after some peer pressure, I ordered a (negociant) Beaune. A 2004. For $95. With some trepidation. Where was a Gigondas or a Crozes-Hermitage? Some wonderful Julienas or Chiroubles? Surely they are available; I see them on the printouts from the various distributors. Wine that would go so well with the fois gras or the duck or the veal or the scallops.
Just as the $250,000 Bentley was parked proudly in front of the establishment, so would it be expected that we would be plunking down $250 for a Caymus Special Select on our tables? After all, half the men in the room had parked their trophy wives (or goomadas) next to them in the plush velvety seats.
In these times, when so many of us are being compelled to look at some of the decisions we have made, as if we get another 10 or 15 minutes before reality sets in, we attempt to take one more shot at the titanic illusion. Subtlety is admission of defeat, bleacher seats, a used economy car. No, let’s take one more huff, one more puff, and see if we can blow our friends away with an outdated view of conspicuous consumption veiled as connoisseurship.
It’s like the captain of a luxury ship that is sinking, but he has promised to stay on board until the end. And then when everybody who can get off safely does and they are floating away in their lifeboats, while no one is noticing, on the other side of the doomed boat, a skiff is being prepared to deliver the schifo to a far and safe shore.