Wine Cuentista Newsletter – Edition 20 – August 2017

Maestrazgo Wine Club Newsletter – Edition 20 – August 2017

August: A blisteringly hot month in Spain, which explains why most sensible people take the month off and hurl themselves into the sea. However, for immobile vines it is a particularly important month due to the phenomenon of veraison. This is the onset of berry ripening and also when the pigmentation starts to form in red grapes, leading to the distinction in colour between the different types of grapes. Red grapes will start to turn a light berry-red colour, whilst white grapes will start to turn yellow and golden. This is a key part of the life cycle of the vine and the vignerons will be hard at work to ensure it goes smoothly. Leaves will be cut away to expose grape clusters to extra sunshine and sometimes bunches of grapes will be removed in a process known as ‘green harvesting’ in order to concentrate sugars in the remaining bunches. Some producers will already begin harvesting this month, with 2017 set to be one of the earliest harvests ever recorded in Spain!

Hello Wine Lovers! Welcome to the 20th edition of The Wine Cuentista Newsletter! It’s our final month of the summer break and that means no Maestrazgo Wine Club tasting, but keep an eye out for an announcement coming in the next few days about some changes on that front. I don’t want to give too much away, just to say that MWC is coming back better than ever before!

Articles: I probably spend too much of my time reading online articles about wine. However, as a result I can find and select a choice few to share – here are my three favourites from last month!

Beyond Bling: Wither Fine Wine? By Christian Holthausen. I really enjoyed this one, a very well thought-out article indeed. It starts as an article about fine wine and turns into a painfully accurate view of modern consumerism and the pitfalls thereof. Brilliantly written. https://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/beyond-bling-whither-fine-wine

‘What not to drink sparkling wine from a Champagne glass’ by Miquel Hudin. I’ve made a point of drinking good quality sparkling wine from a glass for a while now, much to the consternation of a couple of wine producers, for the reasons that Miquel details in his article above. This is a particularly good read for anyone coming to Maestrazgo Wine Club as it’ll give you a hint as to one of the structural changings we’ll be making to the upcoming tastings. https://wineonsix.com/why-not-to-drink-sparkling-wines-in-a-champagne-glass/

‘Sweet talk on wine’ by Robert Joseph. A simple but thought provoking piece about the levels of sugar in wine and its relationship to wine quality. A lot of entry level wines have elevated levels of residual sugar to make the wine more palatable to a broader audience, as well as paving over some of the more obvious short-comings of the wine itself. Is that, in itself, necessarily a bad thing? Hrm. It’s not to my palate and I would certainly mark it down as sloppy wine-making, but is that because I was taught to see it like that. What do you think? https://www.meininger.de/en/wine-business-international/sweet-talk-wine

Wine of the month: I’m constantly on the look-out for wines of real quality and value; you’ll commonly find me drinking in the 6-25 euro range.

This was a bottle I'd been holding onto for a while; Cuvee Frederic Emile Vendage Tardive 2001. Produced by Trimbach, one of the greatest Alsatian producers with a history going back to 1626, this is likely the best bottle of Riesling I've ever had. You can see the dramatic amber colour from the picture but the stunning aromas of orange marmalade, honeyed orchard fruits, cinnamon, marzipan and slate can only be imagined. Rich, not sweet, and unbelievably fresh! Drank over the two hours it took Roger Federer to win his 8th Wimbledon title; check out winecuentista.com for a full write-up! @trimbach #wine #france #riesling #alsace #lateharvest #instagood #instadaily #photo #wimbledon #federer #pairing #wineoclock #wineoftheday #delicious #dramatic #amber #2001 #best #history #travel

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Trimbach Frederic Emile Riesling VT 2001: Ok, so definitely not in the 6-25 euro range but the single best bottle of Riesling I’ve ever tried. The tasting notes are above as part of my instagram profile, but for a full write up of Trimbach and an insight as to why I opened such a special wine, check out this post on Wine Cuentista.

Wine Facts

Some fun and interesting facts about the world of wine. Terminology, myths and FAQs; as science becomes more ingrained in our industry, we discover new and exciting realities every day!

“What exactly is a sommelier?” – A subject open to debate; essentially an old French word used to describe someone who served wine, and hopefully knew a bit about it, in a restaurant environment. This would typically be someone with no formal training and who simply worked in wine because they enjoyed it. Now across the world, there are sommelier schools, sommelier programs and even documentaries following the lives of sommeliers, some who work in a restaurant and some who don’t, making the whole thing very confusing indeed. Essentially, you’ll never get anyone to agree on the definition but it can roughly be used to talk about anyone knowledgeable about wine who works in a customer-facing environment.

“I want to learn more about wine formally, where should I start?” – I’m a big believer in formal education for setting a foundation of knowledge. There are many institutions you can study with but the largest, and most respected, in the world is the Wine and Spirit Education Trust, or WSET for short. I’m currently studying the final level with this institution over two years and it has enriched my understanding of wine immensely, as well as giving me the stepping stone I need to begin the Masters of Wine program in 2019. A friend of mine, Sharon Levey, is a WSET educator in Barcelona. For now, if you’d like to find out more about her and the courses she runs, check it out here! http://www.winecoursesbcn.com/

‘Tannins’ – These are an important structural component of wine, mainly found in red wines due to the extraction from the skins of the grapes, although some can also be added through oak ageing. They are very important in the process of ageing red wine, as well as being important for colour stability. They are often associated with bitterness and astringency, but when ripe and well integrated contribute enormously to the pleasant structure and feel of the wine in your mouth. If you ever want to find what bitter tannins taste like; leave a tea-bag soaking for far longer than it should be – that is tannic bitterness. Tasting tannins in wine is difficult as it tends to be a textural component more than a flavour one. If you want to focus on them, try swirling the wine around your mouth and you should get a sensation at the front of your lips and around your gums, where the tannins make themselves most present. It goes without saying that a large part of skilled red wine making is the handling and presentation of the natural tannins, with ripe, smooth or finely grained tannins the goal.

Social Media

These newsletters only come out once a month and there is a limit on space for content. If you use Social Media and want to keep up with regular wine updates and occasional rambles, feel free to connect with me on any of the following platforms.

Facebook

Twitter

Instagram

That’s it for this months Newsletter. I hope you enjoyed it and please, if you have any suggestions or things you would like to see get in touch! Either respond to me here or email to fintankerr@winecuentista.com . I hope everyone has a lovely summer and I will see you all for more tasting in September!

Fintan Kerr

Barcelona by the Glass: Vila Viniteca

Established: 1932 (Shop opened in 1993)

Style of establishment: Wine Shop and Distributor

Price by the glass – NA

Price by the bottle – €5 to €15,000

Address – 7 Carrer Agullers, Barcelona, 08003

Phone number – 937 777 017

Opening Hours – Monday to Friday from 8:30am to 8:30pm
Saturday from 8:30am to 5pm
Closed on Sundays

Vila Viniteca is the largest distributor of wine in Barcelona and probably all of Spain, with a huge portfolio of wines and spirits available across the country. The business has actually been in operation since 1932 as a general store, but really became what we know it as today when their flagship store opened on Carrer Agullers in 1993. The catalyst for this move was a relationship formed between Joaquim Vila and Francisco Martí of the Ca N’Estruc winery in Esparreguera. The two met at a wine tasting, created the idea, opened the shop together and the rest, as they say, is history.

This is one of these improbable stories in the wine world, where something that shouldn’t really work in the time and place does, and not only that but becomes the most successful operation of its kind! It’s hard to say exactly what the magic combination was, but Vila Viniteca have always been aggressive in the marketplace, working hard to secure the business of bars, shops and restaurants around the major cities of Spain, have a strong presence at trade fairs and events whilst simultaneously having the largest and best stocked shop in Barcelona as well. Not a bad combination! In addition, Vila Viniteca have also become famous for their blind tasting competition, where pairs compete for a hefty cash prize of €30,000, most recently won by wine critic Luis Gutierrez. As their business is understandably quite diverse, including a gourmet food shop next to Vila Viniteca itself, for the purposes of Barcelona by the Glass we will only focus on their flagship store on Carrer Agullers.

The Selection

This is the reason you come to Vila Viniteca. The shop itself is a veritable Aladdin’s Cave of wine, with the best selection of Spanish and international wines in the city. As there’s so much to choose from, I’m going to list the major wine producing countries and styles of the world with a brief note about the strengths and weaknesses that Vila Viniteca have to offer. However, be aware that what you see in the store is only a fraction of what’s available; for a more detailed look, ask the store for their updated catalogue and as always, ask for assistance if you’re unsure about anything.

The Old World

Spain: I suppose it goes without saying that the selection here is fantastic. Nearly every famous name in Spanish wine is sold and distributed here, including a few exclusively sold by Vila Viniteca. The prices are also excellent, with many smaller stores around the city purchasing from Vila and adding their own mark-up on top. In particular their in-store selection of Cava is tremendous and it’s rare that I would come in looking for a bottle and not find it here. Recently I visited Priorat for the Fira del Vi festival and fell in love with a stunning new release of a white wine from Bodegas Mas Alta. Their only distributor? Vila Viniteca. They’re also quick to move with changing trends within the country and whilst Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Priorat are strongly represented, there is increasingly more shelf space given over to Galician wines and new-wave producers from classic regions.

France: This is a really mixed bag, as you might expect from a country as diverse and complicated as France. Bordeaux is the pride and joy of Vila Viniteca and the vast majority of the space directly next to the counter is dedicated to expensive Chateau. The problem is, like their Burgundy selection, the top wines are all simply far, far too expensive. If you’re serious about buying premium wine from either Bordeaux or Burgundy, it’s much cheaper to buy it in the UK or France and have it shipped to Spain. That being said, there are some minor Chateau at reasonable prices and their selection of Burgundy from areas such as the Macon and the less established villages is very good. Drouhin’s Santenay 2013 remains one of my favourite, affordable Burgundies in the city.

Where Vila Viniteca shines with regards to France is within the other regions of France, notably the Loire Valley, Alsace, southern France and even the Rhone to an extent. Crisp Gamay and Grolleau Noir from the Loire makes for affordable, delicious summer-time drinking, their range of Alsace goes from the generic bottlings of the major producers to rare, 20 year old sweet wines and everything inbetween. The Rhone is a little hit-or-miss but everytime I go in, there seems to be a better selection. The Louis J Chave Selection range is fantastic and whilst pricey, usually worth every penny. Take your time and peruse their catalogue with regards to French wine; there are definitely bargains to be had, particularly where you least expect them to be!

Germany: Very few of these wines are available in the store itself but the selection is really quite impressive and often reasonably priced. It still revolves primary around Riesling, which is presumably why Spaniards aren’t interesting in buying it, but Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris are starting to slowly creep in as well. Look out for older bottles from top producers such as Egon Müller , Fritz Haag and Dr. Bürklin-Wolf amongst others!

Italy: Ah, Italy. This is probably the most poorly represented major wine producing country within Vila Viniteca, for reasons that aren’t immediately obvious to me. There are a few odd-ball bottles, a little bit of Amarone but the small selection they have seems to be dedicated to enormously expensive trophy wines, mainly from Tuscany with a few Barolo and Barbaresco producers thrown in for good measure. Whilst I appreciate having the opportunity to blow my savings on a single bottle of Massetto, I’d prefer the chance to buy a good quality, reasonably priced Chianti Classico, given the choice!

The New World

New World wines aren’t popular in Spain. Trying to find a decent selection of wines from New Zealand, Australia, South Africa or anywhere for that matter is like finding a needle in a haystack, so thank God for Vila Viniteca in this regard. The prices are generally competitive with the rest of the European market, the selection is solid and better yet, due to the majority of Spaniards not buying them, I’ve been able to buy mature examples of some top wines over the years for the same prices as current releases. In order of their selection and price rating, their New World offering is roughly as follows:

1. New Zealand – Their selection here is pretty great. Good, often aged, examples from major regions on both islands. I was delighted to buy the last of their Kumeu River Hunting Hill 2011, a wine I regard as being one of the greatest New World Chardonnays available.

2. South Africa – Eben Sadies wines from the Swartland and Olifants river, Pinotage and Cabernet blends from Paarl and Stellenbosch and even a reasonable range of cooler climate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Walkers Bay; a surprisingly strong selection here!

3. USA – This is the big surprise; buying wine from the USA is typically nigh on impossible in Spain. However, due to the American business interests of producers such as Torres, Drouhin and Roederer, who they also distribute, their selection of American wine has gradually grown and grown. Drouhin’s Oregon wines aren’t cheap but are top quality examples from the region, the Torres family vineyards in the Russian River Valley are well established now and hey, if you’re purchasing wine for anonymous millionaires docked in their yachts, there’s plenty of Harlan Estate and Screaming Eagle as well!

4. Argentina/Chile/Australia – Coming in last are these three countries as whilst wine is available, it’s mainly represented by mostly generic brands and often a little overpriced. There are still some bargains to be had and a 2009 bottle of Catena Alta’s Historic Rows Malbec was a recent highlight. With Chile making inroads into the fine wine scene, let’s see how the selection changes accordingly over the coming years!

The Space

Walking into Vila Viniteca is a moment of cheek-clenching glee for the wine geek; rows upon rows of beautiful wines from across Spain and the rest of the world, all aching to be drank. I won’t bother trying to paint a picture of which wines are where, as with only a few exceptions the orientation of the store tends to be moved around every 6 months or so. Just be aware that:

1. What you see is not necessarily all there is. The selection of Vila Viniteca is absolutely enormous with something like 8,000 wines available, the majority of which are stored in a huge underground cellars around Barcelona and Esparreguera.

2. The catalogue is not always up to date so be sure to ask the members of staff to check the up-to-date stock on the computers if you’re looking for something specific.

3. Remember that the staff are there to help you. The selection may be overwhelming but just like a good sommelier in a restaurant, the staff are there to help you choose the right bottle at the right price; don’t be afraid to ask for it!

Conclusion

It’s hard to look past Vila Viniteca as Barcelona’s premium wine store. If you’re looking for something specific or just want to browse their enormous selection, I highly recommend you go in and look around. Whilst the customer service has improved over the last few years, being such a large company does mean that it’s inevitably lost a little personal charm, but my experiences over the last year have been excellent. Go and check it out and if you fancy something a little special to eat, don’t forget to check out their gourmet food shop next door.

Tips

Whilst I understand this isn’t possible for everyone, do try and visit Vila Viniteca either in the morning or the afternoon. As a great deal of customers come in the evening after work, it makes it difficult to find the space to browse and also to get the attention of the staff as the shop gets so busy!

Make sure you come at least once with an hour to spare. The joy of Vila Viniteca is being able to casually browse around the entire store and patience is often rewarded; some of the very best bargains I’ve found have come as a result of poking through dark corners of the store to uncover hidden gems!

Vila Viniteca are understandably incredibly well connected in the world of wine and host/attend a large number of wine fairs through the city. It makes sense to follow them on twitter, facebook and instagram to keep up to date with these announcements.

I know I’ve said it before but do make sure you ask for help! The entire point of hiring trained professionals in wine stores is that so they can streamline the world of wine for you and help you to make sensible, delicious choices. If you feel overwhelmed, grab someone to help you navigate the selection.

Within the store itself, there is a stock-room in the back that not everyone knows about. Here they store some incredibly interesting, rare and often very expensive wines, but also some really great bargains are to be found here as well. The room isn’t open for casual browsing but if you ask a member of staff to take you back, they’ll show you around.

As with any store, it pays to get to know people. If you find a member of staff who you get on with, seek them out! One of my good friends, Alex, is someone I met through shopping at Vila Viniteca and both Gonzalo and Cristina are people I make a point of chatting to whenever I go in. They’ve got their pulse on the heart of the shop and are likely to point out interesting and special bottles that otherwise may pass you by!

If you’re looking to purchase an expensive bottle of something that you’ve found in the store, make sure to ask that they sell you a bottle from their stock room or cellar, not the bottle that’s been stood up for weeks at room temperature in the shop itself.

Special moments and special bottles; Sassicaia 2001


I still remember my first real moment of joy with wine, the feeling of this enormous world opening in front of me, the history, the culture and the sheer complexity and scope of it all. I’ve had this same feeling since, but the first experience I had of it was in a classroom on an uncharacteristically warm Monday morning in London, preparing to start my intensive WSET Level 3 course. As I’d chosen to bypass the first two levels of the WSET, I found myself very much the odd one out; not only had I not brought a spittoon but I hadn’t ever considered spitting wine out before in my life. I didn’t know the basics of wine production, let alone the nuances of different countries, regions and producers, nor had I tasted anything outside of Spain before. It was truly a baptism of fire and yet the only thing I recall was how much fun I had. It was a life-changing week for me and everything since has been inspired by what I learnt there.

I’m still relatively new to the wine industry, as that week was only just over 2 years ago now. Even so, everything has changed as I’ve spent the time between constantly studying, working and trying to improve my understanding of wine. The wines I’ve tasted can now be counted in the thousands rather than the hundreds. I’ve gorged myself on study guides, books, podcasts, blogs and trips to wineries. I’ve worked a harvest and seen some very exciting and very boring sides of the industry. I’m 5/6s of the way through the WSET Diploma and have organised hundreds of tastings in Barcelona. Despite being a newcomer, I can no longer be blown away quite in the same way that I was at the beginning, as it is with all things. However, ‘Ah ha!’ moments still come quite frequently as I have so much still to learn, yet they tend to come as individual pieces of the puzzle, rather than someone drawing back a curtain and showcasing the finished article.

Often these moments come when several disconnected facts find common ground and helps explain a concept you’ve been struggling to get your head around. In tasting, they’re even more common-place as you slowly learn how your palate responds to acidity, tannins, alcohol and the other components of wine. Probably my all time favourite, though, is trying a wine you know all about theoretically, have spoken about and yet have never had the opportunity to taste. A wine that has some sort of historical relevance to a region, a grape or a style. Usually these wines come with pretty hefty price tags and a fair amount of fame, so actually getting hold of them is easier said than done but when it does come along, it’s all the sweeter for it. Last week I had the distinct pleasure of one of these rare ‘Ah ha!’ moments in the shape of the famous ‘Super Tuscan’, Sassicaia.

Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 2001

A lot has been written about Sassicaia, arguably Italy’s most famous wine, so I won’t add a great deal of detail, other than to say it was a relevatory experience for me. As I was learning about appellation laws in Europe, I also learnt about the concept of ‘Super Tuscans’, a term coined largely by the US and UK wine trade to describe wines that were made within Tuscany, often using a blend of international varieties in spite of local regulations. Sassicaia was one of the very first, a blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Cabernet Franc, and has gone on to create a legendary reputation largely due to the craft and skill of consultant Giacomo Tachis, as well as the vision and drive of the owner of the estate, Mario Incisa. The resulting success of these wines, originally designated as Italian Table Wine or “Vino da Tavola” forced the Italian authorities to create a separate designation known as ‘IGT’ to accommodate wine-makers who wanted to be more creative with their production, without conforming to DOC and DOCG regulations. Such was the success of Sassicaia in particular, that it now has it’s own DOC within Bolgheri DOCG, making it the only wine in Italy to enjoy this distinction.

For a wine that’s moving onto it’s 16th birthday it was still remarkably youthful in both appearance and profile; a lovely deep ruby colour with only a slight bricking towards the rim. Beautifully aromatic with lots of blackberry, damson and plum fruit, along with the tell-tale roasted green bell-pepper and slightly minty note. This wine is in an excellent place with lots of leather, tobacco and earthy, savoury elements layered behind, but the freshness and life is the most remarkable thing about it. This will happily age for another 10 years although I was delighted to have caught it now, when the finely grained tannins had their last shred of grip and texture before becoming completely integrated. A very moving bottle of wine.

I drank the wine catching up with a friend over a long and very enjoyable lunch at Monvinic wine bar in Barcelona. Did it cost a lot? It certainly did, €137 to be precise, and that was just for the wine. Would I do it again? In a heart-beat. I’ll probably never experience the same mind-blowing revelations that I did when I first started to learn about wine and that’s ok. As long as I find and occasionally splash out on wines that give me these ‘Ah ha!’ moments, that connect the dots between hundreds of hours of studying, I’ll be more than content. The rest of learning about wine is a slow collection of knowledge and practicing continuously, all made worthwhile by these occasional, brilliant bottles. If they can be shared in good company again, well, I’d say that would make me a very happy man indeed!

It’s good to be back

Wine sunset

My poor website. It’s been a good three weeks since I wrote anything of note, mainly due to the fact that my last three weeks have seen me turn into a sort of hunch-backed troglodyte whose main goal was to memorize the differences between the various sub-regions of Champagne, Lambrusco clones and the importance of acidic backwash in Bourbon production amongst pages of other detail concerning sparkling wines and spirits. Studying for two separate exams to be taken on the same day is something that hopefully I’ll never, ever have to do again. However, they’re done and dusted now and short of failing them (My spirits tasting wasn’t fantastic, but not that bad I hope!), I can now look forward to a long, slow study towards my final exam in January 2018 and get back to doing what I love most; learning, talking about and drinking wine!

With that being said, here’s what I’m looking forward to the most:

Maestrazgo Wine Club: I’m really looking forward to our weekly tastings over the spring and summer and due to my progression towards the final exam of the WSET Diploma, you can expect to see a large amount of international tastings taking place, as well as numerous blind tastings. Spain won’t be neglected as every month we are doing a tasting of a top quality producer, at a slightly lower cost than our international tastings, and I will be sure to sprinkle in some surprise tastings on topics I’ve always wanted to do, as I slowly acquire the wines necessary for them ( I’d love to do a ‘Big 5’ tasting on the founding pioneers of Priorat, for example. My kingdom for a heavily discounted bottle of Clos Erasmus!). Whilst the tastings are fully booked for this month already, April is just around the corner so keep your eyes peeled on the 1st of the month!

Barcelona Wine Culture: I will come up with a better name for this, but it’s an idea I’ve wanted to go through with for about a year now. The idea is to start profiling some of the best wine bars, restaurants and wine shops in Barcelona, meet some new people and of course, enjoy a glass or two along the way. I have a list of around 25 locations I intend to start with, but looking forward to venturing out to new locations and hopefully finding some new gems to recommend.

Tasting videos: Whilst I have a face better suited for radio, I also dislike writing long tastings notes as I find them to look quite cryptic on paper and completely meaningless to anyone who doesn’t understand the language of wine (Tar, dried roses, wet leaves…. sounds lovely, doesn’t it? Welcome to wine-speak!). As a result, I think that a webcam purchase is in order and Wine Cuentista will take to Youtube on a semi-regular basis, to walk through some of the wines I love to drink! It also gives me a brilliant excuse to drink a lot of new wine from around Spain and do some bargain-hunting in the process. First step; figure out how to make a video… it’s a work in progress!

Blind tasting: I haven’t done a practice blind tasting for well over a month now, which is criminal considering it’s my favourite activity in the world. Looking forward to not only getting back to Monvinic but also catching up with my blind-tasting group and continuing my studies in the best way I know how; tasting wine!

Becoming a Father: There are those who feel this should technically be the first thing on my list, but it’s still another 3 months away which is allowing me to do a remarkably good job at pretending it isn’t as close as it actually is. If all goes to plan, Dante will say hello to the world on the 14th June and I can say goodbye to any small amount of free time I had left, as well as any thoughts of sleep. Does that sound negative? Probably but I’m a realistic guy and the truth is I couldn’t be happier about it. Another chapter, and one worth raising a glass to.

Thoughts on: Modern Wine Culture

eldiset

‘Wine Culture’ is a pretty difficult thing to define, especially in our constantly changing, modern, technology-driven world. When we think of wine culture, we tend to romanticize a little and think about a family somewhere, probably in Southern Europe, sharing a bottle or two of good wine over a table heavily laden with stunning fresh produce, preferably overlooking an area of natural beauty. Or a group of friends sat on a terrace in the middle of Paris or Barcelona, passing glasses around to be refilled during a quiet summer evening; if you have no imagination, fear not for a Google image search yields almost exactly this! However, when it comes to wine consumption Europe isn’t necessarily the pace-setter anymore and according to this article by Decanter, the USA is now the largest consumer of wine in the world and to add to that, they’re also the worlds largest importer of wine. It’s therefore pretty easy to see that the world of wine is changing in more than just production methods and grape varieties around the world; the consumer base is shifting quite drastically as well. This is also true for age groups, with the younger generations tapping into wine at an early age and making something of a splash when it comes to purchasing habits.

A while ago I read this article on the WSJ, which gave me a lot to think about with regards to how I see wine consumption within Spain itself. I interact with a real mix of people in the wine tastings I organise in Barcelona; from the younger ‘millenial’ generation all the way through to people in their 70’s, from all over the world. Is there a difference in their buying patterns and preferences; the what and the why? Absolutely. Is there a difference in styles and priorities in wine? Yep. Have we both at some point fallen for the trap of clever marketing, just in different guises? Unfortunately, I think so. People give the older generations a hard time due to their supposed reliance on expert opinion and wine scores but I believe my generation is just as gullible — we’ve simply traded scores and wildly bombastic tasting notes for cute narratives and forcefully expressed opinions that happen to coincide with our own way of looking at the world. It’s been expressed many times, and I believe it to be true, that this is largely in part to the ”classics’ of the wine world now being so outrageously expensive that they’re no longer affordable to the vast majority of consumers, especially for younger people and so other options are being sought as alternatives.

Technology has been a huge factor in this, with more blogs, videos and websites dedicated to the love of wine than ever before. Instead of subscribing to magazines, mailing-lists and conferences/fairs, it’s far easier to access the wisdom of thousands through websites and applications such as Cellar Tracker and Vivino. Wine Folly has also been hugely successful with its easy to digest infographics and aesthetically pleasing presentation, although sadly hamstrung by a lot of misleading and incorrect information along the way. There’s been a lot of talk recently about the recent shift in wine-writing or how the ‘old guard’ is changing and that there isn’t really an obvious replacement in this now very convoluted space. Is this an inherent problem? No, in fact I would say that diversifying opinions and challenging long held conventions has not only allowed people to explore the world of wine more easily but also encouraged the industry to move into the 21st century, at least from a marketing standpoint. This in turn has made wine more attractive to younger drinkers who then invest time and money into engaging with it, albeit at the expense of making an already confusing industry all that much more so.

However, with technology and fashion moving at a far faster pace than wine, this has led to a potentially worrying shift in priorities for younger drinkers. Instead of starting with the basics of viticulture, vinification and ‘benchmark’ wines from countries and regions with centuries of high-quality production, more and more people are jumping into wine at the ‘cool’ end of the spectrum. In Barcelona alone, there are 3–4 bars in the old part of the town that cater to only ‘natural’ and organic wines exclusively, all of which have sprung up in the last decade or so. Whilst there’s no inherent problem with this, it’s marginally worrying that certain narratives are becoming so strong amongst the younger generation of wine drinkers, most of which have very little to do with the quality of the drink itself. This is worrying because as the narrative grows stronger, so does the opportunity for marketing and manipulation rather than people choosing a wine because they truly enjoy drinking it and have the confidence to choose it, which is the goal of wine based education across the world.

Fortunately most of these trends are, like all things that are very loud in media, followed by quite a small minority (although here is an interesting report on the true market value of ‘natural’ wines) and even so, is it so bad? If wine-makers are finding that their audience places value in long term environmental solutions, so what? This has to be good for the industry as a whole and frankly, the narrative of the wine is also important; I give wine tastings for a living, I would be crazy to deny this. What we need to strike is a balance. Wine, like all things, is more enjoyable when properly understood, even at a very basic level. Buying a bottle after hearing a story about a monastery that produces a nearly extinct grape variety in India and contributes all profits to the ‘Before it was cool’ association is not understanding wine, it’s buying a story. The same way that people bought the story of the ’99 point’ wine that had ‘a tactile sense of seemingly schistic, crushed stone impingement’ do not understand wine, they are buying a story as well, just in different , and often very amusing, words.

giamonti

As wine starts to redefine itself in modern culture, education will need to work hard to keep up. In fact, it seems that the general level of wine education is increasing, particularly amongst younger people and that is a real cause for celebration. Ultimately, it’s down to us how we interact with wine — we have the potential to take wine to the next level and open more doors for more people. Conversely, we could screw it all up and go back to the hostile, inaccessible mess it was before. As I said in a previous article, anyone who works with wine becomes an ambassador whether they realise it or not; it’s part and parcel of the social nature of the industry we’re in.

I’ll finish by quoting Lettie Teague, author of the aforementioned WSJ article, who sums it up rather succinctly:“Will millennials in the end “revolutionize” wine — or banking or dining, for that matter? Will they render wine scores obsolete and classic wines like Bordeaux and Burgundy mere runners up to…Slovenian Chardonnay? Perhaps. They’ve certainly done their part to promote small producers creating interesting wines in odd corners of the globe. But to truly claim their position as the most powerful consumers in the world, they’ll need to develop a broader context and a deeper understanding of the entire world of wine — and not just an appreciation of a good story or a few obscure grapes.”

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