Monday, November 15, 2010

Vinography: Where Self Awareness Goes to Die

Alder Yarrow is a talented guy, no question about it. But self awareness is not his strong suit. He's published another blog entry on Vinography decrying the tragedy of wine being treated purely as a investment or trophy. In principle, the post says all the right things. He tells these cynical wine speculators and hoarders essentially to take a shit or get off the pot. Drink the wine, because that's what it's there for.

But the same sentiment can be directed to Vinography: take a shit or get off the pot. A blog that breathlessly glorifies ultra-expensive cult (or at least aspiring cult) producers like Kapcsándy, Blackbird, Sea Smoke, Bond, and Giacomo Conterno is not exactly the spokesblog for the common man. In fact, it's perpetuating the same class divide that Yarrow criticizes. Yarrow simply doesn't get that one can't lionize $100+ Napa cult Cabs one day, then criticize luxury wine collectors the next for hoarding them.

Yarrow wants to end what he calls "the travesty of wine and social class." You know what else is a travesty? Hypocrisy. Yarrow does an excellent job covering a variety of wines, and has a special ability for illustrating what makes high end wineries tick. But if you're covering a luxury good--and that's what wine is, even down to the $15 or $20 Mondavi Napa Merlot at Von's--there's no getting around it. Vinography is about luxury goods, pure and simple. There's just no sense in criticizing the same market that Vinography covers.

I'm not begrudging anyone for enjoying or writing about expensive wine. Heck, I've done the same thing myself! But let's drop the pretense. Writing up all the minutiae related to a bottle of fermented grapes is not dispelling the notion of wine is a luxury. Instead it feeds into the same mythology that it is complicated, expensive and snobby. We can't have it both ways.


Alder Yarrow said...

No surprise, I still disagree with you. You're making subjective assessments "All wine is a luxury good" and treating them like objective fact. Go ask a winemaker in a tiny village in Tuscany or Burgundy whether wine is a luxury good. For a lot of people that aren't Americans who can't see past their own navels, wine is like bread. It's nice to have a good loaf with dinner.

The fact you can't understand that illustrates my point about what a travesty, indeed, the mindset about wine is in this country.

Cabfrancophile said...

I certainly agree with your point that outside of the US wine is treated more as a beverage. But in the US, for a variety of reasons, it is viewed as a luxury good. It's not that I fail to understand your statement. It's that you make this statement while at the same time (inadvertently, unknowingly?) supporting the 'wine as luxury good' perception.

Is it a travesty that wine is treated solely as an accoutrement of the upper class? Probably. But I simply don't see the majority of your work dispelling this notion. Rather it reinforces the notion, even if you write compelling articles in opposition.

Cabfrancophile said...

Just for example, why not focus more on wine and food pairings as opposed to large tastings and verticals of allocated producers? These sorts of events do more to perpetuate the stuffy image of wine than anything else.

Alder Yarrow said...

Large tastings make up less than 10% of my coverage, and I've done probably less than 10 "vertical tastings of allocated producers" in the nearly seven years I've been writing this blog. You are not fairly judging the majority of my content. And your argument still hangs on the super tenuous thread that because I have occasionally reviewed an expensive wine I am somehow "reinforcing the notion that wine is a luxury good." That's ridiculous.

Wine and food pairings are part of America's cultural problem. Please see my article: Wine and Food Pairings are a Big Scam (search for it on my site if you're interested) for the more complex argument, but it boils down to this: by suggesting that there is some art or serious skill behind wine and food pairings, people start to believe that it is possible to drink "the wrong thing" with something that they eat which adds to the intimidation factor of wine. I call bull****.

Cabfrancophile said...

I see your point with respect to food pairings. That can get incredibly pretentious very quickly. So that's not the best venue. But something more casual involving dining--lunch at a bistro, dinner with friends--might do. That's more what I had in mind. Hell, even pairing could be fun if folks came in without preconceived notions.

I'm not interested in running statistical analysis to categorize your blog entries. I'll take your word for it. It is my opinion the style, focus and content of your work generally supports the perception of wine as an aspirational good. Certain articles more than others, obviously.

I'm not saying it is easy to de-snobbify wine. In the US the industry is set up to market wine as a luxury good. You'd be swimming upstream against that current.

If you are accepting invitations to special tastings and trips to Burgundy, well, it seems you have one foot in one camp, and the other foot in another camp. And peasant farmers, please, Burgundies are the most expensive wines in the world while fruit on the 'spot' market from fashionable sites can top $50k per ton. I believe I just heard "peasant farmer" Andy Beckstoffer's jaw drop at that number!