Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Snobs or Jargonistas

So the wine trade cops a fair amount of flack for being snobbish, exclusive and convoluted. Is it justified and how much can it be dumbed down? Do wine drinkers in any significant numbers want to swan around in a world of homogenised wine? 

Wine enjoyment is linked to the brain’s pleasure centres which in turn are linked to memory and emotion so it’s not surprising wine can evoke strong emotions in people, and the need to share your experience - or light up a cigarette.

While describing a wine can quickly sound poncy and pretentious every trade has its jargon and wine is no different. Try describing any other food or beverage in words and one quickly realises that this tendency is not confined to wine.

Once you know it, jargon speeds up communication, before knowing it you can feel lost and intimidated.  The anti-wine speak lobby merely devise fresh jargon which is almost always gone before the next vintage. Thankfully you don’t need to know any jargon to enjoy a wine. “I like it” will do.

Most wine drinkers start out with basic or entry level wines often at the sweeter end of the spectrum – hardly the stuff to inspire vocabulary growth and more likely to be drunk for effect rather than enjoyment which in time becomes opposite.

One view I have heard of wine is that it’s going the same way as beer – not the burping and farting but rather around 6 brands will dominate the market. While easier to make a decision, imagine how boring and difficult to find something different? What a depressing thought. Or maybe 7 brands for Monday to Sunday. Mmmm

However, wine has already been homogenised. Of literally tens of thousands of Vitis Viniferas wine varieties the market is dominated by some 18 red and 15 white varieties, principally Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. These are the coca-colas of the wine world but also produce among the finest and most expensive wines on the planet in Bordeaux and Burgundy respectively.   

They are also the most versatile varieties and have adapted to a myriad of sites and climates around the world. Chardonnay in particular is the gypsy of the wine world as it readily reflects how it was made in the cellar while making provenance irrelevant.

The other homogenising forces at play are the retailers. Retailer consolidation and buying power has seen producers consolidate sales and production. This conversion has been painful. UK retailers all but destroyed the Australian wine trade and robbed France of significant UK market share while conditioning consumers to drink highly commercial wine.

While we are hurtling toward an ever reducing number of increasingly larger companies – particularly in the new world – so too we have a large number of very small companies but are their days numbered? I think not because they will be sustained by the need for variety, by internet sales and by global trends like local is lekka which in turn could see the return of indigenous varieties……. 


  1. Lekka has Dutch roots - doesn't it means "delicious" in all of the same the untranslatable senses as "terroir"?

  2. ja, spot on and can change within context eg can also mean 'enjoyable' (highly;-). where did you see its use?