Monday, February 27, 2012

Letting the grapes speak (quietly) for themselves

It occurred to me last night as the silent movie The Artist won Best Picture at the Academy Awards that perhaps there's a theme at work. My first clue came a few months back when I read an article in the Sydney Morning Herald pointing out how under-represented rock music was in the ARIA (Aussie Grammy equivalent) award nominations. This, coupled with the demise of New York's sole FM provider of new rock music101.9 earlier, had led me to the conclusion that mine would be the first generation where parents would be telling their children to "turn the music UP". The second piece in the cultural conundrum was the growing movement in wine circles I crossed away from 'big' wines in favour of more subtle, artisanal or traditional wines. The weekend WSJ article extolling the rise of sommeliers vis-à-vis Robert Parker provided mainstream confirmation.

So whereas the '90s had given us Nirvana and Pearl Jam, a Best Picture winner in Braveheart, and Robert Parker, we now have Adele and Bon Iver, a silent movie, and wine lists where terroir and acid trump the clichéd "iron fist in the velvet glove". With the exception of politics, where the Republican primaries and the Australian Labor Party's poor imitation show that "restraint" is some distance off, are we going through a seismic shift? No doubt the Foo Fighters will keep rocking, Spielberg will keep us awake at the movies/home cinema and Parker will keep on scoring on, with the Chinese easily replacing the subscribers lost elsewhere.

But it seems clear we're through into a new era now. The internet, with its blogs, and producer websites, and Cellartracker make the wine world so much smaller and easy to 'rationalise'. Better educated sommeliers have led to better wine lists, and better food-wine pairings. Wineries have got the joke, adopting organic and biodynamic methods, and searching for unique terroir as points of differentioation. The local wine shop may have picked up as well, and if they haven't, Lot 18 and their competitors are ready to educate and tempt you from your email box. For the most part without the luxury of Parker points to fall back on, they sell the way travel agents used to before lowest price trumped all - tales of exotic lands, colourful history, romantic visions...all this can be yours for $89.99 a half case, free delivery.

Terry Theise may never be as well known as Robert Parker, and given his bagging directly and indirectly of the Australian wine scene it's just as well for many Down Under - on Priorat, "there is another (yet another) source of big-ass reds. I‘m not sure why I should care." However, his message is certainly receiving a wider, more influential audience now than back in 2005 when he published a piece on Globalization, expanded upon in 2010's "Between The Vines". He yearns for, and fears for the preservation of, "the quirky, the asymmetrical, the evocative" while hoping "if we cannot all unite behind the value of diversity". As we found out at the Oscars, quirky is back in vogue, and wine diversity seems to be in ever better hands.


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