By now, many of you reading this will have come across a handful of articles on the Global Interwebs proffering the idea that the current style of high-scoring, high-end fine wines (prominently oaky, complex, high on the alcohol and low on the acidity) will always reign supreme in fine wine sales, and that it’s only a matter of time before Millennial consumers “grow up” and stop buying higher acid, inexpensive imports and trade up to the “real” stuff.
Many of these arguments are well-written and intelligently presented. But to me, they don’t read like the Queen’s English; they look more like this: “Blah blah, blah-blah-blah, BLAH-BLAH!!!”
Some of the crystal ball gazing has been done by those with a vested interest in prolonging the reign of the current style of high-scoring, high-end fine wines, but I don’t really have any issue with that potential conflict of interest. Also, I’m willing to ignore the fact that one of the key pillars of their arguments – that an entire generation will “grow up” to fundamentally change how they interact with brands – has no previous viable example in the entire history of luxury goods consumption on planet Earth.
The real nail in the coffin of these arguments is that no data are ever offered in support of them.
Meanwhile, we have examples of exactly the opposite happening; younger consumers buying fresher, higher acid wines, because that’s what they can afford and therefore it’s the style on which they’re cutting their wine loving teeth, informing their future purchases and tastes from this point onward.
What examples, you ask? How about roughly eight million bottles, is that a good enough example for you?
8 million is the annual bottle production of Mednoza’s Luigi Bosca, a producer I visited during my stint earlier this year judging the 2013 Argentina Wine Awards. The results of that visit – aside from yielding a handful of tasty recommendations for you (more on those in a few minutes) – underscored nearly every aspect of the speeches I and my fellow judges gave to the Argentine winemaking community during the AWAs, and yielded one of the most telling illustrations of the changing tastes of younger wine consumers I’ve yet encountered…
Luigi Bosca has been producing wine since 1901, and is now managed by the third and fourth generations of the Arizu family. They’re still situated in the same building where they started (a former 1800s–era grain mill), in which five thousand (!) barrels are in use there at any given time, rivaling the woody volume of some of Rioja’s larger producers. They take wine so seriously at Luigi Bosca that they’ve developed a solemn walkthrough of the stages of winemaking, replete with church-like lighting and embossed frescos that are eerily reminiscent of the Catholic “stations of the cross” (seriously… it’s downright spooky…).
They make 8 million bottles a year, utilizing 700 hectares of vineyards to produce 35 different wines under 5 brand names that are exported to 50 countries.
During my visit, we tasted through a series of their wines while awaiting the arrival of Gustavo Arizu. Gustavo’s eventual entrance, though late, was like a breath of fresh air in the old, solemn LB tasting room, and not just because he spoke English, allowing me to abandon my horrendous Spanish for several minutes. The refreshing part was that Arizu, having attended our AWA speeches earlier that week, seemed downright perky about the fact that just about all of LB’s production was undergoing change, specifically to capture more natural acidity and therefore larger portions of the disposable income of younger wine consumers globally.
That might seem an impetuous move, but there’s nothing about Arizu that’s impetuous. He’s a corporate guy through-and-through: smart, donning a polo shirt, speaking in an even-keeled voice, offering a strong handshake, sporting a nice watch, and appearing physically fit and trim. A company LB’s size does not – cannot – change on a whim, or based on information from a few magazine or blog articles. Gustavo Arizu has a role with Wines of Argentina, and sells a boatload of wine, giving him access to a lot of consumer data on what drives sales in Argentine wines, globally. He likely has data on global Argentine wine consumption trends to which we just don’t have access. And he’s acting on it.
“We don’t have much success with Wine Spectator or Robert Parker. We don’t want to be trendy, we want to follow the same speed as the consumer,” without rushing into changes or styles, he told me.
“Our markets are demanding more freshness, so we’ve changed the way of picking, and our ripeness levels.” Over thirty years, acid levels in their wines are on the rise, because that’s what their customers want to drink and buy, he said. The slow turning of the enormous LB production ship towards fresher wines isn’t a fluke, it’s a business decision.
Gustavo thinks that wine consumers are getting smarter about brands and how to engage them, and about how they can communicate what they want from them.“Today, we have two different consumers: one that follows big, high-scoring wines, and one group seeking freshness, more acidity.”
As for the current style of high-scoring wines, Arizu sees them as a bit of a dead-end. “The low-end wines actually express more terroir sometimes than the higher-end,” he explained, due to the flavor profiles, blending, oak, malolactic fermentation, strict yeast selections, etc., often used on higher-end wines that are chasing after scores. “I want to taste an apple, not apple jam with cinnamon and some cloves inside!”
He also sees the evolution of LB’s wine styles as bolstering the global wine economy in general. “When consumers get too much high alcohol, and so often,” he warned, ”they move to non-alcohol lifestyles,” favoring drinks like soda and beer over wine. This kind of market shift in younger consumers is something that Argentina knows firsthand, by the way.
So, for my money, I can’t hear the “blah blah” of the ill-informed opinions stating that wine preferences never change, because their nonsensical voices are being drowned out by the sound of eight million higher acid wines being uncorked…
2012 Finca La Linda Torrontes (Cafayate, $11)
An “I’ve got an apple for you, teacher” kind of overachiever, in an almost annoyingly proficient kind of way. Floral and simple, but also sporting a ton of minerals in its tart,clean, crisp, freshly-pressed citric suit. A nice find when so many other Torrontes wines that gets shipped to the States ends up being too flabby to deliver on its aromatic promises.
2010 Luigi Bosca “De Sangre” (Mondoza, $20)
See, the creepy Catholic thing even “bleeds” into the wine names… see what I did there…? Ok, well, f*ck you, too! Anyway, a fresh Cab/Merlot/Syrah blend that comes off as fruity, savory, and deep, but not so deep that it loses its balance and falls into the bottomless pit of nondescript flabby dark fruits.
2009 Luigi Bosca “Gala 1” (Mendoza, $30)
Malbec, Petit Verdot and Tannat. Sounds like a blend better suited for the contents of a tasting room spit bucket. But here it’s a modern, friendly, silky, mineral-driven and, yes, fresh take on going for something that just tastes good, grape varieties (ok, and volatile acidity) be damned (but not damned in the spooky Catholic sense).
2009 Luigi Bosca “Gala 2” (Mendoza, $30)
Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot; more familiar territory for most people. In this case, the territory is dotted with tart red and black fruits, a sprig of herbs here and there, and a downright stately structural stride, tannins making up one long leg, acidity the other.
2008 Luigi Bosca Finca Los Nobles Cabernet Bouchet (Mendoza, $60)
I guess Cabernet Franc can, in fact, get its swervy on. Who knew? 65 year old vines, and more or less a field blend form the vineyard. They’re going for a smooth style here, so the result is silky and touch heavy on the VA again, but the combination of its tannic pucker and the spicy freshness of its dark cherry fruits makes this one of the few “sexy” offerings to grave the virtual 1WD pages for months.
2008 Luigi Bosca ICONO (Mendoza, $140)
Speaking of sexy (a double-team!), this 60/40 Malbec / Cabernet Sauvignon split is very, very, very deep and savory. Currants with bedroom eyes the color of obsidians, and they’re in a not-to-be-denied lock stare with your sorry ass. Tea and tobacco leaf compliment a mineral-water like mouthfeel. It’s like drinking a slightly aged Cab, so I’m not sure how well it will hold up in ten or fifteen years, but there’s really little reason to wait, anyway.