The Upside of Wine Globalization

Vinted on May 20, 2010 binned in best of, commentary

Yeah, I know right? 

There’s an upside to more and more wine being made more and more in an “international” style by more and more producers in more and more regions?

Yes, there is.  Yes, I’m serious.  No, I haven’t been drinking too much wine while writing this.

First, we need to explain what the “international” style is, which essentially is the advent in recent years of big, extracted, jammy, heavily-oaked, high-alcohol wine (both red and white).  Robert Parker, who is the “1” in the 1 and 1/2 of the wine critics that move the majority of the wine market (Jim Laube at Wine Spectator is the “1/2”), likes the style and awards it high scores, which in turn allow producers of those styles to charge higher prices and then the market takes over to influence other producers to follow suit when making their wines so that they can sell more and charge more, etc., etc., blah-blah-blah. 

The result, according to the detractors, is wine going the way of fast food, like McDonald’s taking over small family restaurants in Europe; everything becomes the same and we lose regional originality.

The whole phenomenon was more-or-less lambasted in the film Mondovino, which if you haven’t seen it yet, will give you a crash course in all things “style international du vin.”

Go ahead and watch it.  I’ll wait.

Done?  Okay, cool, let’s get back to what’s right about the Disney-ification and McDonald’s-ization of the modern wine market…

It’s certainly true, in my opinion, that we’re losing something with the popularization of this style of wine, and the homogenization of an “international” wine style.  It’s also unfairly being blamed on California, just as the spread of multi-national food corporations like McDonald’s at the expense of regional cuisine is often unfairly blamed on the U.S. (source: EVERY OTHER conversation about food that I have EVER HAD with a local when traveling in continental Europe).

We’ve also lost some other things.  Like lots of brett-infected equipment in Europe churning out wines that smell like band-aids and squirrel poop that are sold as “terroir-driven” for $60 a bottle.

In other words, you may hate the International style of wine, and you may hate the fact that so many winemakers are going for it, but you ought to love the fact that there has never been a time in the history of winemaking where wine quality has been so high and simultaneously affordable.

There are for sure abominations out there – reverse osmosis is like invasive surgery, for example – that are Fraken-wines that while technically without flaw are also without any perceptible sense of soul.  But I think we (and the media) overplay that, the same way that we overplay McDonald’s being the source of all unhealthy food in the Universe.

Don’t like it?  Don’t drink it.  There are still a massive amount of alternatives. 

Don’t like it?  Keep complaining, so that you stem the spreading tide of that style of wine and instead champion your favorites.  Vote with your wallet, because that’s what others are doing and no one would be making the International style if it wasn’t selling (and please spare me from the “people don’t know what they’re doing and only buy based on Parker scores” speech: give consumers a bit more credit than that – they might do that once or twice, but eventually personal taste and available choice will take over).

Just don’t pine for the good-ol’-days when lower quality wines got away with charging an arm and a leg for faulty wines that under-deliver.  If the International style has had a benefit, it’s the forcing of some storied wine producers to stop sitting on their laurels and clean up their acts (and their equipment). 

For more (very) interesting debate and great writing on this topic, check out BeekmanWine.com and FoodandWine.com.

Cheers!

(images: lolzombie.com, chestofbooks.com)

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    Comments

  • @CraigDrollett


    Great post Joe!

    I totally agree with you that internationalization is leading to better winemaking practices around the world. When was the last time you had a Burgundy with that classic 'barnyard" (read: dirty/ flawed) character to it? As long as the winemakers understand that clean, modern winemaking doesn't have to lead to homogenization, where Volnay tastes like a 16% Syrah.

    Points: You're totally correct, the consumer really doesn't care as much as some think. I did a survey of customers a few years back and was blown away by how little they cared about points. But… Take a look at the group between the supplier and the consumer (retail), actually take a look at the supplier as well. They drive the sales, and in many cases points (definitely not always) are used as a crutch. How many email blasts do you get a day that lead with 90+ Point blah blah blah….

    Good stuff as always.
    C

    • 1WineDude


      Thanks, Craig – I should come clean here and mention that I *really* like a good Volnay! :-)

  • Richard Scholtz


    I'll raise a glass to your sentiments Joe! It's something I've noticed, especially in Spanish wines and wines from the Rhone. I don't think it's so much that they've changed "styles" (if you want to call drinking wet cardboard a "style"). I believe it has more to do with the fact that if you remove the "dirtyness" of the wine, and use a little sanitizing solution in your winery, the fruit and other desirable compounds are permitted to show through now. I had the "pleasure" to taste a CdP from 1998 last week, and it should be a textbook case of what happens when you run a dirty winery. It smelled and tasted like a damp basement. I'm shocked that people actually like to drink wines like that! I guess they just don't know better.

    • 1WineDude


      Thanks, Richard – I've got a buddy who is VERY anti-brett, and he has postulated a theory that an entire generation of wine drinkers was "brought up" in the world of fine wine by being told that bretty wines were actually terroir and that good wines had that complexity, therefore the bretty-ier the wine, the more complex and probably therefore the better it was.

      I think it was Randall Grahm who said "I don't mind a little brett in my wine, but I sure as hell don't want it in my winery!"

      Cheers!

  • Kathleen Rake


    Once again, Joe, you've delivered a great read. Thanks for this. You bet I'll keep complaining as I vote with my wallet.

    Cheers,

    K.

    • 1WineDude


      Thanks, Kathleen – I think I'm in danger of becoming militant against brett, but when it outdoes the fruit and acidity in a wine, then god help the person who ages it :-).

  • @GrottoCellars


    Love it. I don't pay much attention to points myself. I like what I like and I will continue to buy it :) While taking recommendations from my friends and bloggers, of course.

    • 1WineDude


      Thanks, Kristi – you make us bloggers sound kind of neighborly :-).

  • willybuoy


    does this mean you like Pennsylvanias wine monopoly? ;-)

    • 1WineDude


      Hmmm… uhmmmm…. NO! :-)

  • Gregg Burke


    What's Up Dude,
    Great post. I am still of the opinion that a little brett in syrah is a good thing, so too clean is not always good . I agree whole heartedly that the quality of wine has never been higher. It makes my job easy because there are some great wines out there that I can sell at a low price but still make a profit. I do not agree that homogenization of wine is a good thing. Wine should have a personality. The last thing we need is a wine world where the vinous equivolent of Paris Hilton is the norm. Cheers

    • 1WineDude


      thanks, Gregg – totally agree that wine should have a personality; I'm on the fence regarding brett: I dig a little beefy funk in syrah as well, but I'm not sure anyone understands how to control brett for that purpose (ie., is it accidental?). Cheers!

  • David Honig


    I give this post 94* points.

    • 1WineDude


      94? Why I oughtta….!

  • Amy Atwood


    It's interesting that brett keeps coming up as the main culprit. I am not a fan of brett myself, although we all know some wine drinkers who love it. I am all for clean winemaking, but there are some other aspects of 'modern' conventional winemaking that are just as offensive, to me anyway. Especially the use of flavor or aroma yeasts, oak powder, over-use of new & toasted barrels, mega purple dye, etc. Many of these are commonly used in conventional winemaking, which is one reason that processed wines can taste amazingly similar.
    No, I don't want brett in my wine, but neither do I want every wine to taste of a highly toasted oak barrel or the latest aroma yeast to hit the market. Talk about loss of terroir.
    Why can't conventional winemakers make it clean but leave all that other junk out of the wine? I guess they will when wine lovers start demanding it.
    Cheers, Amy

    • 1WineDude


      Thanks, Amy – I think that there is a happy middle ground, between maintaining a sense of place and identity and uniqueness, and keeping the winemaking 'clean'. I suppose what I'm saying is that I'd rather have the wine clean AND reflect a true character and uniqueness, and that there have never been so many ways to help winemakers do that than there are available today. Cheers!

  • @norcalwingman


    Ha, you said squirrell poop! That's some funny stuff. Love the McDonnalds pic. Brett is nasty! nuff said.

    • 1WineDude


      Actually, squirrel poop probably isn't stinky enough to be an apt descriptor…

  • Wineontheway.com


    I disagree with your sentiment that more and more wine regions producing more and more wine is a good thing. I think it is watering down the base, and making the good wine more expensive.

  • Joe


    I thought “squirrel poop” was more often described as “nuttiness” (rim shot).

    If everything was to homogenize, then wine would become nothing more than a commodity, and the lowest price would rule. If this was the case, all quality control would be cut to get to the lowest price, and all the wine would suck.

    While these winemakers are in business, and a critical factor of successful business is to make a better product more efficiently, I can’t blame anyone for modernizing some techniques. However, while there are wine drinkers who go after the lowest price for a perceived generic “red” or “white”, there will always be a market for wines that have a uniqueness to them, whether it’s agriculture, process, technique, or region.

    • 1WineDude


      Thanks, Joe – Good one…

      I think wine has already become a commodity in many ways. not saying it's the right thing for wine, just that we have to accept it as a starting point.

  • 1WineDude


    Thanks, WotW – I'd counter a bit of that, I think that good wine is going to get more expensive anyway.

  • Don R


    I think that those who defend brett don't really know what they are tasting. Brett always tastes the same. Brett is brett. It does not enhance any varietal. It sits on top of whatever flavors the rest of the wine offers. Getting rid of brett is a good thing, but blame your importer or retailer if they peddled Euro wines with brett and mis-identified it with some "rustic" bull. A lot of small wineries make non-homogenour wines without brett.

  • Sangiovese


    Love the piece. Brett is brett and needs to be wiped out. There is no marketing strategy that can overcome the Bandaids and squirrel Poop.
    Wine makers are coming into their own and showing creativity and individuality. The really good ones are working with their growers to produce better, lower yield fruit. You CANNOT make great wine from bad grapes, but you sure can F- up good grapes. Farming practices play a huge roll in the end product.

    • 1WineDude


      Thanks, Sangio!

  • 1WineDude


    Thanks, Don – I think some would argue that they like the odor of some strains of brett, but until it can be controlled then I'm hesitant to call it more than a flaw (sometimes maybe a happy one if you're into bacon :-). Cheers!

  • 1WineDude


    Thanks, Ed – love the steroids analogy!

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