Yesterday, the wine staff and a couple of other employees here tasted through the lineup that we'll be featuring for our L'Aventure Languedoc tastings. Doing so got me thinking about a very common topic for me: expanding people's vinous horizons. As retailers, we try to accomplish this task in many ways. It's not that it's easiest for us to sell you a really wide variety of wines. The opposite is true: our job would be really simple if we could just buy large quantities of the 100 or so best sellers, charge reasonable prices, and watch them fly out the door. That would be no fun. One thing that really excites me about wine is the diversity, the fact that there is always something new to explore, be it a new region, grape, vintage, producer, or combination of those things. I'm someone who really enjoys the world of aromas and flavors out there for us to experience. It is practically infinite.
Getting back to these Languedoc wines, we were all sitting there talking about how great the wines were, and the phenomenal value they offer. The person leading our staff training said after some remarks along those lines: "These are a hand sell." What she means is that these are not wines the average consumer is just going to pick up on their own and try. We have to be able to sell each bottle by hand. My greatest efforts to put them in people's hands, with the genuine intention of showing them something that will get them excited, will be unsuccessful much of the time just because they are not wines with which most Americans are familiar. There might have been cause for that in the past, but nowadays, there is no longer any good reason. In fact, some of these wines fit the styles of some very popular, well-known categories. Others are unique and interesting for that reason. This is the story with so many wines that most of you have never heard of and, sadly, might never try.
I get that many wine drinkers are plenty happy with the old standbys. I've got nothing against keeping the old standbys, but I think there is always room for more experimentation as well. Imagine if you had only ever tried a couple of kinds of food. Yeah, you might be perfectly happy eating only Italian cuisine (for example) for the rest of your life, but isn't it a lot richer and more enjoyable to have a far greater variety of options, and once in a while to try something that you've never had. I think so. I think that in both cases, food and wine (an apt comparison when I put it that way!), the most pleasure can be had by getting out there and trying new things a lot of the time, while revisiting old favorites regularly enough to remember your love, but rarely enough to make each experience with them fresh and wonderful. I mean, I love Indian Dosas, but if I ate one every day for lunch, I'd get burnt out fast. I might even still like them after years of that, but I guarantee I like them a whole lot more eating them less often than that.
I know that not everyone is adventurous as I am when it comes to food and beverages, but it really doesn't hurt to explore. There are plenty of opportunities to taste wines before buying them. There are also plenty of people like me who can get to know you, learn your preferences, and make appropriate suggestions, while describing wines in whatever way makes sense to you. Before the impersonalization of society became as pronounced as it is today, this is how people shopped for many things. They had a relationship with a vendor, and they had a great time talking to that person about what they should buy. Now that there is too much information available online, and tons of poor information, so many people seem to think they're better off relying on that. If you're buying an appliance, I might even agree with you. But wine is a very personal thing. We all have different preferences that can be difficult to understand and describe. To think that a critic's score or other random person's suggestion is the perfect advice for you, with your individual preferences and physiological traits, is way off base. I don't need to go on about wine scores (I did that in a previous post), but I think it's worth pointing out again that we all taste differently, and that "good" and "bad" are very subjective ideas when it comes to enjoyment of a wine. As much diversity of taste as there is out there, it would make sense for there to be more diversity of wine preference, and even more diversity of enjoyment of different categories among each individual wine drinker.
I don't mean to tell anyone they're wrong for drinking what they know they like, and I do think there are good reasons for some categories being a lot more popular than others. I also think that we in the northeast United States are already moving in a very good direction as far as broadening horizons and making it worthwhile for stores to carry 1000+ wines. Still, there's a lot more room for improvement, and that is how I see diversification and experimentation with the unfamiliar or unknown: it does lead to improvement. I'm not talking about better business, though that might come along for the ride. My focus is on increased enjoyment. Joy. To me, that's the main thing that wine is all about, and I truly believe that the more people learn, taste, and try new things, the more they will enjoy their lives. It might be a small element of life, and it might even seem like a bit of a reach for me to tie enjoyment of wine in with enjoyment of life, but a lot of it really is about the little things. There is good reason that human culture and Western Civilization have been so closely tied to this stuff for so many generations. As much as I truly love my journey in the world of wine, my primary goal in choosing this for a career is to taste, experience, and enjoy as wide as possible a range of experiences, and encourage and help others to do the same. Thanks for reading. May 2013