There’s a bit of a disconnect these days when it comes to red wine in America. Consumers still seem to be deeply interested in and passionate about full-bodied red wines — be they blends, Cabernet Sauvignon, or other varieties. Yet it often seems that wine experts and professionals would rather talk about any other style of red wine.
Why is it that sommeliers, writers, and retailers seem more interested in lighter, higher-acid styles of red wine than the majority of consumers? Why have so many red wine drinkers been alienated by the very group that’s hoping to court their patronage? That’s what Adam Teeter and Zach Geballe discuss on this week’s episode of the “VinePair Podcast.”
Or Check out the Conversation Here
Adam Teeter: From Brooklyn, New York, I’m Adam Teeter.
Zach Geballe: And in Seattle, Wash., I’m Zach Geballe.
A: And this is the “VinePair Podcast.” Before we jump into today’s topic on Big Red, as I’m going to call it, there was a pretty big holiday for both of us recently. It’s a pretty big alcohol holiday. Not like getting wasted, but wine has a big component to it. I’m curious, what have you been drinking, Zach?
Z: Well, it wasn’t necessarily in preparation for today’s episode, but in thinking about it, it was appropriate for Passover. I had a couple of full-bodied red wines, a Cabernet Sauvignon from here in Washington, from Abeja, which is a winery in Walla Walla. Adam, as you might recall, we had Dan Wampler when we did a live episode, also with Kyle MacLachlan for the Great American Drinks episode I believe we did last year. Dan is Kyle’s winemaker but also is a winemaker at Abeja. It was a very enjoyable bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon. Part of the reason why I picked it is because, as you know, the seder involves a lot of drinking before you have any food. It made sense to me to pick a wine that I knew I was going to enjoy both before eating and then also with the meal, which is where a lot of these wines perform really, really well. I also had a wine from another Walla Walla Winery, L’Ecole No. 41, Perigee, which is a Bordeaux-style blend, so Cabernet and Merlot-based blend. Both were delicious and helped me think about this topic a little bit more. How about you?
A: First of all, you made me think about something that I want to address, which is before I tell you what I drank this week, which is what I drank two weeks ago, because it was so sad. Two weeks ago, you and I were going back and forth for the podcast. I was thinking about what I was making for dinner Friday because in Covid on Friday and Saturday nights, we try to make it a little more special. If I’m cooking at home, we open a nice bottle of wine. I was going to open the Baby Bear from Pursued By Bear that Dan made. I popped it and it was the most corked wine I’ve ever smelled, and I was so bummed. So bummed.
Z: Kyle and Dan, if you’re listening and you want to send Adam a new bottle… I’m so glad that didn’t happen during the live recording. That would have been instructive, but boy, it would have sucked. Have you had that happen dining out somewhere where you had a corked bottle?
A: Oh, yeah. I’ve had it happen sometimes when the server doesn’t believe me, which is really lovely, really lovely. That actually happened at a restaurant in Covid dining outside and I felt bad and said it was corked. The server said “this isn’t corked, you just don’t know what old wine tastes like.” That’s what they said to me and I said, “No, this is corked.” I happen to be with a friend who’s a journalist but not a wine journalist. He writes at The Times and he’s a big wine person, too. He even said it was corked. This isn’t because the wine was old. We happened to find a random gem on their list. It was an old Italian bottle that was $65 a bottle and it was a 2005.
Z: It’s old, but it’s not like you opened a 1957 bottle and the server could realistically say that “you probably haven’t had a lot of wine of this age.” But 15-year-old Italian wine is not that old.
A: Then, the server came back. Now we’re on a crazy tangent and says, “I’m going to decant it, because it’s definitely not corked.” Then I said, is the beverage director here or the person who buys wine? They say, “The person who buys the wine is one of the owners and he’s not here tonight.” Then I said OK, fine, decant it. And we were like, yeah, it’s still corked. Can you please open another bottle? They say “we’ll see if we have any left.” Of course, they did and it was totally different. I literally said to the server, I’m not trying to be a d*ck, but can you smell both? Do you see the difference? The server literally said to me, “I don’t see the difference, I don’t smell the difference.” Anyways, that was really a huge bummer. Passover for me, I had two really cool wine experiences. The first night, I don’t think people know this, but we have an article that’s about to come out about it. Mayacamas is probably one of the most revered wineries in Napa, and they make incredible Cabernet. We named their Cabernet the No. 1 wine on VinePair’s Top 50 a few years ago. I don’t think the people know that the winery is now owned by Orthodox Jews.
Z: I didn’t know this.
A: They keep kosher, so they can’t drink Mayacamas. Mayacamas is making a version that’s kosher. They mentioned it to me and I said I don’t keep kosher. Well, we’re not even from that Jewish family where the wine has to be kosher at Passover. I have tons of friends that say they got to bring kosher wine. They asked, do you want to try them? They sent them to Katie on our team, who’s writing the article because we just thought it was so crazy and cool. They sent them to me, and the way the wine is kosher is that they keep it separate. They follow all the kosher guidelines. I’m not going to go into them here, but it’s basically the exact same Cabernet Sauvignon. It was really awesome to be drinking these two kosher Mayacamas Cabernets for Passover, which is nuts. I posted on Instagram, and I had so many people commenting, like, what is this?
Z: Yes, I had the same response when I saw it, although I don’t think I messaged you about it because I had no idea.
A: Of course, we drank those two bottles, and I should have known better. Now, I’m responsible for bringing the wine to a family function and I brought more white than red. I think that’s what I was in the mood for. And again, both of the Mayacamas came out on the first night and were finished. I also brought a Syrah that came out on the first night and was finished. All my beautiful whites that were sitting in the refrigerator did not get drunk. Now, I was thinking I had to go to the Pennsylvania state store. I walk into the state store and I’m looking around. I will say I feel people’s pain that all of you have is a state store, right? It’s very much the biggest brand you can find on the shelves, and you really have to dig. Anyways, I went with my brother-in-law, and we went to the Italian section, which was pretty small. I went to one of the smaller state stores that were closest to the house and sitting on the shelf was three bottles of 2013 Pio Cesare Dolcetto for $19 a bottle. We bought them, and they were amazing. It was really cool to be drinking eight-year-old wine at Passover and showing people that this wine is wine that could age. I think a lot of people don’t think Dolcetto can age, but this one was really, really beautiful still. It was cool, fun, and a neat find. I said to Noami, “Maybe next time we come, I need to go to Pennsylvania state stores and just do some digging, because there are some finds on the shelf for the price we bought for.”
Z: The one risk is you got to find the part of the store that hasn’t been sitting in direct sunlight, because the bottles have not moved since they were put on the shelf.
A: Before we kick off the topic, I did want to mention that I saw two weeks ago, you posted it and it was also in the news, the Dahlia Lounge, which was the restaurant that you’ve worked at for 13 years, is not going to reopen post-Covid. First of all, I wanted to just offer my condolences, because so many people are going through this, and it absolutely sucks. You started as a sommelier there. You were the head beverage educator. I think a lot of people who listen to this show are going through this, too, because while a lot of restaurants are reopening, a lot of them aren’t. I was wondering if you had any thoughts that you wanted to share about what that has been like for you going through all of this and what your memories are of the Dahlia, as well?
Z: Yeah, I appreciate that, Adam. The specifics of the Dahlia Lounge not reopening are what they are and have a lot to do with a lot of forces that you and I have talked about on the podcast. We’ll continue to talk about it, how the restaurant industry in various cities is changing and having to adapt not just to life with a pandemic, but life after a pandemic. A lot of those forces, I think, conspired against Dahlia Lounge and against a lot of other restaurants of its ilk. I would say personally, and I know this is true for you, Adam, also listeners, if you have stories like these, restaurants that you worked at or dined out that announced they’re not reopening and you want to share them with us, I would love to read a little bit about that. Email us firstname.lastname@example.org and just drop us a line. We’ll even share some of them on the podcast. For me, the Dahlia Lounge is a restaurant I worked at for, as you said, 13 years. I started working there when I was 23 years old and went through a lot of different life events, changes. My wife and I had our rehearsal dinner there. There were lots of memories, and more that I could reasonably fit into a little moment here. The two things I was going to say in light of that are, one, I think it’s important for all of us to remember that anyone who is a diner at a restaurant — whether you’re a regular in the once-a-month sense or once-a-year sense — restaurants provide a really unique facet in society. For many of us, it is integral to celebrating important moments, whether they’re birthdays, anniversaries, or just big life moments. One of the saddest things for me about all this is thinking of our many regulars who did count on a meal at the Dahlia Lounge for a way to celebrate a big moment in their life for a birthday, anniversary, graduation, etc. Many of them will not experience that going forward. It’s also important for us to think about, and for all the listeners, whether you work in the industry or are just a restaurant-goer, we’re at this inflection point that we’ll be at one for the next year or two. The face of dining in America can change fundamentally. There are going to be fewer and fewer restaurants that offer full-service dining, I think. It’s just expensive and difficult. There’s also been a tremendous talent drain over the last year in the industry, and a lot of people who were laid off, like I was, are not going to go back. They found other work. They’re going to do other things. They’re not interested in the lack of security that it turns out that industry provides, so there are going to be real challenges. We all make decisions. We all vote with our dollars and make purchase decisions that way. I encourage those of you listening to think about the places that are reopening, that matter to you, and think about trying to support them just by being a guest. No one is asking for donations at this point, I don’t think. The places that you want to have in your life, the restaurants that you want to have opened, the places you want for those special occasions, make an effort to go to them more than just for a special occasion every once in a while, because the restaurants are fragile. I felt that very acutely over last year, but especially when the not surprising news came out. It was a sad day for me and for all of the Dahlia Lounge team. As Adam said, for many people across the country who have had a similar type of restaurant or restaurant they worked at not reopen, it’s a tragedy in a way. We’ll remember them. At least I certainly will.
A: Yeah, man, it’s not easy. You made me think about something as you were talking. You mentioned something that maybe is even another episode, or it becomes this episode. I think what we’ve all realized over the last year, or maybe we haven’t realized, those of us who covered and worked, is how much restaurants truly depend on regulars. The question now becomes how much our culture had pushed against that. In the last decade — VinePair doesn’t really write a ton about “this is the hottest place to go to right now” — but there are a lot of publications that say this, that rate restaurants and give them points and say this is the hottest thing you need to eat out right now. That did create a culture. Then the user experience, platforms, did the same thing in creating a culture that said, man, I need to be the person that goes to the buzziest at all times. I think there was already a lot of noise in the restaurant industry amongst owners about how damaging this type of stuff was for them and how they were already watching that. You had to reinvent yourself every two years because consumers were reading these types of publications. Then they were moving on really quickly or they were on social looking at people posting food-porn photos and moving on really quickly. That really hurt a lot of restaurants that people actually remembered then afterward how much they loved in the pandemic. They would say “Oh, you mean that place isn’t going to come back?” It wasn’t just because of the pandemic that these places were closed but because that behavior was encouraged by a lot of publications and rating review sites. It was already hurting them. They were already on their last legs, whether they were putting on a good show or putting on that bright, smiling face to try to get the consumers to come back. Without a huge amount of regulars, it just wasn’t possible. The neighborhood restaurant was dying. I hope that post-pandemic, we let the neighborhood restaurant come back. We’re not just thinking about the buzziest. I got to go to the see-and-be-seen place every single day. I know that you may not be able to prevent that in Manhattan. I’m hoping in Brooklyn that stops. The restaurant I love in my neighborhood and counted on even during the pandemic will stay. My neighborhood will continue to support those restaurants and we won’t see some of my favorites reinvent themselves in a year or two because they just haven’t had press and their crowds aren’t the same. I really hope that’s the case. Look, the same did happen at bars, to some extent. Bars have a stronghold in New York like Death and Co. are still going strong. It’s still a place people really want to get into. Same with PTD, things like that. It just wasn’t the same as restaurants. I think that’s because the drinks publications like ourselves and others just don’t do that as much in terms of coverage like what’s the buzziest? I do think that’s been a contributing factor. You mentioned regulars are really important for people to think about. You have to think about the places you want to support and then support them. When you’re vaccinated and feel comfortable going back out to eat, if you haven’t already, go to the places you love if they’re still open or they’re reopening because they’re going to need support. If not, they’re not going to be there.
Z: One last point on this before we move on is I’ve had the opportunity to deal with the interaction between regulars and a restaurant on both ends. I obviously served many, many regulars in my life, but also been a regular at some other restaurants. I’ll just say this. You’ll never have a relationship with a restaurant as meaningful as being a regular at a restaurant. There is nothing, I think, in the dining world as rewarding. You can throw me your three-star Michelin restaurants and your incredibly trendy spots. Those can be really fun and exciting, and I certainly enjoy those dining experiences, too. However, the feeling of walking into a place, being known, feeling comfortable, knowing the staff a little bit, those are meant to be places where people feel welcomed, comfortable, and almost at home. But then also, you don’t have to deal with all the bullshit you have to deal with at home. If you don’t ever build that relationship, if you treat restaurants like trading cards or a collectible, I don’t see how that can be as satisfying. I don’t think even the people who do that are truly satisfied by it because, in the end, would you remember that place a year later? I don’t think you do.
A: Yeah, I completely agree. It is really amazing what it’s like to be a regular. I think people get away from it when you want to say you have been to all the places everyone else is talking about. You walk in and you wonder why that treatment always feels the same is because they don’t know you. Whereas there is someone who probably is a regular at that buzzy place that you randomly scored a reservation for that always seems to get the reservation. Yes, it is because they are a regular, and there are notes in their reservation in the system that give them a better table and the better service. It is because they come and support. That’s what the restaurant needs. Anyways, we are already pretty deep into our episode. Let’s talk a little bit about this conversation around the disconnect that we’ve seen in terms of consumer preference for fuller-bodied red wines and the trade preference for lighter-bodied, high-acid wine. Zach, you were the one that initially brought this to my attention, so why don’t you kick us off, and then we can go from there?
Z: Sure. There’s always been a little bit of attention, or at least in the time that I’ve been in the restaurant and beverage alcohol industry, a tension between what the people who run wine programs and to some extent the people in the wine press are interested in, and what consumers want. It was a thing for me running wine programs that inevitably made my biggest selling category was Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet-based wines. No matter my own personal preferences, I would be derelict in my duty as a wine director to not put a lot of time and energy into a particular amount of space or category. Then, claiming to people who come in and say, “I like a big red wine, I like Cabernet Sauvignon.” “Well, actually you would prefer this other thing.” We’re trying to move the consumer too much. That is both an egocentric move on the part of most wine directors or restaurants, and frankly, I think, bad business. I think there’s something to be said about building a list that offers people opportunities to try new things, to diversify, but also gives lots of people safe landing spots and gives people wine they’re familiar with. In the end, the hospitality industry is exactly that, hospitality. Part of hospitality is telling someone the thing they love, you have. There are always going to be limits, you’re not going to be able to stock every wine. You’re going to have to make decisions, no matter the size of your program, about excluding some things. To build a wine program that does not meet the consumer most of the way is interested in something for reasons that I find off-putting and again, ego-driven, as opposed to being about serving the guests. To me, you see this a lot in the seemingly endless attempts to convince the wine-drinking public that they don’t want the wines they love, big, full-bodied red wines, the No. 1-selling category in America — that they actually want obscure European variety acts, high-acid, tart red fruit, pale red color. “Actually, this is the wine you want,” and it’s like, no, it’s not. Part of it is Americans have a culture of drinking wine without food. I’m not going to argue the pushback of “these big red wines don’t pair well with food,” to which I would say after, as mentioned, 15 years of experience., who the fuck cares? Your consumer mostly doesn’t care. They’re used to drinking big red wines, and they’re used to eating whatever they eat with it. Again, if the conception of your job, the role is so tied up in convincing this person who has these things they love that they will give you money for, that they are wrong and you will show them the light, I think you’re doing it for the wrong reason.
A: Yeah, I agree. I want to get into why you think it is because we definitely have theories, but look, my personal preference is high-on-acid reds, but that’s because I’ve drunk a lot of wine throughout my career and that’s what I’m into right now. I definitely have an appreciation for the full-bodied reds, and I understand why people like them. I don’t think anyone is wrong for liking them or less of an educated consumer. I do think it’s really interesting to assume that these wines have a problem. I think the biggest thing that has been eye-opening for me is, when I hear people say to me who are in the industry, “Napa is going to have a huge issue. The young people aren’t going to go to Napa. They’re just not going to drink Napa wines.” I would say, “Who are you talking to?” When I go to wine festivals in Atlanta and L.A., and I’m talking to consumers that come up to me, they tell me the region that’s on their bucket list to visit with their friends or significant other is Napa. Then, when I ask them what wines they drink, they say wines like Caymus. Some of them say Ashes & Diamonds, but the majority of them say these big Napa Cabs. I don’t know why we are as an industry saying that that’s bad. We don’t have to make everybody drink Beaujolais. I really enjoy Beaujolais, but not everyone has to drink Beaujolais. If they don’t like it, you don’t need to make them feel bad for it, and you don’t need to feel bad that you like it. Do you know what I mean? I believe everyone just needs to get over themselves in terms of no one is trying to offend somebody else by somebody not liking something. When the majority of the data points to one style of wine that people like, we don’t have to say, “Well, they must not know what they’re doing.”
Z: Yes, that’s the problem in my mind. The thing that I don’t like is when someone tells you, “Oh, I like your Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley,” there is a fundamental issue and a reflex on the part of a lot of people in the wine industry to be like, “Well, let me explain to you why you’re wrong. You just haven’t tried the right alternative wines.” In some small percentage of cases, that might be true. There might be some people where wine is something they don’t think a lot about. They drink wine on occasion. They drink wine when they’re out to dinner with friends or family, maybe for special occasions. It’s not an everyday thing. You and I, and sommeliers and winemakers, we live and breathe this stuff. This is our everyday. Of course we’re well apprised of all the many options and we try lots of wines and that’s fine. For most people, wine is something they don’t have all that often. If they do, they may not think about it a lot. They might belong to a wine club because they had a great experience somewhere. They might buy wine at the grocery store. They’re beholden to this selection that’s put in front of them and they like those wines. It’s the height of arrogance to me to tell someone who says “I like this” to then actually say “No, you don’t, you’re wrong.” You can try and explain to someone in a setting, maybe if you’re graceful and gentle about it, why they might also like something else. That’s how I always try to frame it with people who were like, “Oh, here’s what we like.” If I didn’t have that or I had something else that I thought would be a better fit, I would say, “Wonderful, here’s something else you might like.” You shouldn’t say here’s why the thing you like is wrong. You’re going to suddenly change your purchase preferences based on some random asshole telling you otherwise or some article or TikTok video.
A: I’m saying that it’s just going to turn people off. We’ve used this analogy before. For those that remember this amazing movie, it reminds me of Jack Black’s character in “High Fidelity,” where it’s the music snob basically being like, “Wait, you like this mainstream band? You don’t like music.” No, you still like music. There are so many different genres of music and varieties of music. People who work in music all day don’t want to listen to pop all the time because there is a formula to pop. There are things about pop music that if you spend enough time working in music, you would say oh, wow, this is a derivative of this or this. Then, you want to listen to something different, even though when you go into the indie-rock spectrum, they all are copying each other in some way. But whatever. Let’s pretend that they’re original. I think you and I have gotten called out before for being anti-natural wine. I’m not anti-natural wine. I’m anti-the movement. I have a problem with the movement that’s telling people if they don’t like it, they don’t get it. That’s what I’m anti about. My issue here is, and I’ll give just a quick example: Someone on our staff posted an image of a pretty mainstream wine and how great it was for people who they knew drink that wine. That wine is available in a large number of retailers. They got a lot of hate comments back, and I got comments too. How dare you post that wine, no one should be drinking that wine. For the category, this is a great wine. If you’re unable to see that, that’s fine, but you need to get out of your own feelings. Because you’re inside your feelings right now, and that’s not what we’re here for. We’re here to tell the consumers who do like that wine, that this is great and they should feel good about liking that wine. We’re not here to make people feel bad for that. I’m not going to sit here and say that you should be drinking Chateau Diana from the CVS and comparing it to actual wine. By the way, that is a wine product. It’s a wine product, but if you like anything else, that’s good. As we talked about before, it gets people into wine. It’s just so infuriating.
Z: I think there are two other pieces to this. I think the rock or the indie music comparison is a great one. I think there’s a cynical motive to it in a lot of cases, where telling someone about why they should drink Napa Cab or big reds, you can’t make a name for yourself, right? You can’t create a business around it. Those wineries are already well represented. The wines are distributed by established companies. They have established relationships and reputations. If you’re someone who is an ambitious person in wine, it makes a lot more sense to become an advocate for an obscure European region or grape, or a style that’s not as in vogue, because you can make a name for yourself. I think whether they’re conscious of that or not, I think that’s what causes a lot of people to gravitate towards it. Again, you can be the face of a trend as opposed to the person who’s just selling the wine that people actually like. You and I taste a lot of wine professionally, it’s just our job, right? We do a lot of things. We get samples, we go to tastings. When you’re in that setting, I won’t deny that the fresher, higher-acid styles of red wine are often a little more enjoyable.
A: They stand out more.
Z: When you drink a lot of full-bodied red wine, especially one that might be a little higher in alcohol, pretty quickly you get fatigued. Again, who gives a shit unless you are a professional and no one cares about what your personal drinking habits are, really? If you’re a consumer, you’re someone who just likes to drink wine. You don’t give a shit if after tasting 30 of them, you can’t tell the difference, because no one is ever going to do that. They’re going to drink a single bottle at a time. Again, this inability of people, whether they are sommeliers, wine directors, retail operators, or writers in some cases, to get out of their own head and get out of their own world experience and think, “OK, is there anyone I’m communicating to? Is my guest going to view wine this way? Are my readers or listeners going to view wine this way?” For so many of them, I think the answer is of course not, because they’re drinking a bottle every third night. They’re not tasting 50 wines a day. It’s such a stupid and self-centered, shortsighted way of looking at this product that you work with that drives me crazy.
A: Yeah, it drives me bonkers. I think the other thing, too, and it’s going to take decades for if ever, the regions that you are pushing to be considered regions worthy of buying during a special occasion. If someone came to the Dahlia Lounge, and they were celebrating a momentous anniversary or a big promotion, were you going to be more easily able to sell them a Napa Cab? Or were you going to be able to somehow convince them that they should try red wine that’s from this region of France that’s maybe a little like Napa Cab, but is more your style of higher acid, more fruit, less oak. Probably not.
Z: One other point, presumably the Napa Cab is going to sell for a lot more than your obscure southwestern France Madiran. One, it’s just bad business. I think Napa is a great illustration of this in a way. Champagne is, also. For a lot of consumers, part of what they’re buying when they order a bottle of wine from Napa Valley is the sense of luxury and prestige that goes along with it. Again, if you’re not honest with yourself, at least about that as a buyer or as a sommelier, you’re just deluding yourself. It matters to people. The fact that they’ve heard of Napa Valley, they may have been there, they can spell it and pronounce it is always going to resonate with most consumers. Yes, there is a subset of consumers who get off on novelty and having the ability to say, “I tried something new today.” That’s great, and recognizing those people and meeting them where they are is also really important. Having all this, that’s just a Napa Cab is also bad. That’s not a good wine program, either. But one that takes the bulk of wine drinkers and treats them as idiot children who must be shown the error of their ways, they must be clued to the wine that they truly will love, because they can’t possibly love the well-established wine that you, the wine writer, are so sick of. It’s just ego at this point. Again, it is the self-centeredness that I find so appalling. It’s one thing if you’re a winemaker and you want to tell people about the wines that you make. If it’s a thing you make, fine. As a sommelier, as a writer, you are not in any way involved in the production of that product, and inflating your own ego around something that literally you did nothing to other than maybe take a corkscrew to. Again, it’s masturbation. I find that to be really unpleasant in a public setting.
A: Can I share one huge pet peeve with you? My biggest pet peeve is when you go to a wine shop or to a restaurant and they have a classic region on the list, and not a single bottle from that classic region is indicative of what made that region classic. That just pisses me off, because if I’m having dinner with someone who’s never had Northern Rhône Syrah from Saint-Joseph. If all you have is super-natty versions, I can’t do that. I want to show someone what makes that region so amazing for Syrah. It kills me, dude. When that does happen, it’s just so frustrating, because I get it, you want to have a few of those bottles because you want to be different. If you want to be a little quirky and you want to show that there is diversity in that region, awesome, I think you totally should have. But to not have one or two that is representative? That’s when it really, really bothers me.
Z: To come back almost to the point where we started, and this is something that I worked on because it changed my own mindset as I evolved and matured as a buyer. It’s also important to have some recognizable names. Whatever the category is, especially if it’s a good chunk of your list. If it’s Napa Cab, you should have some established producers on there as well. It’s good to have benchmark producers or classic producers that people are going to recognize. You want to have both, ideally. Certainly, if you’re only going to have a couple, they should be largely classic representations, because someone who looks at a list that has wine from all over the world and you have five red wines from Bordeaux, if four of them are unoaked, with short maceration times, then you’re doing a bad job. If you’re at a restaurant with an immense French list, and you want to have 40 Bordeaux offerings and some of them are for the people who like that kind of wine or want to try Bordeaux, great. Again, whatever you are, whether you’re a retail shop owner, a restauranteur, a wine director, writer, or a member of the press, putting your own ego and your own self ahead of the people you’re ostensibly serving or writing for is just bad. It’s not doing a good job.
A: Well, I think this comes to the moral of the story, which is that wine is the only industry that I’ve ever been a part of — and I haven’t been a part of a lot. Wine is the only community that doesn’t want to look at the f*cking data. It’s like data is bad. I don’t understand because the data would refute everything that people’s influencers in wine are saying. That’s not to say you still shouldn’t also tell people to drink the things that you’re interested in. But to push those like they’re the only options is crazy to me. There is a reason when you walk into most breweries in America right now, everyone has a fucking hazy IPA on their list, because the data shows this is what sells. There is a reason that the majority of pop music sounds the same right now, because when people look at the billboard charts, they are very aware of what the majority of the country wants to listen to. When people look in spirits, it’s the same. They are always looking at what’s trending up? What’s trending down? There’s a reason everyone’s moving into tequila. Why are all the celebrities moving in tequila? It is not because they all live in L.A. and they’re really interested in agave. It’s because when you look at the data, tequila is the fastest-rising spirit in America right now. It is very quickly catching bourbon, right? It’s very quickly catching whiskey. It’s catching vodka. That is why. With wines, we don’t want to look at that. People don’t care. Then they complain about the big companies who continue to grow. Why? It’s because they look at data.
Z: I think that there’s a space — especially on the production side — for winemakers to say, “This is what I want to make.”
A: One hundred percent, you should.
Z: And I think that winemakers recognize it, in a fundamental way, because if you choose to make an unusual variety of wine in a different style, you know that you’re capping your market for it. That’s fine if you’re making a few hundred cases. But as a restaurant, a retail shop, even potentially a wine bar, if you have a very specific vibe, that’s why people will seek you out, who want that kind of thing. Your guests are going to come with all levels of experience and preferences, but the one thing that most of them are going to have in common is that their favorite wine style is a red blend or Cabernet Sauvignon. If you can’t meet that need, you’re doing a bad job.
A: I agree. Again, I love the producers that do whatever they want. I like going to the small indie brewers who are making styles that aren’t just New England IPA. I also do appreciate a New England IPA. I’m a haze boy every once in a while, as Cat likes to tease me, and I like all kinds of wine. Since I’m in the industry and I’m looking for interesting stories and stuff, am I mostly gravitating towards those producers that are going against the grain in the region’s stuff? Of course I am. It’s just so stupid to put your head in the sand and try to pretend the large trends of the industry don’t exist or make those people who have those flavor preferences feel like they’re stupid or they don’t know what they’re doing and they’re wrong or behind the times. Because that’s just not cool. That doesn’t help anybody when it comes to drinking. That doesn’t help the overall industry of wine, and it doesn’t help your bottom line.
Z: All true.
A: Well, this was a great episode. I loved you sharing your thoughts about Dahlia Lounge. It was really powerful. Again, I want to reiterate to anyone who’s listening to the podcast, if you have worked somewhere that has gone out of business during Covid or is going to go out of business and would like to share your stories, please email us at email@example.com. We’d love to hear them. This could possibly wind up in a larger article. It could wind up as a podcast episode. This has been more than a year that’s been very hard for everybody, and it’d be great to hear some peoples’ experiences.
Z: For sure, we would love to hear them.
A: Zach, talk to you next week.
Z: Sounds great.
Thanks so much for listening to the “VinePair Podcast.” If you love this show as much as we love making it, then please leave a rating or review on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever it is you get your podcasts. It really helps everyone else discover the show.
Now for the credits. VinePair is produced and recorded in New York City and in Seattle, Wash., by myself and Zach Geballe, who does all the editing and loves to get the credit. Also, I would love to give a special shout-out to my VinePair co-founder, Josh Malin, for helping make all this possible, and also to Keith Beavers, VinePair’s tasting director, who is additionally a producer on the show. I also want to, of course, thank every other member of the VinePair team who is instrumental in all of the ideas that go into making the show every week. Thanks so much for listening, and we’ll see you again.