For a cadre of sommeliers, wine professionals, and writers, finding new frontiers in the world of wine is an animating force. And for this relatively small, elite group, the idea that the next great thing is around the corner — or at least, inside the next bottle — is disproportionately pursued.
Yet there’s a fundamental truth that is too often ignored by that very same group: Often the wines that they’re championing are more interesting than they are good; and by ignoring the classic regions, varieties, and styles of well-established wines around the world, they’re doing themselves and their audiences a bit of a disservice.
That’s the topic of on this week’s VinePair Podcast episode, in which VinePair CEO Adam Teeter, chief content officer and editor in chief Erica Duecy, and co-host Zach Geballe attempt to unpack what exactly makes a wine trendy; why sometimes, trendiness causes people to pretend to like something they probably don’t; and how to make your own decisions about what wine you like.
Or check out our conversation here
Adam: From Brooklyn, New York, I’m Adam Teeter.
Erica: From Connecticut, I’m Erica Duecy.
Zach: And in Seattle, Washington, I’m Zach Geballe.
A: And this is the VinePair podcast. Before we launch today’s podcast a word from our sponsor, Gosling’s Rum. Gosling’s Black Seal Rum is the spirit of Bermuda. And by Bermuda, I mean I really want to go to Bermuda right now. I can’t tell you how much I’d rather be in Bermuda than in my Brooklyn apartment. Hand-crafted by eight generations of family rum makers, Black Seal Rum is the key ingredient in Bermuda’s national drink, the Dark ‘n Stormy, which is delicious. Guys, the Black ‘n Stormy is delicious right?
E: Oh, yeah.
A: It’s awesome.
Z: I would just settle for drinking a Dark ‘n Stormy right now. I don’t need to go all the way to Bermuda.
A: It’s one of the few trademark cocktails in existence, and the Dark ‘n Stormy trademark is turning 40 years old this June. So, you can now mix up your own. Stock up on Gosling’s Black Seal Rum and Gosling’s ginger beer in time for Dark ‘n Stormy Day, which is on June 9th. I never knew about it, but now I’ll definitely make a Dark ‘n Stormy then. For a limited time, you’ll receive $15 off your purchase on Reservebar.com using the code “vinepair.” So, go to Reservebar.com and buy Gosling’s Black Seal Rum and ginger beer, use the code “vinepair,” get $15 off, and then make a Dark ‘n Stormy for Dark ‘n Stormy Day on June 9th. I don’t see why you wouldn’t do that!
E: That’s a pretty good offer.
Z: Tag VinePair in your Instagram pictures of your Dark ‘n Stormy.
A: Exactly, then we’ll all enjoy one together. Thanks Gosling’s for sponsoring today’s podcast. Before we get into the topic of the day, how are you guys holding up? My blender came.
E: Tell us about the blender. What have you been doing with it?
A: I unpacked it last night. It’s perfect because today’s Friday. I’ll try to make a Dark ‘n Stormy slushy. I’m getting pretty pumped for the weekend. Tomorrow or Sunday, because Saturday it’s supposed to be a little gross out, I’m going to try to make some frozen drinks and take them in the park.
E: Your cocktail horoscope is definitely frozen Margaritas in the next 24 hours.
A: And that’s it.
Z: What sign is that? I’m not sure.
A: I have to say, Zach, I saw you trying to come at me in the comments of Instagram, but I will let you know that I’m much happier to have my sign Cancer, according to VinePair and our graphic designer Danielle Grinberg, be a Paloma rather than the garbage cocktail that you had.
Z: Garbage cocktail? Mine was a Gin & Tonic, the greatest cocktail ever. You’re team Gin & Tonic, so you’re reversing yourself here.
A: If it’s associated with me, like the Paloma, it’s probably the best. If I had gotten the Bloody Mary, I would’ve said it was the best cocktail. That’s my sign, man.
Z: I don’t think you would have. The Bloody Mary would be a bridge too far for you.
A: I don’t do the Bloody Mary. That’s true. What is a Bloody Mary called when you put gin in it? Just, a Bloody Mary with gin?
E: It has a name…
Z: It’s not my favorite. I like other spirits if I’m going to mix it up from vodka. You loose most of what makes gin interesting in something like a Bloody Mary. It doesn’t come through clearly.
A: Only a Bloody Mary with vodka?
Z: Akvavit, I’ve had before and likely. But something about gin, you just don’t taste it. We’re burying the delicate botanicals under tomato juice and Worcestershire and horseradish. The drink has so much going on that I don’t see the need for gin. You would do it because you don’t have vodka or because you’re trying to seem different.
Z: Are you jealous that I’m on your turf?
A: A little bit, yes. That’s my role on the podcast.
Z: This whole podcast is a lot of judginess. I’m just getting warmed up.
A: Let’s get right into the topic because we’re all raring to go. Today we want to talk about what we’ll call “wines of the moment,” wines that may or may not be amazing but have been gaining traction over the last few years. Some may be amazing. Some may not be. In the recent trend of wine, they seem to be everywhere inside bubbles that people had never heard of before. We’ll try to explain what they are. Other people might consider them their favorite and come at us in the comments, which you’re free to do. I’ll give you Zach’s email address if you email me through the podcast. You can tell him personally what you have to say.
Z: Just come find me on Twitter.
A: You love to fight on Twitter.
Z: I do.
A: Is there a better way to describe this, guys? Did I handle that description well?
E: Here’s one of the parts of the conversation. For example, Bordeaux. Bordeaux has so many beautiful wines and such great values. I recently had this St. Emilion Grand Cru 2010. It was a beautiful wine. Some forest floor and leathery notes, just gorgeous and $25. Where else are you going to find a $25, 2010 wine with that type of age? It’s so just. The reason I’m able to get that right now, as well as other classic wines with age, is because people think it’s really uncool in certain wine bubbles. People think Bordeaux is so uncool. For people like me who appreciate classic wines and are looking for values, even up here in Connecticut I can go into a wine store and find a couple of overlooked bottles of older Bordeaux. They end up being amazing values. Some of these classic wine regions are being totally overlooked as “over.” But that’s not the case. These wines are amazing. On the other hand, we’ve seen so many hipster, clever presentations. Piquette we’ve been discussing. Those types of wines you’re also getting them for $15 or $20, but they don’t always give you the same types of value. That’s the type of conversation to dive into.
A: There’s this issue. What makes wine cool all of a sudden? Why is there this big rejection of great wines. We all know the answer. Every generation doesn’t like what their parents liked. This idea that Bordeaux was made popular by our parents and the world of Robert Parker is why our generation doesn’t like it. That’s ridiculous because Jefferson was riding around on his horse, riding around to different Bordeaux back around the time when this country was founded. Bordeaux wasn’t suddenly made cool 30 years ago. It’s interesting. There is this desire to drink something new and different. A lot of that has to do with wine or certain people in wine desperately wanting it to be craft beer. There have been a lot of people, including me, that say there’s a lot that wine could learn from craft beer. There’s a lot of accessibility lessons that wine could learn from craft beer. Up until a few years ago, there’s a lot of ways that purveyors and sellers of craft beer were welcoming and non-pretentious. That’s changing. The advent of the cicerone is not great for craft beer. It’s creating a gatekeeper and a level of certification people feel they need in order to talk about beer. That’s not what beer has been before this. There were things about craft beer that were great. They were welcoming. They were willing to teach. They were willing to show why these styles were considered so delicious, etc. There’s been a group of people in wine who have taken that lesson and instead of saying “How can we apply this to amazing wines from Bordeaux and Napa and the Finger Lakes?” and said “How can we make our version of craft beer?” Like Piquette. Let’s make something that’s totally undrinkable, if you care about any complexity whatsoever. We’re going to put it in a can and make it look like it’s a craft beer, but it’s made from grapes. That’s what we’re seeing in the industry right now from a group of people. They’re making a lot of people getting into wine think that wines from the older regions aren’t as great.
Z: Some of this boils down to an unfortunately prevalent instinct, certainly in wine circles and in beverage circles in general. There’s this idea that a sommelier, wine shop owner, or even a writer wants to expose you to something you’ve never heard of. For a lot of people in those various fields, what they see as their crowning glory is, “I had someone try this wine from a grape, style, or region they’d never heard of. And they loved it.” Great, those stories are cool. But in the end, when I was working as a sommelier, the most important question was if the person liked the wine. Even if the wine they liked was from a classic region and a variety that they’d heard of, but it was what they wanted. We’ve talked on the podcast about the role of the sommelier. This is true to some extent for most parts of the industry. Our job is not exclusively about charting the absolute, most extreme ends of wine, spirits, or beer. There’s a place for that. It’s important to be aware of what’s going on. You make really cool discoveries that way. But in terms of wine and even cocktails, would you put random ingredients together and keep mixing things up and eventually stumble upon a drink that’s good? Probably, but a lot of what you make is going to suck. There’s nothing wrong with classic cocktail recipes. They’re called classics for a reason. The same is true with wine. Bordeaux, as Erica mentioned, and lots of other places that have traditionally produced great wine are still producing great wine. Yes, some of that wine has become comically expensive. That’s what turned a lot of people off of those regions, but especially in places like Bordeaux where there’s a lot of production in general, underneath that extremely expensive wine is a lot of very good wine that’s very affordable. It’s cool that we live in a world where people are out there exploring not just Piquette but indigenous varieties in Hungary, Greece, or País down in South America, my own feelings notwithstanding.
Adam: We’ve got to talk about those feelings.
Z: Coming back and saying “this is the best wine on the planet” is a bit of a laughable proposition. Is it possible that the best wine on the planet is from somewhere not often heard of? The honest truth is that we probably already know what the best wines on the planet are, and they’re largely the things that have been considered the best wines on the planet not just by our parents’ generations but by successive generations of wine drinkers. Yes, some of those things come and go. Styles evolve and change. Those places evolve and change, but it’s this attempt to be trendy. That’s fine, but some people are trying too hard to have this moment that “I’ve discovered the greatest thing on earth.” Sorry, but get over yourselves. You probably have not.
E: We should probably define what Piquette is.
E: Piquette is the beer of wine. You take the grape skin and the seeds, after you’ve squeezed out all the juice. What’s left over is those skins. You add a small amount of wine back, then water. You ferment it. After that initial fermentation, when you’re getting ready to bottle, you add more sugar or honey to kickstart a secondary fermentation. The end product that you have, which is usually under a bottle cap, is low-alcohol. It’s fizzy, kind of like a soda. It has an interesting history. It dates back to Greek and Roman times. It was called “Laura” back then. Throughout the generations, whether in France or Italy or any wine-producing region, it has been a drink for the vineyard workers. For people that are working in the winery that want something that isn’t a glass of wine of higher alcohol. It’s generally about 4 to 9 percent alcohol. It’s really just like a beer.
A: It was to make sure you were drinking something similar to clean water, correct?
E: Yes, definitely. It’s the beer of wine. That’s how we can think of it.
A: This is all third-party information, so I’m not sure how accurate some of this is. But, it’s been explained to me that it was a beverage that was created for slaves. Roman slaves were given this because they weren’t considered worthy enough to drink actual wine. It’s cool that it’s been reclaimed, but it has a troubled history because of that. It’s a weird thing. Now it’s being reborn as this very cool beverage. Every time I’ve had it, I’ve thought that it’s just like a White Claw made with grape skins and seeds. It’s not that interesting. People in certain circles are going crazy over it. They’re saying, “This is the best thing I’ve had in my life. Get on the Piquette train.” I don’t understand why, except for herd mentality. Or, wine people are looking for their own version of White Claw. I don’t understand.
E: I haven’t had any example that I’m really excited about. Most that I’ve had have been from Cab Franc or other red varieties. I do think there could be potential from a Riesling or a Gewürztraminer. I’ve heard that Piquette’s made from those varieties are a little bit better, but I haven’t tried them myself.
A: Zach, what about you. Have you had it?
Z: I’ve tried one or two. Like Erica said, they were both from Cab Franc. Maybe you can create a somewhat consumable product from the leftover must, like grappa is made. Not in the same methodology, but in the same idea. Why compost this when we can get some additional alcohol out of it? Some of this boils down to a philosophical difference between people in this industry. I don’t have any problem drinking a wine I love over and over again. For the most part, I’m not saying, for example “I’ve done a lot of Barolo, I’m good. I’m going to move on to something else.” I don’t say, “I’ve done Mosel Riesling. I’m good.” Those are wines that I want to keep coming back to over and over again. Here’s my hot take: A lot of the people pushing this are people who came to wine from another industry entirely or came to it for reasons that are different than me. I got into wine because I was in the restaurant industry. As I was more interested in hospitality and working in the industry, wine became more and more interesting to me intellectually. It also became important to me professionally. I don’t have a need to prove that I can be the coolest somm out there. There are other people out there coming to it from another industry saying, “I have to make my mark. My mark is picking this thing that you’ve never heard of, whether it’s Piquette or otherwise.” You can’t make your mark advocating for Bordeaux anymore because everyone knows Bordeaux, so you have to pick something obscure. This isn’t to say that everyone who advocates for obscure stuff is doing it for this duplicitous or self-aggrandizing reason, but an alarming number of them seem to be from my experience.
A: That’s an interesting point. Some of these things blow up. All of a sudden if you don’t like it, all of a sudden you don’t get it. This is why we wanted to record this episode. I’ve heard from a lot of people who don’t understand this. When they say “I don’t understand this” or “I don’t get it,” there’s a huge blowback. People saying, “Yeah man, this stuff is amazing. You just don’t understand. You’re just old-school. Lame” That’s also not cool. If you like Piquette, cool. If you don’t cool. There’s a wine you just mentioned that Erica and I actually really like. I think that País is pretty delicious, but I understand why others don’t. I’m not going to say, “You’re wrong and I’m right. You don’t understand País. You don’t appreciate it. You’re wrong. You’re that old-school wine person.” I understand why you love Barolo. Mosel Riesling isn’t my thing, but I can appreciate it. That’s a mentality that I haven’t understood for the past few years in wine. There’s a community that feels attacked when anyone questions the wines that they are pushing. I don’t feel attacked at all, though.
E: Coming at it from a media perspective, of all of our perspectives, the media is the big culprit here in looking for the new next. We are always looking for those stories. What’s fresh? What’s a great new idea? That search for the new and the next can be a folly. It’s not always the way to go. I made a commitment to myself within the past year to explore regions that were not super cool and that I wanted to take a different tact. I started getting into New Zealand and found some amazing New Zealand Pinot Noirs that are completely overlooked. Right now I’ve been drinking through a bunch of Portuguese white wines that I love. These are crunchy, salty, white wine from Portugal that people aren’t into or just don’t know about or don’t care about. It is very individual. I want to go on a wine adventure. At this moment traveling through wine, I have three different bottles of Portuguese whites that I’ve lined up that I’m tasting through. This is my trip to Portugal because I can’t go there. That’s the one thing we can do that’s a positive: Pick some regions that are unexplored regions, even Bordeaux, that a certain segment of consumers never considered because they said, “I’m too cool for Bordeaux.” Give it a shot! Try some of those wines, and see if you actually like them. I like to go region by region and try some things. Look at well-known producers and producers who are trying interesting things. I go on my little adventure, even if it’s not a cool region.
Z: You made a good point, Erica. I want to add a note to that. It’s important to distinguish that good story and good wine are not always the same thing. There can be fascinating stories in the world of wine, beer, or spirits, and hopefully they come along with good or great wine. But those two things are not always the same. Sometimes really good wine has a shady story. Sometimes it’s just not that interesting. Someone built a winery and makes wine. Well, OK. There may not be a lot to say there. From a media standpoint and for everyone listening to this, some of how you behave is dependent on what your role in this industry is, or if you’re a consumer and what you like to drink. Stories are a meaningful part of this. It’s important to note. I’m certainly capable of being swayed by stories in a host of different ways. At the same time, the enjoyment of the beverage is what this is fundamentally about. To Adam’s points, telling someone they shouldn’t like a wine because it’s not cool is a self-defeating indictment of the industry. Think about it this way: The movie “High Fidelity,” people watch it and see the Jack Black character. Some think he’s a pretentious asshole. Some want to be that guy.
Z: If you want to be that kind of character in wine, beer, or spirits, take a moment and don’t be the arbiter of other people’s tastes. You can talk about what you like. You can explain what you like. In the same way that the great classics of rock and roll are still great music, and I play them for my son, and he seems to like them, the same is true of wine. We haven’t gotten to that point with him and wine yet, but maybe we will at some point drink Bordeaux together.
A: Or maybe he’ll say, “Dad, I only drink Piquette.”
Z: It’ll be Space Piquette at that point.
A: There’s a lot of other things we could’ve talked about regarding this vibe that’s coming up. For whatever reason, even though we said we weren’t going to do a Piquette podcast, it became that. It is one of the best examples of what we’re talking about, of a trend that has seemingly come out of nowhere. People questioning it are saying they don’t really enjoy it, and are being told that they don’t “get” it. I don’t mean for this to be an anti-Piquette podcast. But it is interesting that this trend appeared. It was deemed to be cool by whoever it was deemed to be cool by. There’s a lot of people I know making it. There are winemakers who are making it that I don’t think should be who are now doing it because they think it’s trendy because more people will buy it and cover it in the publications of the world, that are worthwhile. I wonder how many people truly love it. How many people would take it over a really nice bottle of sparkling? Or over a good spritz? In all honesty, I’d rather have a wine spritzer. Let’s mix this over club soda with some ice. It’s almost being created because of the buzz because people have decided it’s cool. I wonder how many people actually think it’s good.
Z: We dabbled in this conversation largely before by talking about natural wine. There’s some overlap in these two communities. I think we landed on that topic in general. Enjoy it if you like it. That’s totally cool. The bad thing on both sides is to make yourself the arbiter of what people should and should not drink. If you want to make statements about what people should and should not drink, those statements should be based on things that are not personal taste. You can say, “Hey, I think you should support someone with sustainable agriculture.” That’s a defensible statement that you can make a broader point about.
Z: You should make a point to try and find wines from producers that represent traditionally underrepresented communities within the wine world. Great. That’s a defensible position that you can make a statement about. There’s lots of examples of great wines that meet those various categories. Where it becomes dicey to me is when you say to someone, “Hey, you shouldn’t like this thing that you like” or “You should like this thing that you don’t like and if you don’t drink it, you’re a bad wine drinker or you’re not cool.” That is where this whole thing stops being fun. It loses its accessibility. It moves away from that craft beer inclusivity model that you talked about at the beginning, Adam. When we start telling people, “You’re a bad wine drinker for liking this or “for not liking this” be it Piquette or Bordeaux, then you start to make people move away from this wonderful beverage. That’s a bummer.
E: It’s the dogma. I saw one reviewer say recently, “I will only consider bottles that have been farmed in one specific type of way, that have been made using a specific method, that have been bottled with sulfur under 10 parts per million.” I thought, really? That’s all of the wines you’re going to let yourself sample to consider for coverage? That’s a very small, narrow percentage of the wine world. It just seems so limiting. My frustration is around the dogma of it. I understand if you only want to review organic or biodynamic wines, but this is very rigid thinking around wines where only a small slice of the pie will be considered and nothing else is worthy of consideration at all.
A: It’s in rigidity where you can poke holes. I’ve never said I’ll full-stop never drink natural wines and won’t enjoy it. I’ve had some that I really do enjoy a lot that I love actually, that some people would consider natural. There are a lot of wine bars that consider themselves natural that I love drinking at because they have a lot of wines on their list that they’ve decided their own definition of natural but that I would consider to be just great, well-made wines, that don’t have the faults of some of the natural wines that I don’t enjoy. When you have rigidity, you make it very easy to come at you. One example, a tweet that was sent by a very well known wine writer earlier this week, in which this wine writer, one of the biggest proponents of natural wine said, “I do not think that wine should be in anything but a bottle.” The second you say that, you make your stance on natural wine look very bullsh*t because wines in can, bag, and box are far more sustainable for the environment, which is one of the reasons that most people say they support natural wines than bottle. Bottle is one of the biggest ways to create a massive carbon footprint.
E: The biggest part!
A: The second you tweet that, you are all of a sudden letting people come after you and say that your whole stance is bullsh*t. This entire persona you’ve created over the last few decades seems really hollow because you don’t support that thing that actually makes wine sustainable, which is alternative packaging. If you hadn’t been that rigid, for so long, no one would have come after you for this. That’s great! You love the romanticism of wine in-bottle, I get it. There’s a lot of people that love wine under cork as opposed to screw cap. I get it. There are reasons for both: Why it’s more sustainable under a screw cap and why it’s more sustainable in bag-and-box or can. I will admit as well that it’s awesome to open a bottle of Barolo that’s been in-bottle under a cork. It just is. But I would never say it’s the only way I’ll consume wine.
E: Right. Or saying that alternative packaging should go away. Who can defend that?
A: Right. Or that no wine in alternate packaging can be good.
Z: That’s nonsense because I’ve had good wine not just in a can or bag-and-box but out of a keg. You can have great experiences with all of those things, and there are probably lots more being dreamed up. Again, it’s this unnecessary narrowing of what can be an acceptable wine experience that should be the opposite of what most people in the industry are trying to do. Wine is perpetually at a crisis point depending on how you view it. People have lots and lots of drinking options these days, and some are turning to wine. Others are not. If you want wine to be vibrant and vital and ever-renewing, then you have to say that wine used to travel around the world in casks and never saw a bottle. That was the way it was. You had a tankard. The world of wine has evolved many times. It was in amphora before that. This idea that the only way to enjoy wine is in a glass bottle with a cork in it is an unnecessarily narrow view that is overly rigid and alienating to a lot of people who would otherwise enjoy wine.
E: Alienating is the right way to say it. What we realize in this industry is that wine’s share of the pie is shrinking, and we should not be trying to make that smaller and smaller. We should be trying to make it bigger and bigger. These rigid, narrow-minded definitions and takes and gatekeeper-like mentalities saying that the wine industry or other types of wines are not cool is just not useful to the category, at all.
A: That’s the perfect way to leave it. You guys agree?
A: Guys, thank you so much for another great conversation. For any of you listening that agree with us, disagree with us, or have a take, shoot us your thoughts at [email protected] I promise we will respond to every single email we get. We talk about them, and they help fuel ideas for future episodes. Shoot us an email, share your thoughts, and we really appreciate everyone listening. You two, I’ll talk to you next week.
E: Take care.
Z: Sounds great.
A: And now, another word from our sponsor, Gosling’s Rum. Gosling’s Black Seal Rum is the spirit of Bermuda, hand-crafted by eight generations of family rum makers, Black Seal Rum is the key ingredient in Bermuda’s national drink, the Dark ‘n Stormy. One of the few trademark cocktails in existence, and the Dark ‘n Stormy trademark is turning 40 years old this June. Mix up your own. Stock up on Gosling’s Black Seal Rum and Gosling’s Stormy Ginger Beer in time for Dark ‘n Stormy day on June 9. For a limited time, receive $15 off your purchase on Reservebar.com using code “vinepair.” We’ll see you all here for Gosling’s Day on June 9.
Thanks so much for listening to the VinePair podcast. If you enjoy listening to us every week please leave us a review or rating on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify, or wherever it is that you get your podcasts. It really helps everyone else discover the show. Now for the credits: VinePair is produced and hosted by Zach Geballe, Erica Duecy and me: Adam Teeter. Our engineer is Nick Patri and Keith Beavers. I’d also like to give a special shout out to my VinePair co-founder Josh Malin and the rest of the VinePair team for their support. Thanks so much for listening and we’ll see you again right here next week.
Ed. note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.