Yesterday, in his weekly wine column in The New York Times, Eric Asimov used the space to address a growing piece of feedback he’s been hearing lately from readers: that he reviews too many obscure wines that are difficult, or impossible, for some wine drinkers to buy.
I’ve been a reader of Asimov for as long as I can remember being interested in wine. I think he’s well-informed and generally well-grounded about the subject, which is why I was surprised at some of the rationale he used to explain which wines he chooses to review. I have lived in New York for almost ten years, but I get out of the city often to visit friends, which invariably leads me to explore the selection of wine in other parts of the country. It’s clear that Asimov should do the same.
In one of his more out-of-touch quotes in the piece, Asimov writes:
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Mass-produced wines, for the most part, reflect a vastly different agenda. Their goal is often sameness. Vintage variations are ironed out and wines stabilized so that they can be handled and stored with minimal risk. Many people value this sort of consistency, just as they may prefer to stop at a familiar franchise restaurant rather than seek out an unknown cafe. To each his own.
While it’s true that many mass-produced wines are created in order to be consistent and appealing, what isn’t true is Asimov’s assumption that all consumers who drink that wine purposefully make the choice. Many do not. While Asimov mentions that state wine stores are the only physical shop options for residents in states such as Pennsylvania and 17 others, what he fails to mention is that many of these passionate wine drinkers are also barred from receiving interesting wine shipments from outside their state borders. They can literally only buy what their state allows them to. That makes it pretty difficult for these people to utilize many of the tools and apps Asimov suggests.
This is the attitude with wine I find so troubling. The idea that if you try a little harder, you too can find these wines, so stop complaining. That’s no way to build a wine community. Instead of lambasting people who drink mass-produced wine, why don’t we work to make mass-produced wine better and help support those new companies who are trying to do that as well?
In my hometown of Auburn, Al, there is no local wine shop and the market is dominated by grocery stores who all carry the same bottles. Until recently that was the only option, until World Market opened a few years ago. As a chain World Market has actually done a pretty excellent job of stocking interesting bottles, even if they are what Mr. Asimov would consider mass-produced. They are making an effort to get better wine to people and we should be supporting and celebrating that.
Instead of telling people to go outside their states and counties to find better wine, why don’t we join the movement to lobby our government to remove our country’s antiquated and ridiculous liquor laws. Free the Grapes is working on this, so let’s help them achieve it. How insane is it that an American winery is restricted in the states they can ship to, all depending on where their winery is based, and the under the table deals their state legislators make?
Can you imagine what would have occurred if instead of using his column yesterday to defend his choices in wine reviews, Asimov had used it to instead to support movements which help ensure everyone has access to great wine, at all levels? Asimov has the most read wine column in the country, I hope he starts using his influence.