Will wine ever be democratic?

By Felix Salmon
July 20, 2010
latest wine column is up, and because I couldn't do it there, I'd like to send out a big thank-you to Mike Veseth, whose post I drew liberally from both for quotes from Thomas Pinney and for its central idea.

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My latest wine column is up, and because I couldn’t do it there, I’d like to send out a big thank-you to Mike Veseth, whose post I drew liberally from both for quotes from Thomas Pinney and for its central idea.

One of the subjects of the column is a look at the pitfalls inherent in writing a wine column at all:

Pinney draws a distinction between what he calls Wagnerians, who aren’t happy unless they can drink a sound wine every day, and Martians, who are unhappy with anything less than the superlative and the rigorously-informed. (Wagnerians are named after Philip Wagner, a journalist and winemaker active in the 30s and 40s; Martians after uncompromising California wine pioneer Martin Ray.)

Most wine drinkers — including sommeliers, and retailers, and journalists — would put themselves at the Wagnerian end of the spectrum. But look at how they behave in public, and you’d be forgiven for considering them die-hard Martians.

They might happily and unceremoniously drink cheap and wonderful wine daily at home, but put them behind the counter of a wine bar, or give them a wine column, and they’ll suddenly start acting as though the only way they ever drink wine is with great concentration and connoisseurship.

The gist of the column is that although we can all laugh at someone who thinks they need to spend $350 in order to get a wine worth drinking, the fact is that a weaker but fundamentally identical message is sent by far too many wine lovers, far too frequently. And the message gets through: you can tell, quite easily, by looking at the number of wine drinkers in this country compared to the number of beer drinkers. Beer is democratic, in a way that wine simply isn’t, in this country. And, sadly, probably never will be.


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I agree, Felix. It is amazing how few American’s drink any wine at all. There are many reasons for this, of course, but I suspect that elitist stereotypes are part of the problem.

Posted by WineEconomist | Report as abusive

There are now hundreds, if not thousands of beers – but not too long ago, the selection was much, much narrower. The average person could figure out the speciality beers they liked and their daily beer.
Seriously, how many wines are there? Add vintage, something that really isn’t relevant for almost all beers, and it must be in the millions of possibilities.
I have neither the time nor inclination to spend much of my time worrying about wine. Jacob’s creek tastes good to me and is inexpesive. If there is a wine tasting were I buy wine, and I taste something, and it tastes good and is cheap enough, I will buy that. But I will not go out of my way to find a wine – its simply not worth it.

Posted by fresnodan | Report as abusive

It is mostly a matter of history and geography. Wine consumers tend to be in countries that produce wine. The same goes for beer and spirit drinkers. See here:

http://www.greenfacts.org/en/alcohol/fig tableboxes/table4.htm

and here:

http://strangemaps.wordpress.com/2010/01  /30/442-distilled-geography-europes-alc ohol-belts/

For the most part, Americans did not emigrate from wine producing regions and, at least until the 20th Century in California, was not itself a major wine-producing country. Product snobbery or anti-snobbery may reinforce the status quo, but they are not the primary reasons for the status quo.

Posted by slowlearner | Report as abusive