Notes from the Cellar: Trick or treat

by Jeff Cox, Wine and Beer Merchandiser

This article was originally published in October 2007

If you’re good, you’ll get candy. For most of us, lip-smacking, sugary treats were our first proof that virtue begets reward (not to mention a primer in market economics, as we discovered the finer points of trading the various fruits of our good behavior).

Proust had his madeleine, but I had the corner grocery with its worn, wooden floorboards and the sweet, fruity aroma of red vines. Now this isn’t “Remembrance of Things Past,” but that’s mighty fine déjà vu, and you’re reading this, non?

It’s amazing. Candy is the cornerstone for the palate of an entire culture, the fundamental flavor for the food industry, and an icon of one of the most bedrock truths in the collective consciousness: sweet is good. (Of course the market for salt and fat is huge, but that’s another rant — and sweet still came first.)

Dirt, on the other hand, is a different thing. If you get dirty, you’ll get no candy. Despite being the mother of just about every living thing, dirt is marginalized.

We relish the fruits of the soil (the sweeter the better), but farming is regarded as a rather rustic, uncouth occupation. It’s as if dirt were somehow dirty.

Leaving aside all issues of sin and stain (not that they aren’t apropos, but we don’t do theology in this forum), how one feels about dirt says a lot. And when it comes to wine, it says everything.

The universe of wine is infinitely complex, but it can nonetheless be divided into two basic types: Old World and New World, which is really just a genteel way of saying dirt and candy.

While the geographic boundaries of the two realms are generally still applicable, New World style is the child of the global marketplace, consumer culture and homogenization. Sweeten it up, one size fits all. Old World style, on the other hand, has deep roots in local culture and character. Think diversity, think dialect, think dirt.

New World wine (and books, movies, music, et cetera) is all about easy, instant, disposable gratification. Just a spoonful of sugary fruit and the world is your customer base.

Old World wine (et cetera) makes a statement, tells a story, translated by fruit: I am what I am — a place, a piece of dirt with vines. It’s candy, but of an entirely different kind.

Candy that’s not sweet, candy that makes you think, candy that asks more questions than it answers. Dirt candy. Fruit and dirt, inextricably interwoven, telling the tale of place and a moment in time.

Trick or treat? Be careful what you ask for …

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