Notes from the Cellar: Heresy

Sound Consumer February 2008 | by Jeff Cox, Wine and Beer Merchandiser

“We don’t want market share, we want it all.”
— E & J Gallo

It wasn’t long ago (in geologic terms, at least) that our ancestors looked at the big, wide, wild world around them in slack-jawed wonder and awe.

From wonder and awe, it’s just a stone’s throw to worship, and the forces of nature became gods as humans sought favored status with the movers and shakers of the universe. You know the rest.

Several millennia later, a Babel of religions, ideologies and traditions have sprung from that pantheistic genesis. Each of a rainbow of icons, totems and taboos guarantee “the goods” — material and metaphysical, on earth as in heaven — and brand as heretical any divergent perception of the Truth — subject to sanctions including but not limited to snorts of derision, banishment, burning at the stake, or seats in coach.

Now, in the dawning days of the new millennium, the moneychangers own the temple and the Market is a force of nature. The “Bottom Line” is the truth. Profit is virtue. Bigger is most righteous. Ka-ching. Amen.

Wine, of course, is a metaphor for the world (or vice versa) and the parallels are obvious. Corporate conglomerates are Bacchus’ new temples, offering portfolios of Brands in order that the devotée may slake his or her thirst at the altar of their choosing.

Wine Periodicals are high priests, acting as intermediaries between Market and mortal. Supported by alms from the Brands, the Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, Decanter, etc. offer divine knowledge, transcribed as easy-to-understand Ratings so the unwashed may know what’s good from what’s not, an 85 from a 97, a Smart Buy from a Spectator Selection, or what foods are appropriate with 90-point wines.

For the true seeker, there are the oracles — Robert Parker, Stephen Tanzer, et al — who provide a scholarly collection of Ratings and Tasting Notes, unsullied by glossy photos or full-page ads.

I’m certainly not Martin Luther, but I’m convinced that one can have a personal, unmediated relationship with one’s wine. We all have noses, mouths, tongues and brains. And the more you use ‘em, the better they work.

You don’t need anyone to tell you what to drink. Sip the delicious liberty of unrated wine. Transcend the tyranny of the brand. Taste wine, talk about it — in words, your own words.

Be a wine drinker, not a wine “spectator.” Be a heretic, trust your palate.

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