Which is better: A big Tomahawk steak or a succulent lobster? A jacked-up Ford F150 or a sleek Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagato? The in-your-face thrash metal of Megadeth or the sweet soulful sounds of Sam Cooke?
The reasonable answer to these questions is “it depends.” The point is that bigger does not necessarily mean better, and that something can be elegant and impactful at the same time.
However, this principle seems to (wrongly) go amiss when it comes to wine. Powerful, oaky wines are often associated with quality and importance, whereas lighter ones (regardless of their level of freshness, depth of flavour, finesse and drinkability) are seen as inferior. At a conference I recently attended, the consensus among sommeliers, restauranteurs, retailers and wine educators was that older drinkers (i.e., white males over 65 years old) hold this view, while younger drinkers gravitate toward fresher, brighter wines.
What’s more, the industry is moving towards “terroir” wines, whereas over-oaking, over-extraction and over-ripening in fact minimize the expression of place in wines. So the obvious question is: why are so many wineries still making heavily oaked, over-ripe wines?
Perhaps the older demographic is still buying more wine than younger generations despite purchasing less than before. Perhaps wine drinkers in emerging markets perceive bigger wines as better because certain wine critics bestow these wines with higher ratings. Perhaps it’s easier for the average wine drinker to appreciate more in-your-face wines.
Whatever the reason, appreciating elegance appears to be related to people’s desire for wines with drinkability and that satisfy their ever-evolving palates, whether the wine meets traditional perceptions of quality or not.
Weight and flavour are not the same thing. A wine can be fresh and light in body and still possess intense and penetrating flavours. Subtlety can contribute to a wine’s complexity.
Appreciating elegance may be synonymous with enhanced enjoyment, and enjoyment seems to be what future generations want from the wines they drink. What winery would not want to be a part of that?
This article was originally posted in March 2020
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