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Mondovino and the New Wine Snobbery

Wine snobbery is an old and ugly pastime. Fortunately, it has been in eclipse of late; many Americans have taken to wine and put its pretensions aside, driving per capita consumption in the U.S. higher than it has ever been. Mondavi’s wines, among others, are very popular. Do we really want a new breed of wine snob, telling all those novice wine drinkers that they’re wrong to enjoy it?

By Jim Clarke

After seeing the Jonathan Nossiter’s new wine documentary, Mondovino – the name means “world of wine” – I came home and wanted to open a bottle of wine. It was hard to choose, though. Would it be a betrayal to the film to open a Mondavi, or a Staglin, or any of the various wines that real wine’s apparent archnemesis, Michel Rolland, has gotten his grubby mitts on? I don’t want to take part in the evil conspiracy to make all the world’s wines taste the same, do I? Favoring the big companies and ignoring the little guys, who are in touch with the land, communing with nature, and part of the religion of wine?

OK, I would rather root for the underdog. There’s an added plus, now: I can look down my nose at the know-nothings who buy wine from properties larger than 10 acres. Poor fools: they’re drinking the “international style” of wine.  At least I know better.

Wine snobbery is an old and ugly pastime. Fortunately, it has been in eclipse of late; many Americans have taken to wine and put its pretensions aside, driving per capita consumption in the U.S. higher than it has ever been. Mondavi’s wines, among others, are very popular. Do we really want a new breed of wine snob, telling all those novice wine drinkers that they’re wrong to enjoy it? That’s not going to be good for business. That’s not going to be good for anybody (my apologies to Seinfeld).

There is a demand for wine, and there is a supply: it’s an industry. That seems an ugly word to some aficionados, at odds with the idea that a wine can express the individuality of a place. The best thing they can do, though, is continue to demand such wines. Like any product, winemakers need to make a profit if they are to continue to stay in business; if consumers show more interest in terroir-driven wines, producers will respond, because that’s where the profit would be. Can we honestly pretend otherwise – that winemakers are and should be high-minded amateurs, making wine in deliberate ignorance of the market?

I do love wine’s variety. I want my Rioja to taste different from my Oregon Pinot Noir. And despite the international style of winemaking, it seems clear that more wine from more regions and more grapes are available to the average American consumer now than ever before, and they don’t all taste the same. We really can taste a “world of wine” like never before. I certainly hope new wine drinkers learn to explore that diversity. If they come to love it as I do, that demand will protect the small wineries, the out-of-the-way producers, and the tiny region that makes a unique wine from some grape I’ve never heard of. But if the international style is bringing new wine drinkers into the fold, I’m all for that; I prefer not to drink alone.


 



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       Published: July 2005
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