One of the Best Pieces of Wine Writing I've Read in Years

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Sean S y d n e y
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One of the Best Pieces of Wine Writing I've Read in Years

#1 Post by Sean S y d n e y » July 7th, 2020, 10:30 am

No surprise that the author, Amanda Smeltz, is a poet as well as a wine director given the wonderful essay she's written. What begins as a story of losing one's sense of smell due to COVID-19 turns into a meditation on wine's place in the world at large.

I hesitated to post it here rather than Asylum, but I believe the themes here are far more human than they are political.

I’d like to believe, in the wake of a global health catastrophe, that it is possible to reorient our attention away from hoarding wealth and back toward experiencing, sitting with beauty, sharing it. Obviously money buys lots of experiences, which is why wine people like me are employed. You need resources too to make genuinely beautiful things, but I would suggest you don’t need that many resources, that our sense of scale is radically askew. I'd like to believe it’s possible to deliberately redistribute resources across classes, races, nationalities, so that lovely things are more available to all. The wine and restaurant industries know this already to some degree; we’ve seen the shift away from Napa Valley corporate money and Manhattan’s high-end restaurants, back to the vineyard, back to the rough-hewn table.


The evening darkened, conversation continued, the room turned blue. We drank the wine quickly; it was too good to last long. But the wine did its work, it warmed me, and it sealed a small increment of time. The wine speaks: I am here, I was nurtured into existence, I am the work of hands and Earth and the sun—I am yours, all of you share me. So we took a small and informal communion together that only lasted the span of an hour. This does not tire me; this is a different value, the real value. In that room, very little wealth was required or exchanged. This is what I have been storing in my silo. I am certain that it does not rot or decay.
There are many ways to experience pleasure through wine and upscale restaurants certainly doesn't have a monopoly on it, but I think this is relevant regardless. I realize this will probably rankle a few amongst the demographic that likely makes up a large cross-section of this board's membership, but I hope that the central message is one we can all take to heart about the ever-uneasy relationship between experiences and access and the widening gap of who does and does not get the chance to have those experiences.

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Re: One of the Best Pieces of Wine Writing I've Read in Years

#2 Post by Marcu$ Stanley » July 7th, 2020, 11:27 am

Perhaps I'm just one of the "male, white, middle-aged or older" wine collectors she is implicitly calling out in the piece, although I operate on a far lower level than those who she meets in Manhattan. But it strikes me that this piece is a bit dishonest. Her super-authentic experience of going "back to the vineyard" and drinking with a cult winemaker sitting on a "blue, gray, and red stone floor, worn from a hundred years of use" is just as exclusive and requires just as much capital of various kinds as eating at the fancy Manhattan restaurant she criticizes. It doesn't "divorce beauty and capital", it's just a much classier but equally exclusive experience.

The article is basically contrasting a gross direct purchase at a fancy Manhattan restaurant that sells dinner to the Wall Street crowd to the classier experience of an elite vacation to wine country or high-end wine business job which allows business travel to France and contact with cult winemakers. I agree the latter experience is more fun and more poetic and all but let's not pretend it's cheap or broadly accessible.

If you wanted a mass-accessible but authentic wine experience in the U.S. I think it would look something more like grilling on your back deck with old friends you've shared a wine tasting group with for many years, drinking a 2000 Chateau Lanessan or some other great Haut Medoc you bought for $12 way back when and have aged for many years.

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Re: One of the Best Pieces of Wine Writing I've Read in Years

#3 Post by Sean S y d n e y » July 7th, 2020, 11:34 am

Marcu$ Stanley wrote:
July 7th, 2020, 11:27 am

The article is basically contrasting a gross direct purchase at a fancy Manhattan restaurant that sells dinner to the Wall Street crowd to the classier experience of an elite vacation to wine country or high-end wine business job which allows business travel to France and contact with cult winemakers. I agree the latter experience is more fun and more poetic and all but let's not pretend it's cheap or broadly accessible.
Not wrong. I've worked in restaurants for the better part of a decade - modern wine bars but not fine dining - and I see even how in my own arena that wine is becoming increasingly prized as a "social" object and priced in a way that is alienating to anyone not middle-class or above. Many natural wine producers are making bottles for wine lists that are more expensive than most are comfortable paying. And if I'm interpreting the wine she's drinking correctly, the Tschida Himmel auf Erden rosé she's referencing would still be $100-$150 USD on a list. The restaurant industry and wine's role in it more and more, as a whole, heavily caters to and relies on the monied, even if it's not the ultra-rich that she's specifically referencing.
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Re: One of the Best Pieces of Wine Writing I've Read in Years

#4 Post by Todd F r e n c h » July 7th, 2020, 12:22 pm

Sean S y d n e y wrote:
July 7th, 2020, 10:30 am
No surprise that the author, Amanda Smeltz, is a poet as well as a wine director given the wonderful essay she's written. What begins as a story of losing one's sense of smell due to COVID-19 turns into a meditation on wine's place in the world at large.

I hesitated to post it here rather than Asylum, but I believe the themes here are far more human than they are political.

I’d like to believe, in the wake of a global health catastrophe, that it is possible to reorient our attention away from hoarding wealth and back toward experiencing, sitting with beauty, sharing it. Obviously money buys lots of experiences, which is why wine people like me are employed. You need resources too to make genuinely beautiful things, but I would suggest you don’t need that many resources, that our sense of scale is radically askew. I'd like to believe it’s possible to deliberately redistribute resources across classes, races, nationalities, so that lovely things are more available to all. The wine and restaurant industries know this already to some degree; we’ve seen the shift away from Napa Valley corporate money and Manhattan’s high-end restaurants, back to the vineyard, back to the rough-hewn table.


The evening darkened, conversation continued, the room turned blue. We drank the wine quickly; it was too good to last long. But the wine did its work, it warmed me, and it sealed a small increment of time. The wine speaks: I am here, I was nurtured into existence, I am the work of hands and Earth and the sun—I am yours, all of you share me. So we took a small and informal communion together that only lasted the span of an hour. This does not tire me; this is a different value, the real value. In that room, very little wealth was required or exchanged. This is what I have been storing in my silo. I am certain that it does not rot or decay.
There are many ways to experience pleasure through wine and upscale restaurants certainly doesn't have a monopoly on it, but I think this is relevant regardless. I realize this will probably rankle a few amongst the demographic that likely makes up a large cross-section of this board's membership, but I hope that the central message is one we can all take to heart about the ever-uneasy relationship between experiences and access and the widening gap of who does and does not get the chance to have those experiences.

https://www.esquire.com/food-drink/drin ... ronavirus/
I believe most of us got into wine based on experiences outlined by the author above, and that's what makes wine somewhat unique in terms of socialization. It's thought of as experiential, much more so than beer or spirits.

Perhaps, indeed, we'll get back to 'the earth', the wine and winemakers, the land upon which the grapes are grown, rather than strive for panache and exclusivity. I think both are important, yes, but perhaps more emphasis on the simpler enjoyment of wine
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Re: One of the Best Pieces of Wine Writing I've Read in Years

#5 Post by Otto Forsberg » July 7th, 2020, 12:33 pm

Sean S y d n e y wrote:
July 7th, 2020, 11:34 am
the Tschida Himmel auf Erden rosé she's referencing would still be $100-$150 USD on a list.
That much for a 25€ rosé? Yeeesshhh. I though Finnish wine pricing is crazy.

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Re: One of the Best Pieces of Wine Writing I've Read in Years

#6 Post by Michael S. Monie » July 7th, 2020, 1:35 pm

I was under the impression that before social distancing, the millennials were taking care of the transition of "hoarding wealth to experiencing".
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Re: One of the Best Pieces of Wine Writing I've Read in Years

#7 Post by Vince T » July 7th, 2020, 1:49 pm

Marcu$ Stanley wrote:
July 7th, 2020, 11:27 am
Perhaps I'm just one of the "male, white, middle-aged or older" wine collectors she is implicitly calling out in the piece, although I operate on a far lower level than those who she meets in Manhattan. But it strikes me that this piece is a bit dishonest. Her super-authentic experience of going "back to the vineyard" and drinking with a cult winemaker sitting on a "blue, gray, and red stone floor, worn from a hundred years of use" is just as exclusive and requires just as much capital of various kinds as eating at the fancy Manhattan restaurant she criticizes. It doesn't "divorce beauty and capital", it's just a much classier but equally exclusive experience.

The article is basically contrasting a gross direct purchase at a fancy Manhattan restaurant that sells dinner to the Wall Street crowd to the classier experience of an elite vacation to wine country or high-end wine business job which allows business travel to France and contact with cult winemakers. I agree the latter experience is more fun and more poetic and all but let's not pretend it's cheap or broadly accessible.

If you wanted a mass-accessible but authentic wine experience in the U.S. I think it would look something more like grilling on your back deck with old friends you've shared a wine tasting group with for many years, drinking a 2000 Chateau Lanessan or some other great Haut Medoc you bought for $12 way back when and have aged for many years.
While I do agree she has romanticized the "authenticity" of her experience, I think you've completely mischaracterized her words - she's in her friend's cramped old apartment with a salt-of-the-earth Loire grower, not some cult winemaker. And I suspect very few folks who make a living selling Loire in the US would consider their jobs high-end, elite, or fancy in any way (unless their meetings are with Rougard and Dagueneau). If anything, she's describing her version of your backyard Lanessan with friends, if you substitute Touraine for Haut Medoc - with the added bonus of the visiting grower.
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Re: One of the Best Pieces of Wine Writing I've Read in Years

#8 Post by Nick Christie » July 7th, 2020, 1:52 pm

Marcu$ Stanley wrote:
July 7th, 2020, 11:27 am
If you wanted a mass-accessible but authentic wine experience in the U.S. I think it would look something more like grilling on your back deck with old friends you've shared a wine tasting group with for many years, drinking a 2000 Chateau Lanessan or some other great Haut Medoc you bought for $12 way back when and have aged for many years.
I like Marcus' point here, a lot. Particularly as I just drank that wine with my father who as wine prices went up during the 90s only bought 'humble' wines and no longer the quality he did during the 80s. (Which is more than a touch sad... particularly because he spent so much on the educations of his three children, none of which did education cheaply).

On a broader point, the poetry of how one consumes wine will always be an individual choice, although many of us overlap in how we choose to do so (i.e. with like-minded friends, over good food either prepared by us, or at a casual restaurant setting). This is also an age-old question, though, involving luxury goods. I remember going to the Met when it opened an 18th century French furniture exhibition and thinking "man, some of these silk chaises are so beautiful and a large chunk of people who sat on them also pissed in the corners of these rooms, barely giving a thought to the beautiful artwork all around them." To paraphrase an Asian motif, one could spend a lifetime just bonding with something so beautifully crafted and harmonious and it would not be a wasted life.

One can very easily point out in judgment how many of mankind's finest creations (wine, food, art, architecture, music, et al) get disproportionately used or consumed by people who do not revel in how lucky or rare these things are. Still, that's a circular logic loop of which to be wary...

Focusing on one's own poetry is a beautiful thing. That sentiment of her article and many of those on this board (occasionally this is an eloquent bunch) certainly inspires.

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Re: One of the Best Pieces of Wine Writing I've Read in Years

#9 Post by Vince T » July 7th, 2020, 1:53 pm

Otto Forsberg wrote:
July 7th, 2020, 12:33 pm
Sean S y d n e y wrote:
July 7th, 2020, 11:34 am
the Tschida Himmel auf Erden rosé she's referencing would still be $100-$150 USD on a list.
That much for a 25€ rosé? Yeeesshhh. I though Finnish wine pricing is crazy.
He means at a restaurant. It's $46 on W-S (presumably that includes tariff).
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Re: One of the Best Pieces of Wine Writing I've Read in Years

#10 Post by Otto Forsberg » July 7th, 2020, 1:56 pm

Vince T wrote:
July 7th, 2020, 1:53 pm
Otto Forsberg wrote:
July 7th, 2020, 12:33 pm
Sean S y d n e y wrote:
July 7th, 2020, 11:34 am
the Tschida Himmel auf Erden rosé she's referencing would still be $100-$150 USD on a list.
That much for a 25€ rosé? Yeeesshhh. I though Finnish wine pricing is crazy.
He means at a restaurant. It's $46 on W-S (presumably that includes tariff).
I know. Even though the wine prices are prohibitively high in Finnish restaurants, $150 still sounds awful lot for a sub-$50 wine, although it sounds like the wine becomes suddenly way more expensive once it has crossed the pond.

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Re: One of the Best Pieces of Wine Writing I've Read in Years

#11 Post by Sean S y d n e y » July 7th, 2020, 2:12 pm

Todd F r e n c h wrote:
July 7th, 2020, 12:22 pm
I think both are important, yes, but perhaps more emphasis on the simpler enjoyment of wine
I think this is a really important point, Todd. I fully admit, even as someone who hasn't tasted nearly as many world-class wines as a lot of folks here, that I find myself chasing the dragon and lusting after the wines that we've been told lead to the kind of experiences only they can offer. I think it's crucial when we try to expand the wine-drinking world that we focus on the enjoyment, like you said, rather than the mini-12 Angry Menapalooza tasting blowouts that are seen as the pinnacle of the wine drinking experience.

Almost all the emphasis in the greater wine media as a whole, and especially upscale restaurants, is on prize wines. They were certainly more affordable when a lot of people got started with this passion.
Otto Forsberg wrote:
July 7th, 2020, 12:33 pm
That much for a 25€ rosé? Yeeesshhh. I though Finnish wine pricing is crazy.
I think it's probably a $50-60 US wine at retail and that means $120-150 on the wine list depending on restaurant. C'est la vie.
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Re: One of the Best Pieces of Wine Writing I've Read in Years

#12 Post by Arv R » July 7th, 2020, 2:19 pm

It's great that she has backup plan in print magazines if the restaurant gig doesn't come back.
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Re: One of the Best Pieces of Wine Writing I've Read in Years

#13 Post by Vince T » July 7th, 2020, 2:28 pm

Otto Forsberg wrote:
July 7th, 2020, 1:56 pm

I know. Even though the wine prices are prohibitively high in Finnish restaurants, $150 still sounds awful lot for a sub-$50 wine, although it sounds like the wine becomes suddenly way more expensive once it has crossed the pond.
What’s the standard restaurant markup in Finland? 2.5-3x is typical in the US.
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Re: One of the Best Pieces of Wine Writing I've Read in Years

#14 Post by Bryan Price » July 7th, 2020, 2:39 pm

Marcu$ Stanley wrote:
July 7th, 2020, 11:27 am
Perhaps I'm just one of the "male, white, middle-aged or older" wine collectors she is implicitly calling out in the piece, although I operate on a far lower level than those who she meets in Manhattan. But it strikes me that this piece is a bit dishonest. Her super-authentic experience of going "back to the vineyard" and drinking with a cult winemaker sitting on a "blue, gray, and red stone floor, worn from a hundred years of use" is just as exclusive and requires just as much capital of various kinds as eating at the fancy Manhattan restaurant she criticizes. It doesn't "divorce beauty and capital", it's just a much classier but equally exclusive experience.

The article is basically contrasting a gross direct purchase at a fancy Manhattan restaurant that sells dinner to the Wall Street crowd to the classier experience of an elite vacation to wine country or high-end wine business job which allows business travel to France and contact with cult winemakers. I agree the latter experience is more fun and more poetic and all but let's not pretend it's cheap or broadly accessible.

If you wanted a mass-accessible but authentic wine experience in the U.S. I think it would look something more like grilling on your back deck with old friends you've shared a wine tasting group with for many years, drinking a 2000 Chateau Lanessan or some other great Haut Medoc you bought for $12 way back when and have aged for many years.
This strikes a similar cord with me as a family member was sitting in my pool the other day, drinking a nice rose and talking about how wealth needs to be reallocated. This seems to be the classic capitalist vs. spend other people's money argument which will never have a winner. For the record I would like the government to spend more in the areas that need it, not just on those that have high property valuations and collect a lot of property tax. Bringing it back to wine, a good reminder for everyone on the forums to keep the enjoyment as simple as possible and learn to enjoy experiences that do not cost a lot of money.
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Re: One of the Best Pieces of Wine Writing I've Read in Years

#15 Post by Wes Barton » July 7th, 2020, 3:16 pm

It's on the consumer to seek quality and reward quality, and reject the superficial. Have some self-confidence, listen to your own pleasure, relax. It's funny that a restaurant hub like San Francisco there's a broad demand for high quality. You can't survive with the mediocrity that was the norm down the peninsula (things are getting much better here). You have restaurants with top chefs and excellent food, where business model is to cater to regular local customers. That means normal prices, similar to nasty chain mediocrity. Contrast that to the gimmicky whored-out self-promoters who get their names in the national magazines and charge several times the price. Those bring in the big budget tourists and bridge-and-tunnel special occasion rubes. Is the food any better? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Some of the best restaurants are the locals ones. They're certainly more rewarding to run and work at, and be a regular customer of.

Wine works the same. Some winemakers work to keep their prices low, and treasure having relationships with regular customers who actually drink their wines and appreciate their efforts to strive for quality. (Similar to how growers like to see at least some of their efforts turned into excellent wine, rather than a blending component of something mediocre.) Step away from our pop culture lazy lemming mentality. There are amazingly pleasurable $25 wines, utterly joyless $150 wines. Same applies to critical points. Not to say most of the very best wines aren't pricey.

Tourists flock to multi-million dollar Tuscan villa styles tasting rooms with scripted salespeople hawking mass produced mediocrity. Down the road is some small producer out of a shack, with the winemaker pouring much better wine, caringly made, and charging the same or less. Which is more rewarding to visit? The are many other permutations. The are down to earth high-end wineries, but there are superficial pandering-to-the-gullible-rich bullshit wineries. Sorry, but that sort of experience is such an insult of condescension to me.

Forever ago I applied at a wine shop that had a small, well-curated selection. Looked great on the surface, with the full spectrum of inventory something you can honestly stand behind. In the interview it became clear the job was to pander-lie to rich, arrogant snobs with a weak partially misinformed wine knowledge. You need to suck it up and tell them what they want to hear, play along with whatever they say, never ever try to educate or correct them. I was straight out being questioned if I was capable of and willing to regularly lie to customers. I know the type. Pampered and surrounded by yesmen, and will fly into a rage if you *don't* lie to them. (Like if they want something in 10 minutes that will take 25 minutes. If you lie and tell them 10 minutes and it takes 25 minutes, you're fine. If you tell them it will take 25 minutes, they will go to all ends to get you fired. Um, don't be that person.)
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Re: One of the Best Pieces of Wine Writing I've Read in Years

#16 Post by Arv R » July 7th, 2020, 3:53 pm

Wes Barton wrote:
July 7th, 2020, 3:16 pm
It's on the consumer to seek quality and reward quality, and reject the superficial. Have some self-confidence, listen to your own pleasure, relax. It's funny that a restaurant hub like San Francisco there's a broad demand for high quality. You can't survive with the mediocrity that was the norm down the peninsula (things are getting much better here). You have restaurants with top chefs and excellent food, where business model is to cater to regular local customers. That means normal prices, similar to nasty chain mediocrity. Contrast that to the gimmicky whored-out self-promoters who get their names in the national magazines and charge several times the price. Those bring in the big budget tourists and bridge-and-tunnel special occasion rubes. Is the food any better? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Some of the best restaurants are the locals ones. They're certainly more rewarding to run and work at, and be a regular customer of.

Wine works the same. Some winemakers work to keep their prices low, and treasure having relationships with regular customers who actually drink their wines and appreciate their efforts to strive for quality. (Similar to how growers like to see at least some of their efforts turned into excellent wine, rather than a blending component of something mediocre.) Step away from our pop culture lazy lemming mentality. There are amazingly pleasurable $25 wines, utterly joyless $150 wines. Same applies to critical points. Not to say most of the very best wines aren't pricey.

Tourists flock to multi-million dollar Tuscan villa styles tasting rooms with scripted salespeople hawking mass produced mediocrity. Down the road is some small producer out of a shack, with the winemaker pouring much better wine, caringly made, and charging the same or less. Which is more rewarding to visit? The are many other permutations. The are down to earth high-end wineries, but there are superficial pandering-to-the-gullible-rich bullshit wineries. Sorry, but that sort of experience is such an insult of condescension to me.

Forever ago I applied at a wine shop that had a small, well-curated selection. Looked great on the surface, with the full spectrum of inventory something you can honestly stand behind. In the interview it became clear the job was to pander-lie to rich, arrogant snobs with a weak partially misinformed wine knowledge. You need to suck it up and tell them what they want to hear, play along with whatever they say, never ever try to educate or correct them. I was straight out being questioned if I was capable of and willing to regularly lie to customers. I know the type. Pampered and surrounded by yesmen, and will fly into a rage if you *don't* lie to them. (Like if they want something in 10 minutes that will take 25 minutes. If you lie and tell them 10 minutes and it takes 25 minutes, you're fine. If you tell them it will take 25 minutes, they will go to all ends to get you fired. Um, don't be that person.)
With that kind of attitude you're not going to get far in politics, or anything where you have to be confirmed by the Senate.
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Re: One of the Best Pieces of Wine Writing I've Read in Years

#17 Post by Michael S. Monie » July 7th, 2020, 4:08 pm

No beauty to be had here:

The Most Expensive Single Malts on Wine-Searcher:
Whisky Name Ave Price
The Macallan Lalique 55 Year Old $163,494
The Macallan Lalique IV 60 Year Old $135,644
The Macallan Lalique 62 Year Old $132,242
The Macallan Lalique 72 Year Old $117,052
The Macallan 50 Year Old $104,826
The Macallan 52 Year Old $101,927
The Macallan Lalique VI 65 Year Old $91,108
Bowmore Black The Last Cask 50 Year Old $80,440
The Balvenie 50 Year Old $41,215
The Macallan Fine & Rare
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Re: One of the Best Pieces of Wine Writing I've Read in Years

#18 Post by Vince T » July 7th, 2020, 7:21 pm

Wes Barton wrote:
July 7th, 2020, 3:16 pm
It's on the consumer to seek quality and reward quality, and reject the superficial. Have some self-confidence, listen to your own pleasure, relax. It's funny that a restaurant hub like San Francisco there's a broad demand for high quality. You can't survive with the mediocrity that was the norm down the peninsula (things are getting much better here). You have restaurants with top chefs and excellent food, where business model is to cater to regular local customers. That means normal prices, similar to nasty chain mediocrity. Contrast that to the gimmicky whored-out self-promoters who get their names in the national magazines and charge several times the price. Those bring in the big budget tourists and bridge-and-tunnel special occasion rubes. Is the food any better? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Some of the best restaurants are the locals ones. They're certainly more rewarding to run and work at, and be a regular customer of.

Wine works the same. Some winemakers work to keep their prices low, and treasure having relationships with regular customers who actually drink their wines and appreciate their efforts to strive for quality. (Similar to how growers like to see at least some of their efforts turned into excellent wine, rather than a blending component of something mediocre.) Step away from our pop culture lazy lemming mentality. There are amazingly pleasurable $25 wines, utterly joyless $150 wines. Same applies to critical points. Not to say most of the very best wines aren't pricey.

Tourists flock to multi-million dollar Tuscan villa styles tasting rooms with scripted salespeople hawking mass produced mediocrity. Down the road is some small producer out of a shack, with the winemaker pouring much better wine, caringly made, and charging the same or less. Which is more rewarding to visit? The are many other permutations. The are down to earth high-end wineries, but there are superficial pandering-to-the-gullible-rich bullshit wineries. Sorry, but that sort of experience is such an insult of condescension to me.

Forever ago I applied at a wine shop that had a small, well-curated selection. Looked great on the surface, with the full spectrum of inventory something you can honestly stand behind. In the interview it became clear the job was to pander-lie to rich, arrogant snobs with a weak partially misinformed wine knowledge. You need to suck it up and tell them what they want to hear, play along with whatever they say, never ever try to educate or correct them. I was straight out being questioned if I was capable of and willing to regularly lie to customers. I know the type. Pampered and surrounded by yesmen, and will fly into a rage if you *don't* lie to them. (Like if they want something in 10 minutes that will take 25 minutes. If you lie and tell them 10 minutes and it takes 25 minutes, you're fine. If you tell them it will take 25 minutes, they will go to all ends to get you fired. Um, don't be that person.)
This.
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Re: One of the Best Pieces of Wine Writing I've Read in Years

#19 Post by Otto Forsberg » July 7th, 2020, 11:45 pm

Vince T wrote:
July 7th, 2020, 2:28 pm
Otto Forsberg wrote:
July 7th, 2020, 1:56 pm

I know. Even though the wine prices are prohibitively high in Finnish restaurants, $150 still sounds awful lot for a sub-$50 wine, although it sounds like the wine becomes suddenly way more expensive once it has crossed the pond.
What’s the standard restaurant markup in Finland? 2.5-3x is typical in the US.
There is no standard markup here, which is a big problem, since it's really hard to find affordable wine in a restaurant. Usually the markup tends to decrease as the bottle prices go up, but I've seen something like 6x markup for inexpensive wines (wine that retails at 7€ sold at +40€ in a restaurant) but usually restaurant prices tends to hover around 3-4x the retail price. It's hard to assess what the actual markup is, since the monopoly prices are ridiculously high and restaurants can buy the wines for themselves at more reasonable prices. Nevertheless, the wine prices compared to global wine prices are pretty steep - but apparently pretty much as expensive as those in the US, lol.

Then there are couple of restaurants that have a fixed 20-30€ markup which doesn't increase as the bottle price goes up. I wish every restaurant had similar program - then I'd be willing to actually buying a whole bottle in a restaurant instead of just couple of glasses.
Sean S y d n e y wrote:
July 7th, 2020, 2:12 pm
I think it's probably a $50-60 US wine at retail and that means $120-150 on the wine list depending on restaurant. C'est la vie.
Ok, that explains quite a bit. Apparently the wine is ridiculously priced to begin with there (although wine-searcher gave me US results hovering around $45-50). Nevertheless, the difference to one Latvian restaurant that fellow forumite Ilkka pointed out to me is rather stark: they have the white version of Himmel auf Erden for approx. $30 in their list.

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Re: One of the Best Pieces of Wine Writing I've Read in Years

#20 Post by Michael S. Monie » July 8th, 2020, 12:09 pm

The largest flaw in the petulant Ms Smeltz's premise of wine enjoyment is that affluence and appreciation are mutually exclusive. As one who is definitely not affluent, it seems to me pretentious to assume that because of the size or value of what one has, that discounts the possibility of using those assets in a fulfilling and generous way. Since she has an appreciation of the passing of time, she should realize that her interactions as a wine professional with these customers only represents a snapshot of their total involvement with wine. Why does she rule out the possibility that many of these people have been responsible for bringing tremendous pleasure to family and friends because of their interest and ability to curate a private wine collection. In her assumption that collectors are crass materialist, she does not consider the pleasure that may have been experiencd in the study associated with assembling a large cellar. Her stripping down of what she perceives as the essence of wine appreciation will not be complete, until her need to compare it to someone else's is no longer necessary.
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Re: One of the Best Pieces of Wine Writing I've Read in Years

#21 Post by Anton D » July 8th, 2020, 12:17 pm

Michael S. Monie wrote:
July 8th, 2020, 12:09 pm
The largest flaw in the petulant Ms Smeltz's premise of wine enjoyment is that affluence and appreciation are mutually exclusive. As one who is definitely not affluent, it seems to me pretentious to assume that because of the size or value of what one has, that discounts the possibility of using those assets in a fulfilling and generous way. Since she has an appreciation of the passing of time, she should realize that her interactions as a wine professional with these customers only represents a snapshot of their total involvement with wine. Why does she rule out the possibility that many of these people have been responsible for bringing tremendous pleasure to family and friends because of their interest and ability to curate a private wine collection. In her assumption that collectors are crass materialist, she does not consider the pleasure that may have been experiencd in the study associated with assembling a large cellar. Her stripping down of what she perceives as the essence of wine appreciation will not be complete, until her need to compare it to someone else's is no longer necessary.
Trickle down oenophilia, eh? [cheers.gif]
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Re: One of the Best Pieces of Wine Writing I've Read in Years

#22 Post by AAgrawal » July 8th, 2020, 1:00 pm

I don't think any of these ideas are mutually exclusive. I think you can believe that some people have way too much money, more than any individual person needs to have in any society, and also that wealthy people can enjoy and derive pleasure from things such as wine just as everyone else does.

There is pretty good research that has been done on relative value of various things, and experiences always outweigh physical possessions. Wine is one of the few hobbies that is both a physical possession and, when opened, an experience that can bring together family, friends, and mark a point in time. It's one of the many reasons I have such fun with this hobby that we all have.
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Re: One of the Best Pieces of Wine Writing I've Read in Years

#23 Post by John Morris » July 8th, 2020, 1:02 pm

Vince T wrote:
July 7th, 2020, 1:49 pm
Marcu$ Stanley wrote:
July 7th, 2020, 11:27 am
Perhaps I'm just one of the "male, white, middle-aged or older" wine collectors she is implicitly calling out in the piece, although I operate on a far lower level than those who she meets in Manhattan. But it strikes me that this piece is a bit dishonest. Her super-authentic experience of going "back to the vineyard" and drinking with a cult winemaker sitting on a "blue, gray, and red stone floor, worn from a hundred years of use" is just as exclusive and requires just as much capital of various kinds as eating at the fancy Manhattan restaurant she criticizes. It doesn't "divorce beauty and capital", it's just a much classier but equally exclusive experience.

The article is basically contrasting a gross direct purchase at a fancy Manhattan restaurant that sells dinner to the Wall Street crowd to the classier experience of an elite vacation to wine country or high-end wine business job which allows business travel to France and contact with cult winemakers. I agree the latter experience is more fun and more poetic and all but let's not pretend it's cheap or broadly accessible.

If you wanted a mass-accessible but authentic wine experience in the U.S. I think it would look something more like grilling on your back deck with old friends you've shared a wine tasting group with for many years, drinking a 2000 Chateau Lanessan or some other great Haut Medoc you bought for $12 way back when and have aged for many years.
While I do agree she has romanticized the "authenticity" of her experience, I think you've completely mischaracterized her words - she's in her friend's cramped old apartment with a salt-of-the-earth Loire grower, not some cult winemaker. And I suspect very few folks who make a living selling Loire in the US would consider their jobs high-end, elite, or fancy in any way (unless their meetings are with Rougard and Dagueneau). If anything, she's describing her version of your backyard Lanessan with friends, if you substitute Touraine for Haut Medoc - with the added bonus of the visiting grower.
You’re right, Vince — she ends with a simple Loire in a friend’s apartment with a winemaker who evidently isn’t famous.
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Re: One of the Best Pieces of Wine Writing I've Read in Years

#24 Post by Wes Barton » July 8th, 2020, 3:27 pm

Michael S. Monie wrote:
July 8th, 2020, 12:09 pm
The largest flaw in the petulant Ms Smeltz's premise of wine enjoyment is that affluence and appreciation are mutually exclusive. As one who is definitely not affluent, it seems to me pretentious to assume that because of the size or value of what one has, that discounts the possibility of using those assets in a fulfilling and generous way. Since she has an appreciation of the passing of time, she should realize that her interactions as a wine professional with these customers only represents a snapshot of their total involvement with wine. Why does she rule out the possibility that many of these people have been responsible for bringing tremendous pleasure to family and friends because of their interest and ability to curate a private wine collection. In her assumption that collectors are crass materialist, she does not consider the pleasure that may have been experiencd in the study associated with assembling a large cellar. Her stripping down of what she perceives as the essence of wine appreciation will not be complete, until her need to compare it to someone else's is no longer necessary.
As a somm, she has a skewed perspective. She's seeing a subset of wine geeks. She's also surely seeing an overly high number of wine snobs. It's a common perception bias that leads people to judge a class of others by the few who make the biggest impression.

We certainly have rich snobby people in the Silicon Valley, who cloister themselves off, make a show of their wealth, frequent all the best restaurants and whatever. We also have plenty of rich people who aren't snobs. They may still have a vacation home or two elsewhere in the U.S. and a home in Europe, travel, go to fine restaurants and engage in various spendy hobbies, but they also go out and do more normal things, and don't judge others by their jobs or income. They choose their friends by quality, not prestige. They know how to find joy in life. A perhaps surprising number of serious wine collectors are great home hobbyist chefs who put most restaurants to shame. These aren't people who just buy there prestige wines that are supposed to be the best. They taste, explore, form their own opinions. They recognize quality in many forms and reject pretense.
I don’t know how to resolve this ugly binding together of things of beauty and capital.
Poor people around the world have found joy in food. There's no shortage of great "beautiful" food made out of the most basic, affordable ingredients. It just takes a little effort. Sometimes growing or making things yourself means higher quality. I'm blessed to live in an area with lots of immigrants from all over the world. I can go to Chinese, Japanese, Russian, Afghan, Indian, Mexican, Korean, etc. markets and buy items/ingredients for a fraction of the price and usually higher quality than the fru-fru stores, if they carry those items at all. The finest quality beer making ingredients are readily available, as are top-rate recipes. If you're half-decent in the kitchen, you should be able to make better beer than almost everything you can buy, and surpass your break-even point on capital equipment and supplies with your second batch.
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Re: One of the Best Pieces of Wine Writing I've Read in Years

#25 Post by Alan Rath » July 8th, 2020, 5:46 pm

Sean S y d n e y wrote:
July 7th, 2020, 2:12 pm
I fully admit, even as someone who hasn't tasted nearly as many world-class wines as a lot of folks here, that I find myself chasing the dragon and lusting after the wines that we've been told lead to the kind of experiences only they can offer.
I don’t have a comment in the article, but I would say chasing those special unicorns will often be a disappointment. I would say on that front, let them come to you. They will, over time, without you actively chasing them. And then, take pleasure from the myriad excellent wines that don’t cost an arm, leg, or first born. There are so many great wines that aren’t impossible to find or attain. Take it from someone who has dabbled in chasing some unicorns, that you can have a great life of wine drinking without those unicorns [cheers.gif]
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Re: One of the Best Pieces of Wine Writing I've Read in Years

#26 Post by John Morris » July 8th, 2020, 5:52 pm

Alan Rath wrote:
July 8th, 2020, 5:46 pm
Sean S y d n e y wrote:
July 7th, 2020, 2:12 pm
I fully admit, even as someone who hasn't tasted nearly as many world-class wines as a lot of folks here, that I find myself chasing the dragon and lusting after the wines that we've been told lead to the kind of experiences only they can offer.
I don’t have a comment in the article, but I would say chasing those special unicorns will often be a disappointment. I would say on that front, let them come to you. They will, over time, without you actively chasing them. And then, take pleasure from the myriad excellent wines that don’t cost an arm, leg, or first born. There are so many great wines that aren’t impossible to find or attain. Take it from someone who has dabbled in chasing some unicorns, that you can have a great life of wine drinking without those unicorns [cheers.gif]
+1
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Re: One of the Best Pieces of Wine Writing I've Read in Years

#27 Post by Sean S y d n e y » July 8th, 2020, 7:13 pm

Alan Rath wrote:
July 8th, 2020, 5:46 pm
I don’t have a comment in the article, but I would say chasing those special unicorns will often be a disappointment. I would say on that front, let them come to you. They will, over time, without you actively chasing them. And then, take pleasure from the myriad excellent wines that don’t cost an arm, leg, or first born. There are so many great wines that aren’t impossible to find or attain. Take it from someone who has dabbled in chasing some unicorns, that you can have a great life of wine drinking without those unicorns [cheers.gif]
Appreciate that, Alan.

I find my greatest pleasures, aside from sharing ANY wine with passionate people, is to find great wines for relatively modest prices. Not only actually drinking them, but scouring around for great Mâconnais wines or great Loire finds is part of the fun for me. Perhaps that's just my coping mechanism of sorts knowing that the truly "great" bottles are likely forever out of my reach unless generously shared by people with access to them (as many of my most wonderful wine experiences have been), but I still find it incredibly gratifying to find $30 bottles that I feel are world-class regardless of price.

Like you said, at the same the unicorn wines have reached stratospheric heights we're also lucky to be in an era where affordable great wines are everywhere.
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Re: One of the Best Pieces of Wine Writing I've Read in Years

#28 Post by Marshall Manning » July 9th, 2020, 9:20 am

Alan Rath wrote:
July 8th, 2020, 5:46 pm
I don’t have a comment in the article, but I would say chasing those special unicorns will often be a disappointment. I would say on that front, let them come to you. They will, over time, without you actively chasing them. And then, take pleasure from the myriad excellent wines that don’t cost an arm, leg, or first born. There are so many great wines that aren’t impossible to find or attain. Take it from someone who has dabbled in chasing some unicorns, that you can have a great life of wine drinking without those unicorns [cheers.gif]
Totally agree, Alan. There are so many excellent, quality producers that don't get a lot of hype or huge scores. As long as you're concerned about impressing your own palate and not trying to chase the top .5% then it's not difficult to drink well for under $50/bottle most of the time.
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Re: One of the Best Pieces of Wine Writing I've Read in Years

#29 Post by GregT » July 9th, 2020, 6:38 pm

But with the loss of smell, the temporary loss of the ability to sense wine altogether, and perhaps with it a job, I was reminded, sharply, that our culture does not teach us what is important outside of the practice of amassing wealth and fancy goods.
She was reminded that our culture is at fault. Our culture is sick. Our culture is all wrong.

Nothing to do with her. Nope. It's all the culture. See, she's NOT a product of that culture. She's independent and apart from it. That's why she has such insights.

Where the hell is this culture? Can I talk to him? Because I know it's a him and not a her since it's bad.

Yet one more tiresome piece complaining about the "culture" that gives her employment, a place to share her self-doubt, and the wonderful experience in someone's apartment. Those guys who are selling their collections are most likely not looking for any sympathy from her. Did any of them collect wine with their spouse, enjoying visits to vineyards and wineries and sharing their love for each other and for wine with all the people they knew? And are any of them now alone, having lost the person who meant most to them and no longer wanting something that meant so much to them in the past?

No. They're money-grubbing privileged types.

Sorry Sean. I couldn't stand the piece.
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Re: One of the Best Pieces of Wine Writing I've Read in Years

#30 Post by Sean S y d n e y » July 9th, 2020, 7:53 pm

GregT wrote:
July 9th, 2020, 6:38 pm

Sorry Sean. I couldn't stand the piece.
That's fair enough, but I think the thrust of the article WAS her questioning her role in the culture of fine-ish dining and the culture at large that commodifies wine to the nth degree and her uncomfortable feeling of perpetuating it in exchange for a role in said culture and the access it offered.
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