Wineducation: Changing styles

How are styles changing?

Style sits still for no-one. Wine equally as cloth as hairstyles as hobbies.

What we are noticing is that the desire to drink traditionally popular lighter coloured, drier red wine is becoming less an automatic choice for people. I think this marries to the fact that more people are drinking more wine more regularly (and maybe even more importantly), on its own, without considering its interaction with or matching it to food: Its natural sibling.

This is one of the most significant outcomes of the drive towards globalisation that the world of wine production, wine marketing and wine consumption has heralded in the last century and has been increasing dramatically for the last 40 years.

pairing evolved symbiotically

Originally, food and wine partnerships were the direct result of a simple, yet evolutionary drive to make gastronomic perfections from local grapes and local cuisine; local delicacies and wines evolved together, symbiotically.

These partnerships (and, of course, fierce local competitiveness) are what drove the development of regional styles, with local customs as well as local cooking, having a profound influence on what vintners produced.

Through all this came rules and regulations, meant as safeguards once specific identities had evolved and sharpened into distinct styles that were considered to be worth striving for.

In the modern world this is not quite the same story.

Globalisation, trade, migrations, conquests: all have played their part in disengaging the locality driver of the food/wine relationship; the links are now so tenuous that we drink wine and eat foods together which may never have been considered suitable to be matched.

But that’s just one part of the story. Alongside the evolving food/wine deal there was also an explosion in public wine drinking in a form that had been previously been the preserve of beer and spirits in alehouses, bierkellers, bars and pubs.

the wine bar cometh

Into this niche fell the newly arrived South American and Australian easy drinking, fruit-forward (sweeter) wine styles, hitherto unknown in Europe, except in a few locales . When wine bars appeared in the late 70’s and early 80’s their success was sealed. It was easier to drink these styles of wines (that were not necessarily designed to go with food) in those bars.

Those new world countries, new to the international scene and wanting to make an impact, wanted market share and due to the low labour and land costs, made relatively low cost (and therefore cheap to buy) wines. Bars demanded them.

The ‘new drinker’s were only really ever directed to those wines because of the economics of the on-trade and a new symbiotic pact was formed between neuveau-vin consumers and neuveau vin.

the new world comes on tap

Many UK born 40 to 50-somethings today, whose parents didn’t have wine, were only ever fed New World wines during their formative years, even though they lived right next to the old world. Supermarkets and corner shops, delis and restaurants echoed the trend because that’s where the value, the easy access and the easier money came from: It still does.

The popular(ist) flavour profile for the newer styles was: higher alcohol and fruit with fewer tannins, and it remains largely intact. New drinkers who coincided this with style from the 70’s onwards have generally kept on buying that style. Older, traditional styles have waned somewhat, often forced to adopt new methods of production or tweak the methodology to acquiesce to a changing market.

europe bleeds; the new world swoons

Simultaneously, massive global growth in wine sales in the 80’s and 90’s led to some of the more traditional styles taking on a mythological or legendary status because of their positively viewed heritage contrary to the tide. But the vast majority of wine sales are in the newer, easier, softer styles that are made ready to drink sooner (and sweeter).

New styles are here to stay. Love them or loathe them. One cannot argue that folks everywhere are all driven by the same or similar tendencies for economy, a good price and a safe bet and an assured nowness.

This is what has happened: is happening now. Demand leading supply. As it should be, perhaps.

Globalist branding and homogenised styling is a mere mirror of who we are as a species, our creation; by us: for us. Its a democratic reality and a very powerful one too. Variety will reduce, it already has, ultimately to a narrow band of the former glories of diversification, despite the passions of boutique producers and independent minded mavericks.

What is the future? That’s the $64,000 question. But I think there’s no reason for it to reverse. That genie is out of the bottle.


March 2012

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