bare essentials - Wine & Spirits Magazine

bare essentials

Richard Mayson was in New York this spring to attend an epic Madeira tasting. The author of several books on Portuguese wines, Mayson now owns a vineyard in Portalegre. He joined me for lunch at The NoMad, which I had suggested for the depth of its Finger Lakes wine selection. As it turns out, Mayson had never tasted a wine from the region before, so we sampled three from Hermann J. Wiemer: a blanc de blancs sparkler made in partnership with NoMad sommelier Thomas Pastuszak and Dustin Wilson, MS, of Eleven Madison Park, and two rieslings, the Dry and the Late Harvest.

When I mentioned to Mayson that local wines had only recently gained traction in NYC, our conversation turned to the mysteries of the market, and the fact that, though he makes several wines, his importer had chosen to buy only one, an accidental blend of local varieties bottled unoaked. So I told him about a recent talk by John Gillespie of the Wine Market Council, an industry-funded group that researches market trends. Gillespie had presented a chart that compared the buying habits of Baby Boomers with those of Millennials, a generation whose youngest members turn 21 this year. While both groups bought significant amounts of French and Italian wines, they diverged when it came to countries like Portugal and Greece, largely ignored by Boomers and widely purchased by Millennials. The researchers attributed this to the younger generation’s interest in diversity of choice, but I wondered if it were more nuanced than that.

Our executive editor, Tara Q. Thomas, has spent the better part of her career singing the praises of Greece’s vines and vineyards, as I have for Portugal. At times, it has felt more like a Pythonesque Gregorian chant, with the requisite self-inflicted thwack to the head after each stanza. Both countries have proud histories closely tied to their wine; and both countries have sustained their patrimony of diverse vines, even as the world market insisted on varieties from Burgundy and Bordeaux, as popularized by their New World counterparts. Some might see this stubborn clinging to the past in Greece and Portugal as yet one more symptom of their contemporary economic plight.

Perhaps Millennials see it as an opportunity, a chance to drink something authentic at a price they can afford. The Wine Market Council did not report on whether Millennials’ craving for diversity of choice was divorced from their fascination with authenticity, a word that has been co-opted by marketers for products ranging from jeans to vodka. As a young adult at the tail end of the baby boom, I came of age at a time when wines from legendary vineyards in Burgundy and Bordeaux were well within reach. Were I to have come of age today, it only seems reasonable that I would look to broaden my options, seeking out the greatest pleasure at the most affordable cost. Why would I want to settle for a copy of a great wine, especially if I had never tasted the great wine in the first place? Why wouldn’t I seek out wines that were delicious on their own terms?

For years, winemakers in Europe, Chile and Australia told me they oaked their wines because that’s what their importers in the US wanted. It appears that some of the new generation of wine drinkers, and the importers who serve them, are less interested in the haute couture of French wine style and more concerned with taste.

photo by Kelly Puelio

This story appears in the print issue of June 2015.
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