Morning Light - Wine & Spirits Magazine

Morning Light

Photo: Nico Shinco

Back in the 1970S, Woody Allen predicted a world of self-driving cars and orgasmatrons in his futuristic comedy, Sleeper. So far, we’re closing in on the self-driving cars. As for a machine that triggers a dopamine explosion in our brains, we’re not there yet (unless, perhaps, you count social media likes). These days, when I get emailed about a new Silicon Valley startup guaranteeing to hook me up with the perfect bottle of wine, I’ve taken to deleting it.

Yes, we spent the better part of a decade doing our due diligence, researching whether we should participate in such a scheme, or develop our own algorithm. Long ago, we determined it was a fool’s errand. When we considered what we treasure in wine, we realized what we get out of it has a lot to do with what we put into it. The pleasure can’t be separated from how we’ve trained our senses and our brain to process the information in what we taste. A lot of that pleasure comes from recognition—it’s why people take wine appreciation classes. An algorithm might be useful for people who don’t know much about wine; someone with more depth of knowledge, or simply more interest, would be unlikely to give up agency to a machine. We get a lot of pleasure in sharing wine, whether at our tasting panels, when we share our reactions to a wine, or in restaurants, when we share ideas with the person at the helm of the wine list, often finding wines we’ve never tasted before, and sharing a pretty satisfying dopamine rush from the process.

So, I was saddened to read Eric Asimov’s recent article in The New York Times, “The Twilight of the American Sommelier,” and particularly discouraged to read the comments. Sure, many restaurants are struggling to keep their teams together, and few can afford a dedicated sommelier in these post-pandemic times. But whatever they call themselves, we found plenty of brilliant wine buyers to interview for this Restaurant issue—100, in fact—all of whom I would be excited to meet at their restaurant table to chat about planning the meal ahead.

This old-school editor still cannot understand the vitriol commenters allow themselves online. Why is there so much anger directed toward restaurant wine buyers? Personally, I am pleased to know many of them, and not only appreciate the value they bring to my dining in their restaurants, but look forward to talking with them when I do. Perhaps people think it frivolous to care so much about what we ingest. Most of the sommeliers I know do care, enough that it gives them joy when they see their guests appreciating their selections. For my part, the joy I experience when sharing great wine has no corollary in a digital world.

For this issue, we asked Jordan Mackay to start a project following young sommeliers as they develop their new careers, post-pandemic, in restaurants. And we set out to speak personally with wine directors at the most creative dining rooms across the country. We wanted to know how they got there, what wines they themselves love, and what wines their guests are requesting. It’s a new approach to our restaurant coverage, and we’re excited with the results—an overview of what you can expect, and hope to find, when dining out in 2024.

Joshua Greene is the editor and publisher of Wine & Spirits magazine.

This story appears in the print issue of Spring 2024.
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