Thursday Tasting 5-8pm
In an opinion piece in the New York Times last week titled “Ignore the Snobs, Drink the Cheap, Delicious Wine,” Bianca Bosker made a case for the industrialization of wine as an egalitarian alternative to the “latest in holier-than-thou drinking” trend of natural wine.
I am simultaneously sick of hearing statements like this, and deeply concerned about the truth they hold. We face very real issues of cliquishness, and trend chasing. The charge of snobbery is a sensitive topic because we work so hard to get past it. For lots of people, the very idea of buying wine at a Wine Shop rather than the grocery store elitist.
The central conflict in the piece is philosophical. Young people are trying wines made with passion and integrity, they’re pursuing careers in hospitality at restaurants and cafés that are concerned about the health of their suppliers and guests, they’re returning to the lands of their parents or grandparents and farming grapes organically. Suggesting that this is “holier-than-thou” dismisses any positive aspects to these acts, but it also touches on the power of intention. Does doing something idealistic simply because it’s fashionable negate the value? Is the zeitgeist simply a trend mill, or an organic development of cultural awareness?
Besides, what was the previous trend in “holier-than-thou-drinking”?
The discussion about food-ways easily falls into a binary trap. If we suggest that the small family-owned farm, growing organic produce to sell at the local farmer’s market is the ideal, then human nature is to imagine a greedy corporate monster behind closed board-room doors, drooling with lust for profit and nothing else. If we’re reasonable, the truth on both sides is more complicated – the organic farmer still must concern herself with paying the bills, and research into GMOs is motivated at least in part by solutions to world hunger.
That holds true with wine. Most wine producers, from one man operations to the most industrialized, will speak of their desire to offer something that the public will enjoy.
The suggestion is that we need to “turn wine into” an everyday beverage. Is the underlying assumption that wine tastes bad on its own? Or that wine is an acquired taste? Does the so called “broad appeal” of beer include the first furtive sips most of us had as children? Aren’t the major beer manufacturers quaking in their boots because they’re losing tiny percentage points of market share to craft beer?
This is a logical jump, isn’t it? Or at least an issue of the chicken or the egg? There’s a problem with our food system, the costs of making an honest beverage are too high, so we need to learn to “love the bomb” as they say.
My boyfriend describes me as an “aged-out hipster.” Maybe my visceral reaction to being a “target” betrays my age, I’m some sort of holdover p-rock kid who wants to view himself, and the people around him, as a human being rather than a consumer whose value is measured in buying potential. If it sounds anachronistic, I apologize. Yes, of course we need to sell wine to keep the doors open, but the inspiration comes from our community, not from analytics and algorithms.
One of the challenges we rise to here at Red & White here is between the spirit of conviviality that we believe in, and the nature of wine as an acquired taste. That first childhood sip of beer was repellent to many of us, yet those of us who enjoy beer persisted, maybe just to get a cheap buzz, but even then, because beer is presented as some “everyman” sort of drink.
If anything, in this day and age, and especially in a city like Chicago, the idea that beer is more accessible to the average Joe leaves gaping holes in this argument. You see it today, couples out to dinner or at your friendly neighborhood wine bar, she has a glass of wine, he orders a beer. How many of us have a friend who’s willing to wait in line to get a bottle or two of high alcohol, extremely hoppy, limited production, significantly priced beer? I doubt I’m the only one, and if anything, I love the fact that people geek out on beer like that.
I disagree strongly with the suggestion that industrial techniques are unique to less expensive wines. All the tricks available to the technician producing wine in a silo are familiar to the consulting winemaker responsible for a bottle of $500 Napa Cab, and utilized with the same fervor. Water, acid adjustments, reverse osmosis, the list goes on and on. To me, this is the real issue here – no one is really surprised that the cheap bottle of fruit juice blend they bought at the party store has a list of unknown ingredients, but when you spend $10 on a cold-pressed juice you expect something with more integrity.
The logic of concocting populist wines is circular. How can we really talk about “what tastes good” to the public within a narrative about market research and “calibrating palates”? Yes, wine is a drink of pleasure, but pleasure is extremely relative. The searing acidity of a mineral Muscadet is truly hedonistic to some, while there are plenty of drinkers who scratch their heads over a glass of syrupy wine that cost a pretty penny and was highly lauded by the press. There was a time not that long ago that “sweet wines, low in astringency” were exactly what the critics awarded big points to. A quick look at the trophied wine lists of some downtown steakhouses suggests that the times haven’t changed all that much.
If anything, the goal of many of the growers that we work with is make wines that are “low brow.” We have an inside joke here that you can tell a French natural wine by the label. It will have: at least three fonts, a Charlie Hebdo-esque cartoon on it, and will have a name that is a pun (usually a sexual innuendo). One of our favorite producers in the Loire, Thierry Puzelat, when asked in an interview what he likes to drink, replied “My favorite wines are the ones where the bottle is empty in less than 5 minutes.”
Yes, parallel trends exist in music, and the arts – but at Red & White we’re talking about wines that are the equivalents to House, Footwork, street art, super-8 filmaking, etc… What is being engineered for the “consumer” is Andrea Bocelli – a watered down idea of the “sophistication” of classical music, without any of the pesky work of having to think.
So, this week’s Thursday tasting is a bit of a metaphor. Two wines from the eastern Loire valley, from a grape called Côt, made to be drinkable, without the manipulation. These wines defy any sense of how wine (or a grape variety) is “supposed” to taste.
Jeremy Quastana Cot-lectif 2015 - $22
We’re not going to mention the better-known identity of Côt. Let’s just say it’s a grape variety that has been very popular over the last decade or so. Young Jeremy, who honed his craft in the cellars of Marcel Lapierre, Luis-Antoine Luyt, and Olivier Lemasson, shoots for optimal drinkability with this wine. Carbonic maceration, a la Lapiere, makes this wine lively and energetic.
Puzelat/Bonhomme In KO We Trust 2011 - $22
The previously mentioned Thierry Puzelat, alongside his protégé Pierre-Olivier Bonhomme (who has since taken full reins over this project), routinely make one of our house favorite renditions of Côt. The few years of added bottle age have brought this wine to a very good place – always tasty, now with a little something extra.
Come taste with us, and let us know what you think.
As always, if you can't make it to the tasting but would like to order one of the featured wines, please let us know by replying to this email or calling the store directly at 773-486-4769.