Friday, 28 February 2014

Do We Pay Too Much Attention to Wine Trends?

-By Andrew Slowe

One of the things that never ceased to garner my interest during my years of working in the 'on-trade' was trends. I was constantly fascinated by the speed and ferocity of some and the careful plod of others, and always enjoyed the progression and inevitable decline.

Now it's a far distant memory, and will more than likely become little more than legend, but there was a time when trends didn't develop overnight. It took time for the 'new' to filter down the social pyramid before becoming the next big thing. But times have changed (or progressed?) and now this careful drip-drip dissemination of information is expedited by the social media tidal wave we're all under. What took days and months now takes just hours if not minutes. So my question is are we giving these trends enough time to develop before we move onto the next big thing? Or do we set too much store by them?

Trends help people make informed decisions, granted. But careful marketing can make anything seem like the 'right' decision in a world that everyone thinks they know but mostly is too vast, diverse and subjective. If we consider some recent trends - fruit based cider, blush and over sweet rosé's, local craft beer and the fascination in provenance and locality, the domination of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay before that - each had it's own merits to a greater or lesser extent and had a greater or lesser impact on the consumers they targeted/ are targeting. They made what is largely an ignorant consumer seem knowledgeable, exciting, adventurous and cool.

But what do we as consumers know about the decisions we're happy to have made for us? What do we know about these ‘informed’ decisions? Fashion has dictated that regardless, you have to be seen in the right place, with the right people, enjoying the right product but surely the actual enjoyment comes... yes from the product, but also from the adventure, from the discovery, from the knowledge that you found something that you like that you want to explore further and share with people.

If we take the recent popular predilection for NZ Sauv Blanc, which has helped many people make a decision when scouring the local supermarket wine shelves. Sure, you largely know what you're going to be getting when you pick up a bottle of Oyster Bay or Waira Cove or Villa Maria. Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc has pretty much become a brand akin to Coca-Cola or a McDonalds. You've tasted it before and you know it will taste the same again. These wines are fresh and easy drinking with generally light citrus and herbaceous notes, not too much complexity and a pretty clean finish. Fine. That's what you wanted when you bought it but surely it doubles as a stepping stone? A gateway drug. An introduction into the world of Sauvignon Blanc-based wines. 

And there's a wealth of difference to be explored. The fantastic nuances to be had in different regions and the excitement of something that is so fundamental and yet so different. Why not try Sancerre with its steely minerality; Pouilly Fume from down the road with its classically flinty acidity and freshness; Sauvignon-Semillon blends bring stone fruit flavours and body to the mix and the possibility for some oak ageing; or Sauternes and Barsac where it contributes to some of the most famous and long-lived sweet wines. 

Then we have it’s supporting cast; Verdejo in Spain; Fallanghina from Italy (yes, an interesting Italian white wine!); or perhaps a Chablis from Burgundy which is as crisp and clean - and, dare I say it, Chardonnay-based, for those that weren't aware. 

This is the most exciting thing a trend has to offer - and this is one of the huge benefits this developing digital age has to offer - the go-ahead to try and explore something new that you might not otherwise have been introduced to. Not something to have a passing enjoyment of and to be disregarded at the first sign of the new 'What next?'. 

We have a wealth of information at our fingertips. We have the capacity to find so much more than we did 10 -15 years ago. Yet we are choosing less and less to make our own decisions; to investigate, leaving this instead to the advertisers and media outlets. 

With so many different products challenging for our attention is there time to make our own informed choices? We're happy to have certain decisions made for us because it saves us the energy of deciding for ourselves. The weight of information we are under day-to-day makes it necessary to filter. Taste has always been subjective, yet all of a sudden our tastes are dictated by what we're told we are meant to like. 

Is it more important for us to have as little information about as many things as possible without the opportunity for discovery? Have we left the excitement and the freedom of our own choices to others, for ease and convenience, and in order not to look different or stand out? Do we make drinking choices just to be seen to fit in? There is something very wrong if the answer to these questions is yes. I think it's time we started ignoring the familiar and the safe, and started picking a bottle precisely because we HAVEN'T heard of it.

Images, from top to bottom, taken from the photostreams of francois, Mary Hutchison and Roanish under the Creative Commons License

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