One of the wine pleasures of living in Oregon is the weekly wine column in The Oregonian by the excellent wine writer Matt Kramer. Matt is constantly championing wine by small, terroir-driven producers who have little clout in the market, but make wines that are wonderful to drink and great values besides. Inexplicably, Matt also works for The Wine Spectator, which of course promotes exactly the opposite style of wine as the champion of the big, power-marketing side of the wine business.
In a recent column in The Oregonian, Matt points out an amazing statistic, that is that red wine consumption has overtaken white as the national wine drink. Matt cites Nielsen statistics putting red wine sales at 52.9 % of all wine sales in the first 16 weeks of this year. This is amazing because not so many years ago this was the land of chablis and brie.
This is a big problem for winemakers and helps explain the state of red wine in America today. The fact of the matter is that most wine consumption in America, unlike Europe, is not as a part of a meal, but as a cocktail. A quick visual survey of any popular upscale restaurant will confirm this. First of all most consumers don’t have any wine with their lunch, so that meal is out. Then stop by the bar after work and you’ll see glass after glass of red wine, grasped by the bowl like a beer, being gulped without a bite of food in sight. American’s drink a lot, if not most, wine as a cocktail and that means that big brand winemakers don’t make their wines to taste good with any food beyond bar food. It means they make it to taste good by itself. It means wines that are fruity, a little sweet and most of all not complex. Complexity is a confusing distraction to bar conversation and must be avoided.
Because red wine has become a cocktail instead of compliment to a meal in America, you will be hard pressed to find many inexpensive red wines produced here worth drinking. They are all bland, sweet and indistinguishable from each other with variety being irrelevant. The same goes for most reds from Australia. For good red wine values you must look to Europe, where they still make wine to go with food.
In just a few years we’ve gone from the land of chablis and brie to the land of merlot and wings. That’s progress?