Last week, the 12-week-old website First We Feast stirred up Internet attention with a provocative post titled "20 Things Everyone Thinks About The Food World (But Nobody Will Say)."
Point #10 is "All wine mostly tastes the same." Here it is:
You might think I'm going to spend this post putting down this point, seeing as I write every week about wines that (should) taste as dramatically different as Madeira and Zinfandel. It is one of the five points out of 20* that I think is wrong.
* (For such strong positions, this is a good percentage. How many opinion columnists do you agree with 75% of the time?)
But it's not all that far wrong. Here's why:
Philip Howard of Michigan State University released this chart late last month on his website. I'm not bothered by it at all. For one thing, I count 32 different companies named, and that includes some like Palm Bay which import wines from small independent producers.
Then, look at that huge gray area for "Other Firms." Sure, Gallo and the Wine Group are powerful, but the combined power of small wineries is more impressive than we might fear. I'd like to see a similar chart for beer: you'd have two huuuuge blocks encompassing every beer in your local supermarket and that "other firms" square would be tiny.
But, that said, what if you do buy wine in the supermarket? I like looking at supermarket selections and asking myself the question, what if I was forced to buy and drink a bottle of wine here? Which bottle would I choose?
Usually it's hard. The supermarket will have 150 choices, and if I'm lucky I'll see two or three that I wouldn't mind spending the evening with. The problem isn't that the others taste foul; it's that -- well, I expect the First We Feast editors will be correct.
Mass-market Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah, Zinfandel: they'll taste fruity and a little sweet and have little tannin. Mass-market white wines will have a little more diversity: some will be buttery and oaky and sweet, and some will be not-oaky, not-buttery and less sweet. I might cut my losses with a white wine that tastes like wine and call it a shopping night.
All those single-vineyard German Rieslings and lean Loire reds and luscious Franciacorta Satens are going to a tiny percentage of us who are willing to shop somewhere other than the supermarket for wine. Sure, wine that doesn't taste like Red is out there. But how many people care? Eric Asimov told me recently that he doesn't understand why many people who cast a discerning eye on food don't do the same with wine. I can't explain it either, but it's true.
My only quibble with the First We Feast writers is the first word. If they wrote "Most Wine Mostly Tastes The Same," I'd have to agree.