Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Another fat bug lands in the wine writing echo chamber

Thank you, New York Post restaurant critic Steve Cuozzo. I don't have to defend your World War II-era point of view on wine lists, because 1) I don't agree with it, and 2) you're clearly fully capable of defending it yourself.

Cuozzo, who last week stirred up the wine world by saying he didn't want to drink Greek wine in Greek restaurants, was back at it this week with a much bigger broadside, opening by attacking the environmental movement. Which I happen to believe in.

So why am I thanking Steve Cuozzo, the man who dared to question the obsession with obscurity on contemporary wine lists, when every other wine writer in the US is figuring out a new way to attack him? When I like "funky stuff" in wine and he doesn't?

Because he fulfilled the primary missions of a columnist, especially one for the New York Post. He was provocative. He was interesting. He got a debate going in the wine world that is still raging.

Most of all, because he disagreed with the groupthink that rules the wine writing echo chamber.

Cuozzo's first column is a candidate for the most original point-of-view story about wine this year. I love the way New York Times wine critic Eric Asimov described it: "a fat bug in a glass of fine Irouléguy blanc." Yep, that's exactly the image: here we are, wine snobs drinking something most people have never heard of (quick, without looking it up -- what grapes go into Irouléguy?), and here comes this loudmouth from the New York Post upsetting our tiny biosphere.

Cuozzo doesn't speak for us, the wine writing community. He's a restaurant critic, not a wine writer. He speaks for, I suspect, a majority of diners -- probably not a majority of diners at the Brooklyn restaurant he wrote about, and possibly not a majority in my town, San Francisco. But nationally, I'll bet that if you showed 1000 non-wine writers Cuozzo's initial column, more than half would think he has a point.

Plus, he gave us something to talk about. What else we got, here in the echo chamber? Terroir? We're for it, though Americans love amorphous red blends from anywhere. Overripeness? We're against it, though high-alcohol wines sell just fine. Buttery Chardonnays? We hate them, though 20% of all wines sold in the US are Chardonnay.

The reason we argue about the 100-point scale every other week is because it's about the only topic on which the whole wine writing world doesn't agree. You'd think after a million words on that topic we would have exhausted it, yet any article about it bounces around the echo chamber like a super ball.

Groupthink has many left many wine writers not just distant from popular tastes, but without empathy for them. I got a comment from another wine blogger on my recent post asking for context on wine lists saying not just that he didn't agree with me, but, "I cannot understand the thinking in this post, or the one from the NY Post that began this whole issue." Yet Cuozzo's thinking (and mine) could hardly have been expressed more clearly.

People think differently outside the wine writing echo chamber. It's unlikely we're going to get them to change their mind through bluster and insults and condescension. If you want to educate, unless you are in a position of power over someone, you need empathy.

Thanks, Steve Cuozzo, for reminding -- and entertaining -- us. (Now please, try some Greek wine. Santorini wines are really great.)

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DeborahParkerWong said...

Blake Grey at his finest. Most refreshing!

Tom Riley said...

Without looking, Iroulegay red is tannat. No idea on the white. Anyway, excellent piece for the exact same reason you liked Cuozzo's -- it stirs the pot, it gets people thinking, it challenges. And, as you point out, sadly enough, the wine writing world could use more of that. Echo chamber, indeed!

McSnobbelier said...

Much more Rouge than Blanc produced in Iroulegay, but just like its neighbors the Mansengs win for whites.

I am often called a wine geek, was even called a McSnobbelier once in print. But I love this debate, find it refreshing and like your view. Some Wine Buyers hid in the cellar and don't interact with the customer so wonder why the Sommelier is not selling more Iroulegay Blanc. You and Steve are looking at this list debate from the diners view, not the wine geeks. Nice. Shouldn't the goal be to move people away from corporate wine brands and into land brands like Iroulegay or maybe something a bit more familiar like Chablis rather than offend them for their stupidity?