Whither the wine wanker
In having a gentle dig at US beer maven, food guy and legendary brewer Garret Oliver, Paul Colgan put his finger on what is the greatest obstacle to beer becoming anything other than a weapon of mass consumption for most Australians.
While it is OK – almost expected – for the urban sophisticate to have a touch of the wine tosser these days, if you show the slightest interest in what’s in your beer glass – or even ask for one when you order a beer – you are marking yourself as a twat of the worst order.
How things have changed. As a child in middle class suburbs of Brisbane in the 70s, I recall my parents going to parties where the dads all rocked up with a half carton of XXXX tallies and the wives with a four litre cask of Coolabah Moselle or Riesling.
I also remember one kaftan-wearing couple (hey, it was the 70s) who brought a bottle of wine instead of the regular cask. This pair of oenological and sartorial trendsetters showed some pride in knowing a bit about the wine as they theatrically uncorked it and described how they picked it up their recent tour through the Barossa.
While this singled them out for the odd behind-the-hand-whisper of “wanker” for having the audacity to show an informed interest in what they were drinking, it wasn’t too long before bottled wine and knowledge of it became de rigueur. Fortunately the kaftans didn’t.
Today, we all know a little bit about wine. We have a definite preference for wooded or unwooded chardonnay. At least we did before chardies got a bad name and SSB became the white of choice. We can debate the merits of Margaret River over McLaren Vale and have an extensive range of Riedel stemware to extract every last drop of flavour from our favourite tipple.
With this new-found depth of knowledge of all things fermented grape we can knowledgeably select a wine from an extensive list to both accompany our meal and avoid social ostracism for a bad selection…can’t we?
Not really. While wine is fashionable and prandial consumption expected, our affair with it very much a superficial one. The best selling wine in restaurants across Australia is still the one second from the bottom of the list. Diners confronted by an array of wines scan the list for something they know. If they don’t see it, many just opt for the second cheapest. Their motivation being they don’t want to be stigmatised by choosing the cheapest on the menu and they don’t want to pay too much in case they don’t like it. The second cheapest is simply the default choice.
The rise of what the Americans call ‘critter’ wines also bears this out. You may have noticed the prevalence of wines named after animals or displaying them proudly on the label. Someone discovered that this sells wine and the industry went for the ride. By 2006 ACNielsen was reporting that in the US animals appeared on the labels of 77 of the 438 table wine brands that had been launched with sustained sales in the previous 3 years. Sales of these gems topped $720m.
In highlighting the informed nature of wine buyers an ACNielsen spokesman said at the time, “while placing a critter on a label doesn’t guarantee success, it is important that wine makers realise that there is a segment of consumers who don’t want to have to take wine too seriously.”
“Not only are they willing to have fun with wine, they may just feel ‘good’ about an animal label presentation.”
Me, I just like the way the critter bottle looks next to my Riedel stemware.
Perhaps the ultimate expression of the fashionability of wine, even amongst the seemingly knowledgeable, is the sales hit inflicted upon one style with the uttering of a single line in a movie.
Merlot had been rapidly growing as the style of choice for many in the mid-noughties but in the States and then here sales plummeted when Sideways’ wine-snob Miles uttered his vine-destroying line, “If anyone orders merlot, I’m leaving. I am NOT drinking any f—king merlot!”
Merlot, already uncool with wine snobs for its increasing popularity, was suddenly uncool to anyone with social aspirations. Conversely Pinot sales bloomed after Miles waxed lyrical about it. Watch for Merlot to undergo the same comeback in years to come that Riesling has so recently made after years on the outer, victim of its success in the late 70s and early 80s.
Beer, of course, suffers its own pretensions. How else can you explain the success of Crown Lager in extracting an extra $20 from your wallet for a carton, if not for the distinctive bottle and gold foil that just screams, “Ladies, I’ve had a win at the races and I’ve got cash in my pocket.”
Still, just as wine needs its James Mays to bring the pretension down a notch, beer needs people like Garrett Oliver who, with their urbane enthusiasm for beer, can raise it beyond a post-lawn mowing refresher. And while Paul Colgan rightly advises you wouldn’t use this material in the front bar unless you enjoy a public humiliation, you don’t spit your wine out in a chef’s-hatted restaurant either.
You may not want to sniff and swirl your beer, but Garrett’s right. Assuming you want to actually taste what you’re drinking, always use a glass and be wary of anything that comes out of a tap with a thermometer showing a minus temperature on top. You can drink any yellow liquid when it’s that cold.
Now, here’s one for the weekend:
Crown Ambassador Reserve 2009 750ml 10.2% ABV $69.99
Just like wine buffs running lemming-like from anything that proves popular lest it tar them as unsophisticated, beer snobs are likely to steer clear of the new release under the Crown brand, the 2009 vintage Crown Ambassador Reserve. But they’d be wrong to do so. While the best thing about a regular Crownie is the bottle and gold foil, the latest
Crown Ambassador Reserve has substance as well as style.
Much darker than the regular Crown, the rich malt profile of this dark lager is complex and rewarding and nicely balanced by the use of fresh galaxy hops – seemingly the hop du jour for brewers at the moment.
While most mainstream press has been about its price tag, and it will sell well based on this and its looks and packaging, it deserves to be well regarded for what’s in the bottle. Even if the price is too much for you to spend on a beer for yourself, the packaging makes it the perfect gift for dad for Father’s Day…which I’m sure he will obligingly share with you. Unless he cellars it for the five years recommended by the brewer.
Read all about it
Up to the minute Twitter chatter
The latest and greatest
Good morning Punchers. After four years of excellent fun and great conversation, this is the final post…
I have had some close calls, one that involved what looked to me like an AK47 pointed my way, followed…
In a world in which there are still people who subscribe to the vile notion that certain victims of sexual…