The Wine Industry: Old World Art, New World Commodity

By J. Dean Spence

I have studied wine at George Brown College, but I am, admittedly, no expert on the subject. I love wine, but was scared taking that course—I was spooked by all that talk about thousands of grape varietals, terrior, appellations, tannins, carbonic maceration etc.

Wine is intimidating.

But it shouldn’t be so. Although the wine industry has long marketed wine as a specialty product, the vast majority of wines are priced for convenience. And I’ve been told that up until the 1970s bad wine was common, but now wine making techniques have improved so much that it is very hard to find a truly bad bottle of wine.

Still, the wine industry is intimidating, often brazenly so. Consider, for instance, that wine insiders often call Old World wine art. How intimidating is that?

Consider also French Wine Laws. (What? The wine industry has its own laws???) Jayme Henderson in “How to Read a French Wine Label” points out that “Unlike wine labeling in the United States, labeling laws in France are incredibly strict, providing the consumer with a label packed of pertinent information.” The problem, as a Wine for Real People blog points out, is that “The wines are completely in French, the bottles look dramatic, and some cost a lot of money. It’s no wonder French wine is so intimidating!”

If you happen to understand the difference between an Appellation d’Origine Protégée designation and an Indication Geographique Protégée, even the pictures on the labels are not inviting. If…if French wine labels do have pictures on them, they are likely to be of a family crest or a chateau. (The wine labels of other wine producing countries can be friendlier. You might find a woman’s shoe on a bottle of California Chardonnay, and Australian wine labels are known for their critters.)

Perhaps the recent VQA “Tastes Untamed” ad campaign was an attempt to market Ontario wine as more accessible. The campaign, the VQA’s first, was bold, edgy, and adventurous. Clearly, as a Harmeet Singh points out in a blog, the ad was introducing Ontario wines as an alternative to Old World (French, Italian etc.) and New World (Australian, New Zealand, South African etc.) wines. And clearly the campaign was targeting millennials, as opposed to blue blood boomers.

I’m not as intimidated by wine as I once was. A little bit of education helped. One of the best lessons I learned is that good wine doesn’t have to be expensive. My wine instructor at George Brown College, a sommelier specializing in Japanese wine, told me that he rarely pays more than $45 for a bottle.

So don’t be afraid of making a mistake. If you find a wine that you think is good, don’t let anyone tell you any different. What tastes good to you may not taste good to me. But then again that goes for all things that we eat and drink. (What was it that David Hume said about taste?)

This is a lesson that the wine industry should teach us.

I also read somewhere that studies suggest for the vast majority of reasonably priced wines, taste is pretty much relative. Even so-called wine experts can be fooled in blind tests, favouring “cheap” bottles of wine over $100 bottles of wine. It’s the wines that cost thousands of dollars that everyone would agree tastes fantastic.

So if you tell a friend about a new bottle of wine and they turn up their nose when they discover that you paid $20 for it, humour them.

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