Hello, World!

Why should you read this blog?  More to the point, why should I write it?  From what I’ve seen of the blogosphere, more people should ask those questions and demand hard answers of themselves and others – which is one of the negative reasons I’m writing this blog.  This will not be another collection of what-I-drank-last-night snippets, nor will it tell you the best wine to seduce/dump/make up with your current flame.

My positive reason is that this blog will be the wine column I’ve always wanted, a place where I can talk about the wines and winemakers who really interest me, as opposed to the wines and winemakers that an editor thinks will sell more copies of the magazine or appeal to the already established preferences of its readers. 

I’ve loved wine and been writing about it for decades now, and I’ve spent my adult life – the part that paid the bills, which wine writing rarely does — in education.   I think the two primary purposes of any kind of writing are to entertain and to instruct (old-fashioned idea, isn’t it?) – and that means, in wine terms, letting your readers know about wines and regions and producers they may never have heard of as well as giving them more information about the ones they already like. 

For real wine people, the recondite and the familiar are equal fun, so I plan to include columns on wines that are probably going to be ho-hum for connoisseurs, but may well be news for wine beginners.  And I will certainly do some columns that will intrigue the deep-dyed winos but bore the pants off beginners.  That’s life, and wine is nothing if not the stuff of life.

Some readers of this post may already know some of my wine writings; most, I suspect, will not, so a little up-front true confession is in order.  I’m a geezer: I learned wine, from a starting point of total ignorance, back in the days before it was a common drink, back when wine was largely French, back when you just couldn’t find any wine outside of major metropolitan areas, back when it was thought a little odd, a bit of an affectation, to drink wine.  So I’ve lived through and learned from the major shift in American attitudes toward wine and, even more important, I’ve witnessed the most fundamental changes in winemaking since some smart Greek discovered you get better grapes if you make the vine grow up a post, about 3000 years ago.

I’ve been lucky enough to taste a lot of wines (many I couldn’t, and still can’t, afford to buy — alas).  And I continue tasting a lot: every year brings a new vintage all around the world, and that means a lot of wine to learn anew every year.  It helps to have a long perspective for that, so that each new wine isn’t a total novelty.  In recent years, I’ve been a member of tasting panels for important wine publications.  I’m usually the oldest person present, by several centuries, and most of my fellow tasters work as sommelier(e)s and wine managers for often-quite-prestigious restaurants.  They are usually in their thirties, with a few in their twenties and fewer in their forties.  The experience has made me very wary about ordering wine in restaurants, and in fact ranks among the things that moved me to start this blog.

Here’s an example, from a few years back.  The group was blind-tasting Barolo, and the wine we were just presented with was a lovely pale strawberry color, with a light, fruity, almost-strawberry aroma.  In the mouth, it lived up to the expectations that sight and smell created: light-bodied, fresh, mildly berry-ish – quite delightful and refreshing.  A wonderful wine, if it had been a Grignolino or Freisa or even a Beaujolais – but it was supposed to be Barolo, which is a whole different animal.  To my surprise, the young sommelier(e)s loved it, extravagantly, and talked about nothing but its fruit.  When I pointed out that it failed to live up to the basic standards of its breed – that it was, in effect, a Pekinese passing itself off as a Great Dane – they looked at me with incomprehension, as if I was speaking a foreign language.  So, I said to myself, maybe I shouldn’t order Barolo in a restaurant.

Much more recently, I had a parallel experience.  This time the wine in question turned out to be (we found out afterwards) a very expensive, single-vineyard bottling from a very prestigious producer.  But in the blind tasting, what came through wasn’t the grape variety or the vineyard, but the hand of the winemaker: this was a wine that had been given the full, high-tech cellar treatment, and as a consequence tasted neither of fruit nor soil but of toasted oak and oak sweetness.  It was very sleek, very modern, very international-consumer-friendly, but, given the producer’s willingness to pay for all that expensive oak and cellar equipment, it could have been made anywhere, from any grapes – in effect, top-dollar Coca Cola, and not a wine I would spend a dime on. 

Again, the young sommelier(e)s loved it and praised what they called fruit sweetness that was in fact oak sweetness  This time, when I spoke of the standards of the breed, they looked embarrassed and didn’t meet my eyes, as if I had just wet myself in public.  Afterwards, when they found out the suggested retail price of the wine (over $200), some insisted even more emphatically that it had to be a good wine.  This time I said to myself, maybe I shouldn’t drink wine in restaurants at all.  

In wine, the axiom should probably be, don’t trust anyone under sixty.

8 Responses to “Hello, World!”

  1. jessie Says:

    I love good wine! Hooray for your blog.

  2. Tom Maresca Says:

    Emmanuela, Aileen, Tom, Tyler, Jonathan:

    Thank you all for your good words and advice, which I will try to take advantage of as soon as I can figure out how to manage this site. I want to disappear a few things, make your and these comments more accessible, and post links, Tom and Tyler, to your sites. I’ll have to ask your patience with all this: I’m a lot more comfortable with wine than I am with technology — which, if I had to choose, is exactly as I would have it.

    Thanks again. Tom

  3. Jonathan L Says:

    Tom, well done and congratulations. I enjoyed it and agree with what you said. Keep up the good work.

    Jonathan Levine

  4. Aileen Says:

    A response to Tyler: yes, I certainly believe that Tom’s tongue was planted firmly in cheek, but it is valuable to hear, and I welcome, your pt. of view! (See what you’ve let yourself in for, Tom?) And I would like to modify my original exasperated comment regarding the usual level of blogger writing style: without question, you (Dr Vino) are another one of the few truly intelligent, interesting, provocative (with cause) wine bloggers afoot. Perhaps I could be accused of being an educational elitist, since (being one myself) I am partial to Ph.D.s? I look forward to seeing a debate between you & Tom!

  5. Dr. Vino Says:

    Congratulations on getting off the ground, Tom. In terms of layout, you might want to try some other templates (aka “themes”) and delete or adjust some of the default settings. Have fun frittering away the hours tweaking your layout!

    As to the substance of the post, I think it is well written and contributes to the debate. I look forward to your future posts.

    In case you missed them, there have been some incendiary moments this year in the world of wine blogging in which people over 60 have lashed out at younger writers writ large, calling them, among other things, “blobbers” and “carping gadflies.”

    I assume you have your tongue firmly planted in cheek with the last line and that simply because someone is under 60 means that he like gobs of fruit or can’t pick a classical vs a traditional vs a bad Barolo. But others may think you are being ageist! So you might want to clarify here in the comments. Or, a future posting!

    Best,

    Tyler

  6. tom hyland Says:

    Tom:

    As a friend and colleague for the past seven years, I have to admit to being a bit surprised when I learned that you were beginning your own blog.

    But now that I’ve read the first post (am I am honored to be the one to make the first comment!), I congratulate you for your usual wisdom and wit. This is cleverly written and you get to your points without any frill or window dressing. Honesty and clarity are always the best paths!

    As for not tasting wine in restaurants, it is sadly true that too many of today’s young sommeliers think passion can substitute for knowledge, which of course, comes from experience. Whether it’s wine or just about any other topic, we can all learn quite a bit from listening to those who have carried the torch.

  7. Aileen Says:

    Never thought I’d live long enough to read an intelligent, insightful, well written blog. I thought that any of those adjectives, when paired with “blog”, would be a contradiction in terms. So thank you, Tom, for proving me wrong, and within my own lifetime. Obviously a career in education didn’t hurt, but I fear that the art and science of communicating on paper (or on screen) is a dying one, so I fervently hope that the clarity, wit and depth of your writing serve as an inspiring example to other bloggers.

    I found your examples of the blind-tastings to be bone chilling, and although I LOL’d at the analogy of the Pekinese passing itself off as a Great Dane, it is basically horrifying to think what the new crop of Sommeliers favor. It will certainly make me pause before ordering wine in a restaurant. Vive le BYO?

    BTW: since you probably missed the Wine Bloggers’ Conference in Napa this July, you can still sign on for the European Wine Bloggers’ Conference, which is taking place in Lisbon, Oct 30- Nov 2nd. A great opportunity to do infinite pairings with bacalhau!

    In conclusion, it’s about damn time that you had your own wine column, and I will read it religiously.

  8. Emanuela Stucchi Prinetti Says:

    Congratulations Tom, I will be very happy to follow you
    Emanuela

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