One Cheer For The Great Recession?
In the introduction to his book A Hedonist in the Cellar, Jay McInerney offered the following observation: “In Europe, where wine has been a part of daily life for thousands of years, American oenophiles are sometimes viewed as monomaniacs—zealous and somewhat narrow-minded converts to a generous and pantheistic faith. American wine lovers need to broaden their vision and relax: to see wine as just another aspect of the well-lived life.” Those words were published in 2006, and while I think McInerney was wrong in one respect—American oenophiles have long been among the most open-minded wine drinkers on the planet—his larger claim was absolutely correct: at that time, there was a certain zealotry among American grape nuts. You could see it very clearly in the relentless point-chasing and trophy-hunting of the early- and mid-2000s. However, there seems to be a lot less of that stuff nowadays, and people also appear to be consuming a much wider selection of wines than they did even just five years ago. Economic factors have unquestionably played a major role in bringing about these changes, which raises an interesting question: Has the Great Recession produced a healthier wine culture in America?
Pollyanna types often note that good things grow out of hard times, and although I’m generally inclined to believe that it’s always darkest just before it goes pitch black, it does look as if the grim economy has had some positive effects in the realm of wine appreciation—that it has moved us towards that broader vision and more relaxed attitude that McInerney wished to see. I know that I often cite wine discussion boards here, but I think they are a good barometer of the mood among wine geeks, and I’ve noticed some significant shifts in behavior and attitude since 2008. People seem much less fixated on ratings, for instance, and on scoring highly acclaimed wines. Where it used to be that getting onto mailing lists was a big deal, discussion board denizens now seem to take pride in dropping off of them. Back in the pre-crash days, people didn’t hesitate to post accounts of blowout dinners at which numerous rarities would be uncorked. You don’t see many posts like that now. Ostentatious consumption is out, value is in, and oenophiles are finding tasting pleasures far beyond Bordeaux and Napa.
Maybe the habits of yesteryear are just in hibernation and will return once the good times return, but I’m not so sure. The Great Recession is undoubtedly going to leave some lasting scars, and I suspect that the changes we’ve seen within the wine geek community since 2008 will prove to be lasting, too. Wine is not a trophy, and the days of treating it as one are probably over, at least on these shores. It seems to me that our economic woes have yielded a healthier attitude—dare I say a more European attitude—about wine. The obsessive-compulsive exuberance that McInerney lamented back in 2006 has given way to a more laid-back and ecumenical wine culture, and that’s a very good thing, in my opinion.
What say you? Has the sour economy led us to a sweeter spot as wine appreciation goes? Has your attitude about wine changed as a result of the prolonged economic downturn, and have you noticed a change in outlook among fellow wine buffs? Is it one cheer for the Great Recession? I’d love to get your take on this topic.