Wine: Is The Romance Gone?
The Quarterly Review of Wines said this week that it is ceasing publication after 35 years. I wasn’t a regular reader of QRW, but it seemed like a good magazine, and its demise is a loss both for consumers and for wine writers, who now have one less outlet available to them. Unfortunately, QRW’s publisher and owner, Richard Elia, chose to exit on a distinctly sour note. He announced the magazine’s closure with a bitter missive entitled “Wine’s Decline”, in which he said that the wine world has basically gone to pot thanks to marketing, scores, wine kitsch (aerators, redneck wine glasses, etc.), the Internet, and restaurant music (yes, restaurant music). “What initially attracted us to wine,” he wrote, “was the romance of it. Now this passion is spent…Wine became so commercially successful that romance was lost along the way.”
I don’t see much point in unpacking all of his claims. The article was clearly fired off in anger, and the anger is understandable: Elia’s magazine has folded, and that’s a tough blow. However, I do think his comments about lost romance are worth pondering. There is an element of truth to what he says. Wine has become a big business, and all the chatter about points and prices, about social media strategies and distribution channels, can be dispiriting. There is no denying that numerical ratings, marketing, and corporatization have taken some of the soul out of wine. They have surely taken the soul out of certain wines and wine regions (here’s looking at you, Bordeaux and Napa). If you want to focus on the negative, there is plenty to focus on.
But I hardly think the romance is gone from wine. Consider Burgundy; yes, the most sought-after wines are insanely expensive now, but it is still a place dominated by artisans and suffused with rustic charm. When you see the pickers clinging to the vertiginous hillsides of Germany’s Mosel Valley, working the same land the Romans worked, or listen to Jean-Louis Chave talking about his family’s 500-year winemaking tradition, how can you not be in love with wine and all that it represents? As it happens, I received a letter yesterday from Mauro Mascarello, thanking me for an article I’d written about a tasting of his Barolos. In the letter, Mascarello paid tribute to his late father Gepin, describing his tireless efforts on behalf of the estate, his commitment to quality, and the strong bonds he formed with area growers (“concluding deals with a simple handshake”). It is a wonderfully evocative, very moving note that I will keep and treasure—a reminder to me of what I adore about wine and the people who make it.
In his parting shot, Elia wrote, “We miss stories about winemakers, about their hard work and their purple hands.” Those stories are still out there, in abundance, and it doesn’t take a lot of effort to find them. I’m sorry that QRW has folded, and there is much to lament about the wine world these days. But is the romance lost? Not even close.