Today’s op-ed is by Thomas Moësse (below), Houston-based sommelier and wine director at Divino, where he runs one of the top Italian-focused wine lists in the state.
Recently, I read Alfonso Cevola’s blog post “The Endangered Wine List in the New Millennium” and spat out my morning tablet of Adderall.
[Editor’s note: in his post, Cevola writes that he doesn’t want “to be dazzled (or blinded) by the wizardry of young somms on the Adderall of ambition.”]
I hold Alfonso in the highest esteem and value his perspective on the constantly shifting and ever-exciting terrain of Italian Wine.
However, in this post Mr. Cevola voiced a series of complaints about the state of the wine list in our market and not without a telltale note of salinity.
He appears to draw a line in the sand. This line seems to exist ideologically between classics and upstarts and sociologically between industry veterans and young wine buyers (referred to as “the Instagram generation”). Mr. Cevola purports to be on the side of the consumer. But I feel differently.
First he mentions a lack of recognizable (“revered” and “essential”) selections on these wine lists. If buyers are foregoing the classics on their lists, maybe it is because they are advocates for their guest first and foremost — both are being left behind by exponential pricing increases and the corresponding unattainability of those vins de garde.
Furthermore, I can speak personally to a trend that I have seen among consumers of wine in restaurants like ours.
Long gone are the comments like “what kind of Italian restaurant doesn’t have Tignanello?” More commonly we encounter questions like “what will go best with our food?” Today’s consumer is not scanning a wine list for producers they recognize so much as they want some help with a discovery. Our job as wine service professionals is part curation and consultation. We ask questions first. We pair the wine with the guest and we form a relationship of trust.
If compiling a selection of essential wines is our only purpose, then why do we work so hard? Why do we travel to wine fairs, visit wineries with eight hectares of singular beauty to better communicate our passion? Is our passion relevant at all? If it’s as easy as he suggests, then maybe Mr. Cevola could write our lists for us (a service that his employer Southern-Glazer’s is more than willing to perform).
Simply put, we are living in the golden era of wine. More growers are producing great wine rather than merely selling their grapes. Their approach is a custodial one. The reverence for vineyard and the avoidance of manipulation constitute a revolution in how we think about wine. These are not just trends, and dwindling are the days of unscrupulous, large-production wines merely sold by the caché of their label.
It takes work to assess the bounty of wines available to us through large distributors and small direct import companies as well as an obligation to our guests to do that research, trust our instincts (not Instagram) and choose vibrant, sound wines for every imaginable consumer that might walk through our door.
That work is fueled by passion, not Adderall.