Required reading: Dr. V’s Wine Politics

What I like even more than the title of Tyler Colman aka Dr. Vino’s Wine Politics (UC Press) is what the binomial title implies: “wine is politics” and “wine is — by its nature — political.”

In North America, where we consider wine a “luxury product,” we are apt to forget the historically political significance of wine and the wine trade. Over at Divino Scrivere, one of my favorite Italian wine blogs, the authors recently reminded their readers that “il vino è politico” in an eloquent post on one of the world’s most poetically engagé winemakers, Bartolo Mascarello, whose “No Barrique, No Berlusconi” labels continue to inspire the enlightened among us.

The leader of the first generation of critical theory Theodor W. Adorno wrote famously that “under the aegis of cultural industry… art and ideology are becoming one and the same thing.” In reading Dr. V’s book, I couldn’t help but think of Adorno and make an analogy to the contemporary world of wine, driven by a new “cultural industry.”

Few winemakers are as overtly political as B. Mascarello, but today more than ever, the act of winemaking and the act of wine writing are inherently ideological and therefore political. More than ever before in the history of humankind, the acts of vinification and vinography are intrinsically ideological and political expressions, whether it’s the Gallo family concocting wines for the “misery market” or Mr. Bob “the difference with me is the impact is worldwide” Parker dictating which French winemakers will be able to sell their wines this year. (Oops, sawwy Mark Squires!)

From his account of the 1960s “‘magic chef’ who could transform bad grapes into good wine” (p. 69) to his excellent Keynesian approach to the hegemony of American wine writers, Dr. V provides meticulous historical background and astute insight into the powers that drive wine trends and sales in our country:

    “As John Maynard Keynes noted in his General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money, to try to predict the winner of a lineup of one hundred contestants in a beauty contest, the best tactic is to ‘favor an average definition of beauty rather than a personal one.’ Reviews by a powerful critic can organize the wine market into good, better and best, and prices will follow suit. But they may also steer consumers away from wines they might otherwise prefer.” (pp. 118-19)

Europeans are acutely aware of the political nature of wine: just last week, one Italian politician compared himself to a politically charged wine, Brunello, while another snubbed a famous Italian wine with historically political connotations, Lambrusco. Unfortunately, American wine lovers have remained in the political dark and know little about why they drink and even prefer the wines the find in their wine stores and supermarkets. I applaud Dr. V for this excellent scholarly work, sure to become “required reading” in any serious wine education program.

In other news…

Do Bianchi did not publish a review of Alice Feiring’s new book simply because my friendship with Alice precludes me writing an entirely unbiased assessment but I cannot recommend it more highly. Do check out Leonardo Lopate’s recent interview with Alice: I really liked the definition of “natural wine.”

In other other news…

Check out this 1970s Gallo ad for “Blush Chablis”: “It’s what happens when a white wine decides to blush.”