Cheap wine, regional wine, and the typical wine consumer

Don-Quixote-Windmill

Maybe tilting at windmills is beginning to pay off for those of us who want wine to be more than scores and toasty and oaky.

Those of us who tilt at wine’s windmills — scores, snotty wine drinkers and critics, and the Catch-22 that is availability — sometimes wonder if anyone cares.

So when we find out that people do care, even the crankiest of us get big smiles. That was the case at the American Wine Society conference last month, where 500 or so of the 25 percent — the wine drinkers who consume 93 percent of all wine in the U.S. — were on hand for seminars, presentations, and the like. The people I met were open, curious, and interested in new approaches to wine — far from what I expected, given how all that tilting reinforces my natural cynicism.

What happened and what it means, after the jump:

I did a seminar about cheap wine at the conference, attended Michael Wangbickler’s landmark session on regional wine, and visited with a variety of consumers over a couple of days. In all of this, everyone seemed interested and accepting of ideas that aren’t part of wine’s accepted wisdom, be it cabernet sauvignon from Ohio or $10 white blends from Gascony.

I saw this during my seminar, where the questions were intelligent and the joy in finding something new was genuine. That a $10 sparkling wine, the Segura Viudas cava, could be so well made and tasty was something to note and to buy later, and not to denigrate because it wasn’t Champagne. The reception for the Charles & Charles rose made me practically giddy; one woman was furious that it was sold out and she would have to wait for the next vintage.

Yet, as impressive as that was, the regional wine seminar was even more so. I have been proselytizing for local wine for as long as I have been writing about wine, and have learned to expect two steps back for every step forward. Until now. For one thing, Mike’s presentation was brilliant, as good as any I have ever seen about the subject. He expalined what makes it unique and intriguing and fun, and with a minimum of jargon.

For another, the 90 people who attended the seminar wanted to take three steps forward, and there was no stepping back. I sat next to a youngish woman from Napa, believe it or not, and she was as enthusiastic about the wines as I was. I have rarely seen this kind of acceptance for regional wine, and certainly not from an audience as mainstream as this. It’s one more indication that regional wine is no longer a step-child, and that anyone who ignores it does so at their own peril.

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