On the day Margaret Thatcher was being buried with full military honours, I was at an event organised by the Wines of Argentina to mark World Malbec Day. It had been organised long in advance and the timing was neither opportune nor inopportune-—though much commented on.
It was promoted as a cambalache, or market, and created a cultural surround in which to understand Argentinian wines, including lessons on tango and street slang, the drinking of mate (think of a very bitter tea), along with street food, street art and a band. I participated in this extravaganza, in collaboration with Charles Spence of Oxford University, to demonstrate the effect music can have on how the flavour of wine is perceived. Reputable research has shown that the best music to accompany sauvignon blanc is Nouvelle Vague’s rendition of Just can’t get enough—we set out to find the equivalent for the wines for Argentina.
What interested me most was this new way of introducing people to wines. Gone were the authoritative tastings led by experts who seem to know more about the wines than the tasters—the potential buyers—could ever know. Instead, there was sampling of wines with the winemakers while wandering through the cambalache picking up the atmosphere of the country.
Wine needs a back story. With abundant choice on every supermarket shelf, how do producers incline drinkers to the wines of one country rather than another? Countries like France and Italy have long historical lead-time in attracting devotees. But what of the newcomers?
Across the world winemaking skills have improved, knowledge-sharing is extensive and there are more notable wines at affordable prices. So a prime way to make wines more significant is to provide more by way of background; a story, more information, something to associate with the liquid in the glass. This is often attempted on the back label but with limited success. Industrial scale wineries may try to fake the backstory through expensive adverts showing “members of the family”—usually the owner and related board members—strolling through a sunny vineyard examining soft focus grapes. These lazy attempts to bring something meaningful to each sip add no value.
What will add value is a genuine and traceable connection between the place where the wine comes from and what you’re now imbibing. Being in the vineyards, talking to the winemakers, can add a lot to the pleasure you take from the end product.…