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Asking the Big (and Not-So-Big) Questions
Does cider have a fall dilemma? Is yeast info on labels wine’s next great debate? What's it like to live in a dry town? And other thoughts from on the road.
I’ve been on the road in Italy for the past week or so, mostly in Piedmont and the Veneto. Between an international cheese festival, tasting a few hundred wines, and visiting beautiful vineyards, it’s been a busy, packed trip. (Yes, I know, I know. Don’t cry for me. I do it all for you, dear reader). Along with the usual travel adventures, look for reports on lesser-known Piemontese wines, from grapes such as timorasso, erbaluce, and grignolino, as well as pieces on the rise of top Soave Classico and on what I learned at the cheese festival. Stay tuned.
While I’ve met a lot of great people on the road—South American cheesemakers, Lithuanian tennis pros, Israeli food personalities, Spanish political journalists—traveling solo inevitably gives me a lot of time alone with my thoughts. As always, there are more questions than answers.
In the first month or so that I’ve been writing my weekly column for Wine Enthusiast, I’ve also been asking some nagging questions, big and small. Is the wine industry having an existential crisis? Is yeast labeling the next big debate in wine? Does cider have a fall problem? Does garnishing a cocktail make you a terrible person?
Below are five questions I’ve recently grappled with, along with links to the full articles.
When you think of cider, what comes to mind? Autumn, likely. Perhaps leaves turning beautiful colors, flannel shirts, pumpkin patches and Thanksgiving dinner pairings. This is all to say: For many people, cider conjures the same seasonal scenes as pumpkin spice lattes and cable-knit sweaters. It’s certainly a positive association. After all, who doesn’t love fall coziness? But it’s also a problem—one that limits cider’s potential popularity and relegates it to a seasonal niche.
Do you still garnish your cocktails? Oh, really? You still use citrus peels and cucumber slices and hulled strawberries? For real? Haven’t you heard how wasteful that is? That lime wedge in your gin and tonic may signal that you’re a terrible person who doesn’t care about the environment. At least, that is, according to people within the anti-garnish movement. Yes, apparently, there is a growing garnish backlash within cocktail circles. Read all about how “no garnish” could be the new paper straw.
It always surprises people when I tell them I live in a town that prohibits the sale of alcoholic beverages. A drinks writer who lives in a dry town! The irony!…We generally talk about Prohibition as a thing of the past, something that ended on Repeal Day in 1933. But anyone who deals with the problems of America’s drinks industry—from the archaic patchwork of existing laws to the inability of domestic wineries to ship direct to consumers in many states to the woeful three-tiered system controlled by mafia-like distributors—knows that the legacy of Prohibition simmers just below the surface.
Wine is full of nerdy topics, but none might be nerdier than yeast. When winery tours get to the yeast portion, that’s when normal people likely begin to wonder if they’ll ever get to finally taste some wine. “And, of course, all of our wine is spontaneously fermented with wild yeast…,” the winemaker might say, as eyes glaze over. It turns out that yeast, while essential to fermentation, is deeply unsexy to talk about. However, I’m here to suggest that we should be talking more about yeast. Maybe even a lot more. At the very least, we should talk about what type of yeast is used by wineries during the fermentation process.
I’m not the only one who feels this way. In July, a French lawmaker introduced a bill in the nation’s Legislative Assembly that would require winemakers to label whether or not a wine is made with commercial yeast. According to the French wine news site Vitisphere, MP Richard Ramos from the center-right Mouvement Démocrate party suggests in the bill that wine has “very little information is on the label” and that while “many French people consume wine daily, the vast majority of them are unaware of its composition.”
All of this dovetails with the latest Gallup poll on American drinking habits, released in mid-August, which found that wine was Americans’ least preferred alcoholic beverage at 29%, trailing beer (37%) and spirits (31%). Of course, the decline of wine drinking is not just an American issue: In June, the European Commission estimated that wine consumption will fall by 7% in Italy, 10% in Spain, 15% in France, 22% in Germany and 34% in Portugal.
Let’s not beat around the bush, folks. Worldwide, the wine industry is not in a good place. But what explains all this bad news? The easy answer is to blame it on young people.