I’ve recently noticed a disturbing trend. I suppose it’s been prevalent for a while, and I may be overreacting, but I perceive the oncoming demise of subtlety.
Motion pictures are usually a good barometer of our times. Remember the great Hitchcock thrillers, such as “Shadow of a Doubt,” “Notorious” or, towards the end of his career, “Frenzy”? Violence was rarely portrayed on the screen (other than those few wild seconds in the shower in “Psycho.”) Evil was always hinted at, alluded to, veiled just thinly enough as to allow the viewer some time to think.
Many of today’s films feature one violent scene after another, numbing the audience with a brutal redundancy. This anvil-like approach appears to have permeated our very lives. Private telephone calls that used to be held in private are now brazenly aired in public for all to hear, and the well-to-do move about town in expensive small trucks, instead of the classy, low-slung sports cars of years gone by. I realize it’s a matter of taste, but I can’t help feeling that elegance has been replaced by sheer bulk.
The world of wine, where I ply my trade, seems particularly hard hit by this phenomenon. Sleek, medium-bodied, food-friendly reds are being passed over for those that are (not listed in order of importance): Big, Fat, Heavy, Huge, Oaky, Massive, Full-Bodied, Thick, Tannic, Rich, and Downright Mean. I call these “wines with bolts in their necks,” and these monsters are stomping unchecked over the dinner tables of America.
Before we go any further, let me state that I have nothing against Big Wines, per se. Given the right partner, these beasts will calm down and behave. My quarrel is not so much with the heft of these reds as it is with their youth.
Here is a typical scenario:
Wine “A” gets a rave review in a prominent publication. Let’s say it’s a famous Napa Cabernet or Classed-Growth Bordeaux from the latest “great vintage.” Folks that have read the review zoom forthwith into wine shops and restaurants clamoring for this Wine “A.” The fact that the wine is highly allocated, and there is very little of it to go around, only serves to incite people, and traces of froth start to appear in the corners of their mouths. When Wine “A” is finally procured, usually at great expense, it is opened with pomp and ceremony in the company of the envious and admiring. This is what comes out of the bottle: full, but surprisingly one-dimensional fruit, often accompanied by harsh tannins and an alcoholic, astringent finish, provided by the wine’s ample new oak. The wine is simply too young. Statutory Grape has been committed.
You don’t have to take my word on this. Contact the winemaker. Most American wineries have either a phone number listed on the label or a web site. Ask him if his pricey Cabernet from that great vintage will drink best at 2-to-3 years old or somewhere between 7-to-12 years of age.
So while you’re waiting for your Big Wines to smooth out a touch, why not search out a few more subtle wines that will drink well young. Try a Rioja or Ribera del Duero from Spain or maybe a Malbec from Argentina or Carmenere from Chile. Perhaps a Pinot Noir from Oregon. The only thing that might have been sacrificed in the switch from power to subtlety is ego.