The Losh Cause – The new New World
As in any product category, fashions come and go in the wine business. And, writes Chris Losh, it appears that Old World wines, whether recently rediscovered gems or traditional offerings given a modern slant, are definitely in vogue, while New World wines are looking…well…rather 20th century.
There's a satirical magazine in the UK called Private Eye which has a regular section entitled 'neologisms', culled from magazines and newspapers all around the world. You know the kind of thing: lurid articles with titles like 'red is the new black', 'chocolate is the new coffee' or 'iPods are the new sex'.
Well, at the risk of being lampooned in print, I'd like to put forward the following question: Is the Old World the new New World? I know, I know, it doesn't even look good, but that doesn't mean it can't be true.
The last few years have seen something of a renewed Europhilia among the UK press corps and a corresponding cooling of interest in the New World. Whoever would have thought ten years ago that we'd be in a situation where paisanos in deepest Spain, who only just got a television and wear the same trousers for months on end, are receiving a journalist a week, while their media-savvy counterparts down under are lamenting the world's lack of interest?
This feeling of the power centre shifting back towards Europe has been further enhanced in the last few weeks. January is a frenzy of tastings in London, both for key merchants and for generic groups, and there is no question what has been drawing the most interest. I've visited the tastings of two big importers and spoken to two others, but only one (an Italian specialist) was looking to broaden its New World offering. The other three were concentrating on France, France and Spain respectively.
Partly, I suspect this is because both the trade and consumers remain largely ignorant (even indifferent) to regional subtlety in the New World, which inevitably limits the number of offerings importers might want in their portfolio. They might find room for three or four different Burgundians, but they're unlikely to need more than two or three Chilean producers in total.
The glory days when importers were adding Aussies, Kiwis, South Africans, Californians, Chileans and Argentineans to their portfolios on an almost monthly basis have not exactly been consigned to history, but times have definitely changed. For a New World wine to be taken on now, it needs to have a damned good story behind it.
Which brings me to what I believe to be the biggest driver in the swing back towards Europe: the wines are different. They might have been looking at France and Spain, but nobody I spoke to was looking to add more Bordeaux, Burgundy or Rioja to their lists. They wanted unusual regional producers, making wines that had a definite accent: traditional wines but with a modern slant. These are wines from the kind of places that had been making wine for centuries, but where the technology has only now made them palatable.
And why do they want these wines? Because, in a world where the supermarket offering is both constipated and light on profit, dynamic importers are increasingly preferring to cultivate the on-trade.
And the restaurateurs - along with all their bog-standard Sancerres and Chablis and Riojas - like to put stuff on the list that they can get excited about and can hand-sell to their customers.
Now, which would you think is more likely to tickle the fancy of a jaded customer or a go-ahead young sommelier, a wine from a forgotten corner of Spain or Italy made out of a centuries old, but obscure, grape variety, or Yet Another Chilean Cabernet or Aussie Shiraz?
The journalists have already started to vote with their air miles, and now the trade is voting with its lists.
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