There are delicious wines that make us happy. They set things alight. We drink them and it’s an entirely different night, we feel just great. These wines are the real deal on a deep fundamental level, and they resonate.
These wines are dangerous: they make it unappealing to drink ordinary wine. You crave their vibe, the extra crackle of giddy electricity, so you spin in frustrated concentric circles through turned-on wine shops, in search of scant bottles of the really awesome stuff. Patterns are altered, to the detriment of convenience.
The ideal of people working in nature for agricultural reward is often the reality of life at the farms that make these delicious wines that send us over the moon. The little farm with a couple people making wine by hand has nothing to do with the creation of most ordinary wine. When you walk down that grocery store aisle, surrounded by a wallpaper of marketed-to-within-an-inch-of-their-life bottles, it is unrealistic to connect those products to a specific farm or farmer. Wandering open-handed through that gauntlet of appealing labels, shopping with an open mind and without a compass will yield an ordinary wine for your dinner. Because ordinary wine, wine without a spark, that beverage is assembled and bottled in exponentially greater quantity than the good stuff. Ending up with it has nothing to do with your powers of discernment or wine acumen. They are vast and ubiquitous in nearly all alcohol-selling establishments today.
But let’s return to the positive and tangible world of delicious wines.
I want to write about the specifics behind delicious wines I encounter. These are common threads. Precisely how this memorable wine is different from common wine creates definition for an important category. To connect with beer, a category of alcohol whose production distinctions are widely understood and accepted today, I’ll call the majority of delicious wines being made globally today Micro-wines.
Micro-wines wines are:
- Made by small estates. Hence the name. We can fuss over what small is, but we know not-small when we see it.
- Made by families, or small communities of people. Which is logical to point number one. Family farms and little co-ops with high farming standards make the good stuff.
- Farmed in a healthy way. Methods vary greatly, under a successful big tent idea. Microbrewers use quality ingredients, Micro-wine needs the same, and it comes from healthy vines on healthy land.
- Estate-bottled, mostly. It starts with controlling fruit quality.
- Made to articulate something distinct about their place. This is a bit squishy, but character can be hidden and erased, or exposed and framed by farming and cellar work.
The terms are all imperfect. Many bad-tasting wines also fit within the above definition. It is a worrying trend to associate flaws in farming, fermentation and aging with this emerging category of Micro-wine. This erroneous conflation comes from too-few encounters among wine drinkers with Micro-wine, which they know will be a less homogenized entity. The Micro-wine community will weed these underachievers out. Every community has untalented, average, and exceptional members among its ranks. Our support for the delicious wines makes those farms thrive and continue: it’s how capitalism works, when it works, right?
Returning briefly to danger: every encounter with Micro-wine makes ordinary wine more unappealing. Eventually ordinary becomes intolerable, your body essentially rejects the wine. You know how it’ll make you feel later on, like you’ve consumed a cheap unhealthy drug, or eaten a pile of Bugles, Chips Ahoy and Cheese Whiz for dinner. In my experience, the banality of the ordinary becomes unacceptable, to the degree that abstemiousness is more appealing than a glass of industrial wine. I’d rather read a book! Or drink tea. Heavily processed wines make my mouth unhappy.
Still more danger: of course people will call you a snob. And you are, because you also like eating local ripe tomatoes or tasty local chicken. You analyze what you consume. Snob.
Micro-wine fits, because only a tiny part of the world’s wine is like this. Two or three percent, maybe? Even inside my happy, healthy wine importer bubble I see the difference in scale between the people making cool stuff, and the giants of ordinary wine processing. But seeking out great micro-wine will also lead you to great people who care (sometimes a little too much, exceptional experiences breed obsession) about the same thing you are finding. Fun-to-drink wine.