Some wines are just wine


Of many wines there is nothing to be said. They are just wine. It’s foolish to say anything more about them, but still some people try.

The world needs good cheap wine. When I was a kid, we used to go camping in the south of France and Spain, and there was a lot of cheap wine around. Much of it never saw a bottle. Some of it was sold in simple one-litre plastic bottles, like water. This wasn’t wine that was going to hang around for a long time. Occasionally my parents would go to a bodega. There, you took your own container, filling it straight from tank. Inexpensive wine, a commodity, not something to dwell over – more of a staple.

In southern European countries, for most people wine was food. It was drunk in large quantities daily, not with the goal of drunkenness, but to slake thirst and to accompany meals. In Portugal, workers would take wine with them into the fields. I’m sure it was the same in many rural parts of Europe where wine was grown. Getting boozed-as was not the aim here.

These wines are just wine, and there’s an honesty to them, although they are dying out. Now we live in cities and we want wine to taste nice, and wine is fancy and aspirational. The plonk of the past didn’t taste nice; it just tasted of wine.

Why can’t we be comfortable with wine as wine? The honesty of humble commodity wine has largely been lost. Wine is suddenly trying to be oh-so-special: even cheap wine. It is dressed up in winemaking trickery, packaged to look more expensive, with bold marketing claims on the back label. These are wines that are borrowing their identity from fine wine, but that’s not what they are. Wine writers write glowing tasting notes on them, but of many of these wines there is simply nothing to be said.

Why do we lose our honesty when it comes to cheap wine? What is it about wine that makes us behave differently? It’s like the artificial, strangled reverence shown by an congregant in a traditional church service. It’s as if we’ve somehow forgotten that in order to make sense of wine, we need to segment the market place, and there’s such a thing as commodity wine, and there’s such a thing as fine wine, and there are some layers sandwiched in between. The rules are different at different levels.

Wine can be simply wine and it can be a food and it can be something that just needs drinking, and this can be pleasurable and life-affirming. That is, if it is honest wine. Let commodity wines be what they are. We don’t even need to turn the experience into words; we can just dwell in the experience, and that’s OK.

2 comments to Some wines are just wine

  • Totally agree Jamie, and I consider myself fortunate to have a very easily-pleased palate. Am rarely happier than when quaffing some 5€ label-less red in interior Spain, with a hunk of cheese and some rustic bread. There’s a time for fine wine and there’s a time when wine is like olive oil or bread, just part of the meal.

  • Derek Kilpin

    I think a perfect example of this is perhaps the type of wine that is freely dispensed from the wine fountain at Bodegas Irache in Spain. I gather it is offered free of charge to pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela. All you need is a glass or container and you are away!

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