Wine is unusual among drinks on many levels. And one of the most remarkable things about wine is its diversity.
It’s a function of the fact that wine quality is dependent on grape quality, which is largely determined by the physical characteristics of the vineyard site. There are gazillions of these, and there are 1400 different commercial grape varieties, to boot.
Take two vineyards a few hundred metres apart, in a region such as Burgundy, and you’ll find that one makes 10 Euro wine while the other makes 100 Euro wine. This sort of complexity leads to a mind-blowing array of options once wine reaches the marketplace.
There are some 40 000 different labels on sale in the UK (this is an estimate). And quality varies massively. For professionals, this diversity is almost impossible to keep track of. Factor in the added complexity of vintage, and it’s quickly apparent that for normal people, wine is a fabulously confusing sector, with most purchasing decisions made blind.
Can we help punters by ironing out some of this diveristy? This would seem to be a noble goal. The problem is, would attempts to iron out diversity impact negatively on wine quality?
I think that, for all its frustrations, the diversity of wine is one of its strengths. I know there’s so much about wine that I’ll never understand or know, but this is a cause of hope and happiness, rather than frustration. We’re digging a rich seam, and there are plenty of surprises on the way. Why should everything in life be easy and immediately accessible? Isn’t it good to have something complicated, multidimensional and profound for us to sink our teeth into?
Of course, we want to encourage people to fall in love with wine. But wine’s lack of accessibility never stopped you or I from falling in love with it. So why should diversity be such a problem now?