The Next Big Thing

It’s a new year, a fresh page, a temporal tabula rasa, time to boldly set forth on a whole new set of adventures. I’m on the case — as soon as I get a little bit of old business off my figurative desktop.

I’ve taken to keeping a list of topics worthy of expository effort, things that arouse everything from adoration to ire, and about which I fully intend to chime in with my two pesetas worth. Someday. So, herewith, fresh from 2010’s litany of brilliant things and bright ideas postponed…
Awhile back, probably sometime early last fall, in his weekly Seattle Times column, Paul Gregutt sang the praises of mourvèdre, going so far as to predict its rise to the dizzying heights of Next Big Thing. Hmmmm. Interesting idea, but I’m not so sure.

Not that I don’t adore mourvèdre, too. When it’s good, it’s capable of a singular level of profundity, a deep, purple-flavored, animal earthiness infused with layers of pure, crystalline fruit — and terroir, garrigues, et cetera, as the particular case may be. At its best, it pulls no punches. It’s serious stuff, capable of weaving a brooding funk with floral elegance. Mourvèdre makes a statement. There’s nothing like it, and it isn’t for everyone — unless it’s dumbed-down, ripened up, stripped of character and otherwise made to fit the profile of wine-like product that qualifies any given grape as a Big Thing.

Show me mourvèdre as a Big Deal, mourvèdre as a market force, mourvèdre as Money … and I’ll show you mourvèdre that ain’t mourvèdre. Remember merlot? Once upon a time, merlot was poised as the Next Big Thing, then it was THE big thing, and finally, synonymous with non-descript-red-wine-that-sucks. Then it was syrah, with the big, fat, juicy Australian treatment serving as the model. We all know how that story ends. Say ‘syrah’ (shiraz) to your average retailer and you may as well say (shizzle). The market had a fling with pinot (perhaps a little too … precious … precocious?). Malbec seems to be the current darling, but you can already see its demise in the tea leaves as a flood of insipidity labeled as malbec rises to prominence on grocery store end displays and wine lists everywhere.

Merlot, of course, never changed, as such, in the course of its rise and fall. Neither did syrah, nor pinot, nor malbec — and neither will mourvèdre, should it become a commercial “success.” But like any good thing in the employ of those for whom the bottom line is the bottom line, merlot (and syrah, and malbec…) could only end its brief career as wine-biz darling as a washed-up has-been. Dress any good grape in full-on, big brand raiment and you can bet the vineyard that there’s no virtue that will go unsullied, no reputation untarnished.

Moral of the story? Try to be everything to everybody and you end up being nothing at all. Big Things? Why would you bother, when small can be so mighty? While I’m generally loathe to make sweeping generalizations, in the current case I’ll happily make this exception: If you want to live large, think (and drink) small.

More about: malbec, merlot, mourvedre, red wine, wine, wine varietals

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