For this month’s Monthly Wine Writing Challenge, Bill of Duff’s Wine the winner of last month’s Challenge, chose “Tradition” as this month’s theme. As is my normal, I thought about it initially, but when the ideas were a bit hard to come by, and realizing I had a few weeks to write the post, I put it off.
Well, this weekend, among the many basketball games, Tae Kwon Do practice, and homework battles, I realized that I had yet to really write anything for this month’s edition of the Challenge, so here goes….
There are many traditions associated with wine, and for the most part, I think there are good reasons for them. There is the “traditional” wine glasses with their long, often fragile stems. I do not have anything against the new stemless glasses (I even own a few), but I prefer to drink wine from a “proper” stem.Similarly, while I would agree that champagne is easier to taste and appreciate when poured into a Chardonnay stem, there is something about drinking it from the traditional flute that entices me, so that is what I do (most of the time).
Or take the practice of having wine with dinner. Although it is not as prevalent in the U.S. as it is in Europe, we Americans seem to be gradually embracing this tradition and with every year we are making this tradition more our own.
I could go on, but I won’t for this post is not about those traditions that I embrace, but rather about a few traditions that have run their course and outlived their usefulness.
B.A.B. There is little that gets me going more than the B.A.B. (Big Ass Bottle)–standard 750ml bottles that weigh a ton. I really have no idea where or when the “tradition” started, but for some reason, consumers associate big heavy wine bottles with quality wine. Although the tradition might be waning a bit, as far as I can tell, it is still alive and kicking—I just got a case of wine in B.A.B. from one of my favorite producers the other day. Not only does the glass itself cost more, but there is an environmental impact as well—additional energy and resources are used to produce, recycle (hopefully), and transport those big, heavy, obnoxious bottles.
Why do it? I have no idea as it adds absolutely nothing to the wine (think about it—how much time do you spend actually pouring the wine?).
I would like to think that the wine drinking public is not that easily swayed, but I am no idiot. There are countless instances where packaging is designed to influence consumers. [One of my personal pet-peeves is the tissue paper that you find in dress socks–why the heck is it there?]
The Capsule. The capsule (sometimes called the “foil”) is the covering on top of a bottle that was historically used to prevent rodents (or cork-eating bugs) from eating away at the cork while the wine was resting in the cellar. Originally, bottles were dipped in wax to form a seal, a process which was eventually replaced by the more familiar capsule—initially made of lead, but now made of tin. While the capsule might “look” nice and certainly has its roots in tradition, if you are worried about mice or cork weevils gnawing away at your precious juice, you have a much bigger problem on your hands than you realize (and please do not invite me over for dinner—I am busy that night). Not only do the capsules present a bit of environmental issue (when left on the bottle, it contaminates the glass cullet–what you call recycled glass), but it adds an unnecessary cost to the production of the wine (typically it adds about 10-15 cents, which does not sound like much, but when multiplied by ten thousand cases, you get the idea).
Three tier system. The three tier system (producer, distributor, retailer) was set up after prohibition to control and regulate the alcohol industry so as to prevent the excesses and debauchery that existed before Prohibition. There is far too much here to discuss in a couple hundred words, but one of my main issues with this “traditional system” is simple—there are fewer and fewer players in the middle tier (distributors/wholesalers), yet they are wielding considerably more and more power over the entire system. While some claim that the big box stores and internet retailers are slowly killing off the small, local, “ma & pop” wine shops, in actuality it is the Three Tier System that is precipitating their demise. The only way these shops (that do not exist in my state at all since the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is yet another tier here) can compete with the mass-discounting is by providing special, hard to acquire products—wines that distributors have little to no interest in carrying.
So while there are many traditions in wine that are worth preserving, I think it is important to continually evaluate traditions–many were “made” out of necessity but are no longer useful (and can actually be harmful). Just because it’s a “tradition” does not mean we should blindly perpetuate it.
Remember, today is the last day to enter the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (#MWWC14)! Here are the entries thus far (Please let me know if I am missing any!):