Either I’m Getting Older or I’m Not As Young As I Used To Be

How the sweet red wine trend sent me off my rocker.

don-carter-old-codger-posterIt’s the fall wine-tasting season and after sampling a thousand wines over the past month I’m left with the uneasy feeling that I may be suffering from old-timer’s disease. The symptoms include difficulty understanding why red wines are getting sweeter, confusion about labels that look like gothic murder scenes, and appalling marksmanship around the spit bucket. I think there might also be something about forgetfulness.

You may be thinking, “Aw fiddlesticks! Tasting wine doesn’t make you feel old.”

Just as sure as eggs is eggs there’s a chasm forming in the bedrock of wines priced under $20 that make us prellennials scratch our balding heads and wonder what in tarnation is going on. I feel old because by golly, I can remember back in the day when wines were dry!

And gosh darn it I’m not that old! Sure, I drive a four-door sedan (as long as it’s not dark out) but I have never – and I’ll swear to this on the lives of my fully-grown children and several generations of cats – I have never, ever, owned a minivan.

I was so dad blasted jargogled when I realized I was out of sync with today’s wine styles that I got out of bed in the middle of the night to write this post. I had to get up to pee anyway. Unfortunately, when I finally remembered where I left my glasses I couldn’t remember what I needed them for so I went back to bed. Good gracious it was nearly 10 PM.

I’ve written about the popularity of sweeter red wine blends here, but after tasting these newfangled releases and visiting hundreds of wine merchants in the past year, I’ve learned just how pervasive this confounded phenomenon has become. Trade publications have been writing about this pandemic sea change in America’s drinking preferences for years, but my experiences have taught me that projected trends and reality are often a few years removed. I’m still waiting for the “Viognier is the next Chardonnay” trend to materialize but meanwhile it appears that sweet red really is the new black.

I’m not talking about the dessert wines that have always been part of a respectable wine arsenal. Oh no sonny boy, what I’m talking about are manipulated wine impersonators that pretend to be dry by passing off sugary sweetness as fruit, or concentration, or just plain flavor. I’m talking about homogenous wine lampoons that defy any reasonable recognition of grape variety. I’m talking about formulaic “recipe wines” that use additives and sugar to add weight and mask off flavors – usually unsuccessfully. These are nothing more than wine caricatures that profess to pair with chicken or fish or beef, but are in fact best paired with insulin.

I don’t want to get off on one of my rants (oops, too late) but every millennial whippersnapper with ten bucks and a sweet tooth is driving this trend and that affects my choices. And, much like phone calls after 8 PM or computer updates, change scares me.

Doggone it, I’m not some idealistic wine zealot who feels all wine must be non-interventionist; after all, I’ve spent years building a stockpile of sulfites in my liver for a rainy day. Nor am I an elitist sommelier who believes wines must possess the kind of searing acidity that staves off periodontal disease. And I most certainly don’t believe wines need to be universally low in alcohol, because when that happens it’s time for a checkup with Dr. Kevorkian.

I enjoy flamboyant new world wines as well as traditional old world classics. Yer darn tootin that what gets my shorts in a bunch about today’s sweeter reds is the deception. A lot of this stuff is just cheap swill sweetened to hide the vegetal winesnark-cat-with-winecharacteristics and I wouldn’t serve it to my guests or even my aforementioned cats. They may be cats but they weren’t born yesterday, and they’ll be the first to tell you that the residual sugar left in today’s popular red wines does not pair well with mice.

Industrial strength wineries are churning out more of these saccharine hodgepodges from third-rate wine regions than you can shake a stick at. Yes siree Bob, or whatever your name is, what I’m saying is there’s more of these cotton-picking brands than Carter has liver pills.

The new breed of slightly sweet red blends are typically adorned with bold labels – and even bolder price tags given their provenance. I’m not some crusty curmudgeon who thinks outrageous labels and innovative blending are balderdash and poppycock. Golly gee willikers, I’m all about selling wine, after all that’s how I can afford to drive an actual four-door sedan. But dagnabbit don’t put paint by numbers in a gilded frame and call it art.

Now here’s the ironic twist to today’s rant. Ask your wine merchant how well he’s selling Zinfandel, Merlot or Petite Sirah and he’ll tell you, “Great!” because all retailers lie about their sales. The truth is they’re collecting dust. But while sales of these varietals are colder than an igloo’s wine cellar, red blend sales are red-hot. Last year, annual sales of red blends moved into second place behind Cabernet Sauvignon, and what do you think is in most of these popular blends? You guessed it, Zinfandel, Merlot and Petite Sirah. Oh, and sugar.

I could go on all day believe you me, but all this rantin’ and ravin’ has me plumb tuckered out. So let me tell you a thing or two before my nap. The only option I see is to ride out the fad and wait for the inevitable return to drier wines. I figure that will come in about 30 years, and then my son can complain about the newfangled dry wines coming into the market.

Oh, and another thing, don’t get me started on the weather.