History didn't end

Robert Joseph sees a connection between global political trends and the evolution of the wine industry.

Credit: Birmingham Museums Trust on Unsplash
Credit: Birmingham Museums Trust on Unsplash

Thirty years ago, after the defeat of communism and apartheid, it seemed briefly as though western liberal democracy had won all the wars, and that the world could look forward to a world that increasingly resembled the US, UK and (western) Europe. History, a distinguished academic declared, was over.

Today, after the fall of Kabul, and the fractured fallout of a referendum on one side of the Atlantic and an election on the other, the picture is rather different. You don’t have to look very far on a map to find nations that fail to live up to the hopes of the embryonic 1990s.

But what has this to do with wine?

To many, the utopian vinous equivalent of western liberal democracy has been terroir-driven appellations, and the enemy they had to defeat was the influence of score-awarding US critics and giant wine companies with their ubiquitous brands. One leading terroirist, the doyenne of natural wine, Alice Feiring, even went as far as to title a book, ‘The Battle for Wine and Love: or How I Saved the World from Parkerization.’

Of course, she did no such thing. Robert Parker may have retired, but the kinds of wine Feiring disapproves of are arguably more ubiquitous today than ever. 

The ‘unmanipulated’ wines she seeks to champion have built beachheads in corners of a number of major cities, but the vast majority of wine drinkers are as happily unaware of their existence as citizens across the globe are of the internal workings of the UK parliament or US senate. Many more happily buy and consume brands like 19 Crimes and Barefoot or a whisky-barrel-matured Zinfandel (in the US) or a Euroblend (in France).

So, just as we are going to have to accept that populist and undemocratic regimes are not about to disappear and that the leaders for whom we vote are going to be forced to negotiate with them, we are all obliged to acknowledge a polarised wine world, in which unsulphored, unfiltered, amber wines will coexist with industrially-produced reds whites and pinks.

I know that some people will find both of these new states-of-being uncomfortable, but unfortunately - or maybe fortunately - the opinion-holders and formers only get to write some chapters of the history books.

Robert Joseph

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