Matt Kramer made a great point in his recent article in "Wine Spectator" (15 Nov 08 issue, page 38). He talked about "pre-installed" versus "alternative" wines. What he meant (and said far better than I) is that most wines are provided by a few HUGE wine mega-players (Constellation, Diageo and Gallo). These wines are the ones that we see in our supermarkets and High Street shops. Citing an analogy to "pre-installed" software on a computer, Matt calls these "pre-installed" wines. They are easy for us. They are right in front of us and no real effort is necessary to get them. Similarly, there are "alternative" wines like "alternative" software that you have to find and install yourself. These alternative wines aren't available from the big companies and, hence, aren't in the shops where most people do much of our wine buying.
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with "pre-installed" wines but they do tend to be "safe" - made from well-known varietals, grown in well-known places by well-grown and usually very large producers. By their very nature, these wines receive less personal attention from the producers. If a winemaker is making millions of bottles of wine each year, much of the process is mechanized or the tasks are simplified and performed by many assistants. Less personal attention is focused on each barrel or each wine. There is also a tendancy, perhaps a necesscity, to make these wines in a formulaic way. Again, there's nothing wrong with that but some of the excitement and interest that makes me love wine so much is lost.
"Alternative" wines, on the other hand, are usually made by small producers, from unusual varietals grown in less-well-known parts of the wine world. There is excitement and mystery in every bottle. More attention has been paid to the wines by the producers. There is more love in the bottle.
This is scary for most wine drinkers. They might not like the wine. It might taste "different". There is the fear of making a wrong decision. And yet, there is so much upside to these wines. They ARE different. It's not the same old, same old. And often, these alternative wines really like food - they enhance the dining experience by matching very well with what we eat.
We need more intrepid wine explorers.
How do we get wine drinkers to expand their horizons and become wine explorers? I'm not really sure. The best I've been able to do is to offer lots of tutored tastings to introduce consumers to these wines. I would be grateful for any suggestions.