Sommelier Talk – Episode 17 – A CONTINUING STEP UP THE RISING SPIRAL
Lately, subtle but noticeable changes are occurring amongst wine drinkers. Until recently, the general preferences have been towards “fruit forward” wines or those with strong and fruity aromas, but today, they’re leaning towards more delicate wines with balanced qualities. Seemingly, fruit forward wines these days are becoming passé, viewed as overly vulgar due to the loud and overbearing characters, and as being difficult in pairing with food.
These mass consumer shifts are not unusual. In fact, historically, as consumers’ tastes improve through experience and awareness, so do their product preferences. And these shifts occur in an ascending spiral pattern. Take for example, years ago, when wine drinkers of old wines (French, Italian) became privy to wines from the new world (the Americans, Australian), the buzz around town became Californian, Chilean, and Australian wines. And now, that shift’s come full circle, back to rediscovering old world wines again.
How does this happen? The answer’s simple. By large, human beings are creatures of habit. We live within our comfort zones, and when that becomes old and tired, we seek for a change and move on to something new and exciting. But instead of jumping onto something completely new, we have tendencies to revert to something familiar from the past, and to fuel some excitement, add a contemporary edge. The best analogy is the fashion industry.
So, how does this all relate to Sake? Food historians have said that during social and economic uncertainties, people search for comfort through pleasurable consumption of sweet tasting foods and beverages. Sake of the post-war 40’s to the 60’s in Japan were mainly sweet flavored with SMV’s in the minus ranges. With businesses building rapidly onto the prosperous bubble economy boom of the 80’s, dry sake prevailed. And now with the struggling socio-economic climate after the bubble burst, the Japanese are again craving sweeter Sake. Coincidentally, Sake labels winning top honors at shows in Japan these days share one common character: they are all rather sweet tasting.
Now, let’s go back to wine. If this theory of the correlation between consumer’s preferences and socio-economic climate is true, then wine drinkers would start favoring sweet tasting wines. Recent rumor has it that amongst the trend-setting foodies crowd, port wines are gaining popularity, both Tawny and vintage port. Wonder if that’s a coincidence.