Archive - July, 2006

Do we have a "wine culture"?

A friend of mine from South America came by recently and over conversation we were talking about coffee. He made an interesting comment that Chile, his country” had “no coffee culture”.

The vast majority of Chileans consume instant coffee, he even called Chile “World Champions of Nescafe”, but at the same time a small number of people had always enjoyed “good coffee”. Chile grows no coffee, but Colombia, for example, is very close and therefore this “good” coffee is cheap. Although people do enjoy it, he felt that they had no common understanding of it, and simply did not think much about it. Therefore, no coffee culture existed.

That is changing. Not because connoiseurs have discovered the great product on their doorstep, but because Starbucks has “landed” (to use his word). Starbucks may have a bland and unexciting coffee offering, but it is using its marketing muscle to create the coffee culture and hopefully this will raise the general standard of coffee in Chile, hopefully setting more people on the road to disovering the better alternatives there to be tasted.

The same could be said for pizza in the UK. Once we had no concept of pizza, then Pizza Hut arrived and it was a revelation for most. Of course, 30+ years later they are no longer fashionable, but they created the market for the stonebaked, wood fired, thin crust and unique pizzas of today’s restaurant and take away market.

What has this to do with wine? Well, I can’t quite decide whether we will eventually emerge, pizza style, from the standardised wine offerings of the supermarkets, but we have certainly benefited from the fact that wine “landed” in the supermarkets not that many years ago.

It may seem depressing to the true wine lover with extensive knowledge of wines from around the world, but arguably we do not yet have a true wine culture in the UK where wine itself is the reason people get together. Whilst we might get together “for a coffee” or “have a pint with mates”, we have yet to gather “for a carafe”. What we have yet to create are wine environments that are focused on a specifically wine culture, but I am sure they will happen, and when they do, people will demand different, better and unique wines and THEN we can sit, back, order our organic thin crust quatro stagioni and enjoy our glass of wine.

[However, things are already changing ...]

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