I am not here to demystify wine. I think it would be disservice to this fine beverage to even attempt it; allow me to explain.
There is something about the word ‘commercial’ that connoisseurs (not just of wine) abhor and corporates love. So strong is this term when used as an adjective, that the same bottle of wine with sediments can be considered indifferently ‘faulty’ in one case and beautifully ‘rustic’ in the other, all depending on whether the product is considered supermarket-scale commercial or boutique and artesian.
This leads us to further explore the question, just what exactly defines a wine as commercial? If success is a measure of commercial viability, then the most expensive Champagnes and Bordeaux clarets are commercial yet they don’t seem to lose consumers (not yet anyway). If the world commercial implies wines that are cheap then that is something rather subjective and one man’s prize will always be someone’s plonk.
In my knowledge, a commercial wine can be considered to be one which is made using grapes that are internationally famous, and in a manner that implies cognizance of taste, i.e. the person who drinks it should be able to identify the grape or style, even if s/he can’t tell much else about it. Such wines are safe fence-sitters, never too edgy or punchy, just safe mama’s good boys, delivering exactly what they promise and not a whiff more.
A lot of winemakers in a lot of countries indulge in this habit: to make ‘commercial’ wines. It almost becomes a problem that threatens the existence of other autochthonous grapes when a vintner decides to uproot a local variety and plant instead a Cabernet or Chardonnay patch.
This may sound like bowing to the ‘system’, but here’s why a winemaker may have to consider going the commercial way.
Say a winemaker makes some superb Nero d’Avola on the sun-kissed slopes of Sicily. He is known in all the nearby villages and there’s seldom a tourist who leaves without buying a bottle or two. Outside of that, the market is non-existent. Lack of knowledge about the region and the grape make international markets difficult to harness. And being a small winemaker, he can’t afford to start a campaign to educate the world about the wines of the region. If he continues like this, soon he shall have to sell and move out and people will only be able to talk about the legendary reds of the regions which alas wouldn’t exist anymore.
Then he hits upon an idea – a small patch of Merlot. The world knows the grapes and it is a fairly hardy type. If he can make a good Nero d’Avola, he can surely make a decent Merlot, one that would be easier to sell internationally. It could also possibly draw attention and consequently a demand, for his other wines. And soon enough he releases not just a Merlot but also a Sauvignon Blanc. These wines are more saleable and find quick acceptance in certain international markets.
In some places, his other wines, including the prized albeit unknown Nero d’Avola, also become popular slowly but in other markets, the demand for the ‘commercial’ styles continues to rise. Soon, the winemaker finds himself uprooting more traditional grape plantings to incorporate the popular varieties. This is how we end up endangering certain wine styles and this is why ‘people in the know’ consider commercialisation of wine a bad thing on the whole.
Let’s face it, when this happens in another artisan fields, like say textiles and tailoring, or cricket, people are quick to respond, vehemently voicing opinions et al. But with wines, it is this general slackness on the part of the people to not make an effort to learn, a numbing complacency to have everything broken down to the simplest possible forms that compels hapless winemakers to cater to dumbed down tastes.
Demystification is for join-the-dot sketches; to understand Picasso or Monet, some background study is necessary. Without curiosities and complexities, life would be but disguised ennui. And so it is with wines: one can tell you things about it but they need to be read, analysed, and memorised, before one can understand this beverage. Here then is the first lesson: there is no best wine, there never will be. The best part about wines is that each sip, no matter how undecipherable, leaves you more prepared and learned for the next.