THE ECONOMIST CORNER: Social Engineering and the Enjoyment of Wine

The Vinfusion machine. The future of drinking wine?

The Vinfusion machine. The future of drinking wine?

The Economist Corner: Social Engineering and the enjoyment of wine.

I felt like screaming. No it wasn’t about the election it was about wine-and the ugly shadow side to the  kind of social engineering The Economist preaches with all those wonderful virtues like “human dignity, nobleness, freedom,” it loves to promote in the context of its weekly survey of current events.

In an article about Vinfusion, “a wine blending machine that lets drinkers craft a glass specifically to their personal palate,” they pin this hope that: “the snobbery and mystique surrounding wine-whether blended in the vineyard or the restaurant-may disappear for good.”

What are they talking about? They’re extolling the virtues of a machine that basically takes a paint by number’s approach to the ancient art of wine cultivation and blending. In doing so they negate everything that’s made the art of creating and drinking wine what it is in the pages of human history and culture.

. The company that created this hybrid mechanical/digital machine says they did all kinds of research and narrowed people’s basic appreciation for the taste of wine down to four main generic types: A pinot and merlot from Chile, a shiraz from Australia and a Muscat-because of its sweetness-from France.

These four wines, which sit in vessels connected to the machine, are then blended together by the consumer using digital sliders on a screen allowing her to choose between extremes of “light” and “full bodied, soft” to “fiery” and “sweet” to “dry.” None of the usual kinds of adjectives used by those with an appreciation for wine are used.

There’s no mention of years associated with these wines or alcohol content or any other information concerning their origins etc.

In my opinion the final result is “swill.” The reductionist approach taken here is even more disturbing because The Economist is supposed to be representing the highest values of Western Civilization yet they support this paltry excuse for wine appreciation.

It’s a slap in the face to their core readership-all those people who have taken the time, spent the money, and otherwise educated themselves in the art of cultivating, collecting and drinking wine.

After reading the article I was reminded of Boardwalk Empire where, along with questions about which competitor should be eliminated next, one of the big questions was about product and the two main options. The distributors like Steve Buscemi and others could chose the real thing-Irish Whiskey, Canadian Mist etc. or go the way of regional concoctions mixing who knows what for the rubes and their new jack providers.

This invention is sacrilegious. I half-way expect Dionysus to smite the author. Is there any excuse for The Economist to support stripping wine of all its cultural, religious and social history just to please some hypothetical sensitive consumer who feels self-conscious about his lack of wine knowledge?

It almost feels like this article is a plant-a favor to some friend of The Economist-free publicity for their product along the lines of the way museums will cater to their directors by mounting shows of artists collected by their board members in order to drive up the value of their personal holdings.

There are alternatives though to this senseless trashing of wine’s legacy attributes. I saw one in action earlier this year on a business trip to Seattle. There’s a small French restaurant on an alley near Pike’s Place that I like to go to. This particular night I sat at the bar for dinner. About half way through my meal a couple of gentleman sit down next to me.

Space Needle Seattle

Space Needle Seattle

One of them, lanky, 40’s, a smooth talker- from LA was taking his larger, younger colleague from CT on a business trip from what I could gather. Smooth talker and I began conversing and I learned he had a French wife. We spoke a little in French. Then a little while later I heard him engage the younger French proprietor in conversation in French.

Then I saw the owner appear with a device that had a long needle like end to it. Smooth Talker had really wanted a glass from a more rare French wine that was sold only by the bottle. But the owner took this object and plunged the end through the cork without opening the bottle which allowed him to draw a single glass of wine for Smooth Talker.

The whole event became a ritual. There was a desire, a negotiation to satisfy the desire, a solution and satisfaction-an event that expressed the essential art of our connection and reverence for wine.  I’ll take this essential human connection with this gift from the gods over the reductionist swill anytime.

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