Hipster Somms: Pros or Just Cons?
Dear Good Somm Bad Somm,
Why do all the Hipster Sommelier's in town have the exact same wine lists? It seems that they all use the same obscure wines. I can barely find anything recognizable to drink sometimes. Are obscure wines better than the classics?
Dear Clueless Consumer,
To clarify: A "Hipster Sommelier" has a particular sense of style: tattoos, disheveled, nerdy, charming, cool, etc... While a "Hipster Wine List" focuses on lesser-known or "obscure" producers, grape varieties and wine regions. These are also sometimes called: Geek Wines. And "yes" (as detected in your question), there is a fair amount of sarcasm and animus directed at the Hipster Sommelier. However to be diplomatic, we shouldn't generalize: some of these Somms are good as are some of the wines.
We live in a trendy society and Hipster Somms want to be popular. They think that writing those "obscure" lists is going to get people talking about them.
But the position of a sommelier was created to compliment chef's food and to enhance the guest experience. The world of wine is fascinating and complex and it should be fun, not intimidating.
If the list is overwhelmingly obscure and you can't even pick one or two wines that you can identify with, that is anti-hospitality and creates a barrier between you (the consumer) and wine.
"Are obscure wines better," you ask?
I would say it just depends on what the wine is. But the Classic Wines of the World are there for a reason. They've been tried, tested and have remained relevant over the centuries.
Dear Clueless Consumer,
There's a reason why you feel clueless when you look at some of these wine lists: Because somewhere, behind the scenes, there is a smirking, smug sommelier who WANTS you to feel that way! See, sommeliers don't create flavor. They just talk about flavor. In fact they don't really create anything...except a list.
A lot of hip, young somms haven't developed a pallet yet. They don't really understand food and wine pairing. They can't really sell to or even relate to the customers. A lot of them feel that if they can simply memorize enough flashcards, someone will miraculously arrive to put them in a documentary.
That's a slim chance. So the next best thing they can do to make a name for themselves is to create an obscure wine list that befuddles everybody.
But at the end of the day, some customers just want to feel SAFE. They're already stressed out about their job, their marriage, their kids, and their mortgage. They don't want to have to decipher the mind-fuck-puzzle of some sadistic cork-dork before they can get their drink on!
So next time you go to a restaurant and some sommelier with a beard, a bow-tie and a bone through his nose tries to make you feel bad because you don't know what The Jura is, just remember: The two easiest ways for a nerd to become "hip" overnight are (1.) to get a sleeve full of tattoos and (2.) to get a Certified Level 2 Sommelier Pin.
IN REGARD to the second part of your question about Classic vs. Obscure wine, I offer you this:
Ordering a classic bottle of, say Bordeaux, is like going to see Beyonce in concert. It's gonna be a big production. There's gonna be pyrotechnics. Some guest rappers are gonna show up. It's gonna be sold out. And afterwards your date is gonna be pretty impressed with you for getting tickets.
Buying a bottle of Picpoul de Pinet is like getting tickets to see some Tweaker from Long Beach perform songs he recorded in his grandma's basement at some dirty-rock-club in Echo Park. While that might be a cool little show with a few interesting moments, it's definitely not gonna get you laid.
Thanks for the question! I hope we fixed your problem....(again). Keep 'em coming.
Until next time:
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