Suspecting Subversive Palate-washing

Brainwashing is any tactic – psychological or otherwise – that can be seen as subverting an individual’s sense of control over their own thinking, behavior, emotions or decision-making. It also is known as mind control or menticide, and was practiced by certain governments and regimes in order to control entire swaths of population.


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2009 Fontodi 'Flaccianello' pure Sangiovese from Italy - a stunning Super Tuscan | Photos from Roberto Viernes

I often wonder if there is some larger force in the wine industry that is performing the same sort of subversive palate-washing in order to control our consumer habits as wine drinkers.

Take, for instance, the plethora of wine brands. There are no names needed to be mentioned here, but the fact is that there are dozens of wines on any fine wine store or even grocery store shelf that have no “history” or pedigree. These are wines that are simply created in a formula to fulfill a certain price point with a certain flavor profile. There is no mention of the winemaker, or the type of soils where the vines were planted, or the people who grew the vines. It is often a red blend, so they can hide the actual type of grapes that go into making it, lest we think they are using less-expensive and certainly less-known grapes like Charbono or Gamay. They often carry a handsome amount of oak flavoring, more often created by dipping new oak chips into the vat rather than actual oak barrel aging in order to meet the fancy of the consumer. They often have a “catchy” name and contrived story on the back label, usually something about impulsive feelings, that is meant for you to empathize with and become impulsive and buy the bottle.

Yes, they can have flavor. (I’m being generous with this caveat.) But how do these wines truly elevate the senses? Are we as wine drinkers so simple that all we need is flavor? Just a few points more of alcohol, a dollop of sugar and vanilla and that satisfies us as if it were some type of graded fuel?

Speaking for myself, wine should be more than that. Where is the beauty, the sense of place, the elevation of the mind beyond the senses of flavor on the palate? And dare I ask, will anyone miss any of these brands once they are gone? Once the brand’s life cycle is finished, those same grapes will go into another brand name.

I certainly don’t have to defend the great terroirs, vineyards and special wine estates of the world. These are the wines and vines that people the world over cherish as landmarks, some even calling them sacred land. Yes, many of the greats are expensive – too expensive for us mere mortals. And yet there are many of these wines that are not. Wines like Champalou Vouvray, Birichino Grenache, Palmina Pinot Grigio, Justin Cabernet, Evening Land Pinot Noir and a host more.

It begs the question: Why would anyone put something “formulated” in the market that is already inhabited with “genuine” wines?

It must be the money. Yes. It really is all about the money. Our palates have been molded to understand and appreciate these formulas. There are even more formulas to come. But if your palate is anything like mine, you’ll find a way to take back control.

Recommendations: 2009 Fontodi “Flaccianello” ($110) I was trying to think of something else to say other than it may be Italy’s greatest pure Sangiovese, and I couldn’t think of any better. A stunning Super Tuscan. 2010 Elk Cove Clay Court Pinot Noir ($45) This isn’t Burgundy, but it is really, really good Pinot Noir. It has a purity of fruit and beautiful heady aromas that are simply gorgeous.

Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier. Email m or follow him on Twitter @Pinotpusher.