I worked as a sommelier and barista for 20 years, and for over 10 years now I've been in the wine production and viticulture field, as my father-in-law is a producer. I've lost count of the number of bottles I've opened and the references I've tasted, and that's just in terms of wines, not including spirits. I've been through numerous harvests and spent countless hours in the vineyard. I was born with a curious spirit, which leads me to challenge the established truth. Some people taste 300 wines of a single variety and call themselves ultimate connoisseurs? With over 10,000 wines tasted, if I were to write about each one, I would have to write three bibles...
After all these years, I realize that the wine industry in Portugal is capable of creating an illusion that can blind even those who consider themselves experts with level 3 certifications and so on. These certifications cost a fortune, but then we go to blind tastings and they can't even distinguish a wine with spontaneous fermentation and indigenous yeast in a barrel from a wine with yeast inoculation and fermented with wood chips. And there's an explanation for this... Most wines available in the market are produced in such a way to please beginners and attract their taste for alcoholic beverages towards wine. However, this has a downside: most people who choose this field are conditioned to appreciate this profile, and when they taste 100% authentic wine, they find it strange and don't like it.
What I mean to say is that this formula is ideal for big companies that make easy money, and the big difference in wine profiles in the market and in magazines is due to labels and brands. So let's go back in time and talk about the tranquil wines of the past, from the 1960s to the 1990s, when the culture of enology in Portugal was almost non-existent. I still have numerous wines from that time, and I notice one thing: back then, there were no high-quality reserves as a benchmark. Most producers had one or two lots of red wine, some had one lot of white and one of red. This happened because, unfortunately, someone said the famous phrase "no wine, I'll have white," which demonstrates a profound lack of knowledge in the field, as it undermines other types of wines such as whites, rosés, palhetes, sparkling wines, late harvest, and a multitude of profiles. Even today, I still sense a bit of this narrative, especially among older audiences.
But getting back to the subject, producers at that time had, at most, a reserve, which mostly involved barrel aging, usually only for red wines. That was the extent of their portfolio, meaning they had only two or three lots and brands at most. Over the years, with the increase in knowledge among producers and winemakers, I realize that almost everyone has 5 to 10 brands and lots, ranging from reserves to grand reserves, with mentions such as signature, tonal nº8, grande escolha, raízes super velhas, cepas milenares, reserva da família, reserva do tio do avô do cunhado da amante (reservation of the uncle of the grandfather of the brother-in-law of the lover), things never seen before.
And the quality level? What about the price differences between lots? Most have their entry-level wines, which are usually vinified in stainless steel with controlled temperature, with total or partial grape destemming, and then bottled. Based on the same vinification process, they make the reserve, which is exactly the same, with the difference being the fermentation with wood chips or sawdust. And voilà, they have a more expensive wine with no significant difference in production costs. But the market likes the infusion of wood and is willing to pay more than twice the price of the entry-level wine for this simple difference. It is usually these lots that enable producers to make money to pay their bills and buy pickup trucks worth thousands of euros. However, buying and acquiring barrels is expensive...
When it comes to grand reserves, they return to the base vinification in stainless steel, but with the added sophistication of the staves, creating a more subtle and refined wood infusion. But what about the price? Is the price difference justified compared to the difference in production costs? What I mean to say is that most producers who are doing a good job, making wines with love and knowledge, without lying and with high costs, are afraid to submit their treasures to competitions or evaluations by so-called specialized magazines, where the evaluators are people with level 3, 4, or 300 certifications in the field. In other words, they are mostly unknowledgeable individuals who have never picked up a hoe or a pair of pruning shears. They learned from trainers who saw a business opportunity, where certifications cost a lot of money, but then serve only to put these tasters or chess pieces in the right positions to control this big business. Winemakers with only two harvests are enough to sign any label full of fallacies, where misinformation and illusion prevail.
That's why those who do the right work don't want their wines to receive lower scores or ratings than others that are merely makeup. Therefore, they don't even submit their wines to competitions, knowing that some tasters and customers who value authenticity and genuine wines are already loyal to them. All of this makes me wonder: does the market today really know what wine is? Or do they just enjoy the spectacle of makeup and the interests involved in the industry?
In conclusion, it's abundantly clear that the wine industry has mastered the art of illusion, enchanting even those self-proclaimed connoisseurs with their elaborate charades. With certifications and titles galore, who needs practical experience or a genuine understanding of the field? The market thrives on the spectacle of manipulated wines, where wood chips and fancy labels magically transform ordinary vintages into costly treasures. Why bother with authenticity when you can have mass-produced facades?
So, let's raise our glasses to this grand illusion, where knowledge takes a backseat to marketing prowess, and where genuine craftsmanship and true passion are overshadowed by the allure of smoke and mirrors. Cheers to the wine world's performance, where the show must go on, and consumers willingly play their roles, unknowingly savoring the taste of deception.
In the captivating world of wine, where reality intertwines with artifice, we raise our glasses to a stage adorned with manipulated flavors and orchestrated perceptions. As you savor the complex notes and ponder the profound question of wine's essence, we invite you to join the conversation. Do you embrace the mystique, indulging in the illusionary dance of the industry? Or do you yearn for authenticity, seeking wines that bare their true soul? Share your thoughts, for in the realm of wine, the audience's voice holds the power to shape the future narrative. Cheers to the enigmatic symphony of taste, where your discerning palate becomes the ultimate critic.
Text: Miguel Viana Vinhos