You are using an old browser that may not function as expected.
For a better, safer browsing experience, please upgrade your browser.

Log in Become a Member

My nephew is a banker. Not (yet) so blessed with bonuses that he has to look for profitable investment opportunities. But his potential clients do. They turn to him, the bank expert, with confidence. A meeting with a client in a fancy restaurant is always possible. A good bottle of wine is not a bad investment. But which wine? And what do you talk about when you're not talking about money? Like all bankers, my nephew is a secretive man. He won't say anything. But I know: as a bonier-hoping banker, he not only needs good social manners, he also has to know something about wines.

The table is set% the guests can come.

That is why a young banker - my nephew is still young - is not only trained in money matters, he is also trained in dealing with rich and super-rich clients. A banker must know at least four white and four red grape varieties. Quasi the "Big Five" of wine culture. Finally we have a common topic, my nephew and I: wine culture. As I said, my nephew is still young. First, of course, came a thorough education in money, but now the "etiquette thing" comes into play. Wine has long been a status symbol of wealth. Bordeaux lovers can tell you a thing or two about it. Everything of distinction in the prestigious Bordelais disappears into prestige cellars at insane prices. At a hundred, even a thousand and more francs or euros, dollars, renmimbi, roubles, etc. per bottle. Wine has become a cult object for the rich. A good banker has to be able to keep up, at least in terms of knowledge about wine and drinking habits.

The last time I met my nephew, I put it to the test. Which of the 5,000 or so grape varieties still cultivated worldwide does he know? It's still slow going, which I can understand, because wine culture is not part of the core competence of a young person who wants to work his way up in a financial institution.

Parade of prestigious wines

But we have brought them together, the Big Five or even better the Big Eight of grape varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling (as Germany's neighbour) and (reference to the French-speaking part of Switzerland) Chasselas. But wait! There we are already on a rather slippery slope. Chasselas (or Gutedel) is not at all that widespread worldwide and certainly not "prestigious". And there is nothing to be done with the white Müller-Thurgau, which is probably the most widely cultivated, it is considered "commun". Actually, Sauternes would be a good cue for these circles, but this is not a grape variety, rather a growing region. A discussion about this - for the non-wine connoisseur - is rather delicate. What is Barsac and how does the Botrytis cinera work that is needed for Sauternes? It's better not to get involved in that!

And yet: a grape variety outside the mainstream wouldn't do so badly, it could score points. Maybe Primitivo? No, not in these circles - far too primitive. Montepulciano at least makes an impression, as it is reminiscent of the famous wine town in Tuscany. But the grape variety Montepulciano has nothing to do with the wine town, it comes from Abruzzo. Making this correction and at the same time mentioning names like Brunello di Montalcino, Carmigniani, Chianti Classico, Vernaccia di San Gimigniano, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, this makes an impression and is proof of the highest competence.

So which is the right bottle?

But already new trouble is lurking. What to do if you prefer rosé or any other light wine, chic and digestible? If you don't know that Bordeaux wines are usually cuvées, no, better use the English term: Blends? If you've never heard of Grüner Veltliner and don't know where Syrah belongs, move Napa Valley to Australia or South Africa or even call Pinotage a top wine? When the client raves about Spain or mentions Georgia as an up-and-coming region? I realise: a good banker must also be a bit of a sommelier. At least since wine has become a status symbol.

It doesn't stop at knowledge of wine and wine varieties. The right way to deal with the waiter, the glass, the bottle, the toast and, and, and belong to it. Also the situation when the wine has an off-flavour: a corker, for example, or is mousy, has UTA or is cheesy.... And how on earth do you hold a glass correctly, or even more embarrassing: which of the glasses is for wine, for water, for the red, the white...? The waiter or the sommelier is not always at hand, you can't always get out of it with a casual saying.

I can see that: I don't want to be a young banker. Even as an older wine lover, I keep coming up against limits. That's not so bad for me: I can fill in gaps in my knowledge, I can afford to slip up in terms of taste, and my highest wine-judging authority doesn't have to be Parker.

Vineyard in Tuscany. A (too) wide field!

But above all, my employer's lucrative business, and thus my salary, are not dependent on my wine drinking habits. I can afford to find the Primitivo or the Pinotage excellent. I don't have to search desperately for a good-sounding name on the wine list, I don't even have to be ashamed of a slight corker that I don't immediately notice.

Wine as an object of prestige, as an expression of wealth and prosperity, does not end with the purchase of an expensive bottle. That's where the free skating begins, the proper cultivation of wine culture. And here one is often left alone, alone in the milieu in which wine is a symbol, namely that one can afford it, indeed wants to afford it. We like to smile at the super-rich Chinese or Russians who supposedly drink a Mouton Rothschild with water or even with cola, who cannot (or do not want to) distinguish between a Premier Cru - for example Lafite Rothschild - and the second wine of the winery, Carruades de Lafite Rothschild; who buy wine on the basis of the label, for example Angélus, which has the lucky emblem of a little bell on the bottle. We are perhaps a little more educated or accustomed to wine. In any case, we imagine we know a bit of wine culture. That's right! But when I take a closer look, I have to realise that even we cannot completely detach ourselves from prestige thinking or acting. The prestigious Bordeaux blend dominates the wine scene. Whether Australia, South Africa, whether Southern France or California, whether Tuscany or Spain, the Cabernet-Sauvignon-Merlot blend - usually slightly enriched with one or two regional grape varieties - dominates the wine scene worldwide. Just as wood vanilla can be found in almost every slightly more expensive wine. And champagne has to be it in certain situations, even if the vintner's sparkling wine or prosecco are far better in many cases.

Young fashionable wines% that sell well

At the latest since talking to my nephew, the young banker, it has become clear to me: Wine has many more dimensions than we think or admit. Wine can be a stimulant, but also a drug, a natural product, produced by the farmer, just as much as a financial investment and a speculative asset, a status symbol, but also a cultural asset. The last two Bordeaux vintages make it particularly clear what wine has also become in the meantime: big business, huge profits. Vast regions - almost everywhere in the world - live from the cultivation of vines and the development of wine. But they are having a hard time, harder and harder, because too much wine is flooding the world, because the wine business has also become global, because it is no longer the product that determines prices, but prestige. For a single bottle of a top Bordeaux, I can now afford a bottle of unnamed but good wine every day for a whole year. Without prestige, but with pleasure.


Related Magazine Articles

View All