STYLE

Wine writer has lots to teach the curious, but little patience for the wine snobs

04/07/2015 11:13 EDT | Updated 06/07/2015 05:59 EDT
Attention oenophiles! Get ready for a dressing down.

Wine writer Lettie Teague — known for her blunt, chatty style that demystifies the cult of the grape without diluting its allure — has once again taken issue with highfalutin attitudes about the wine world. In her new book, "Wine in Words," the Wall Street Journal wine columnist offers beginners a primer on the basics of acidity and structure, and gives wine snobs a piece of her mind.

In quick-reading essays akin to small sips, Teague redeems Chablis, decries "wine charms," and wonders aloud about the future of wine in the state that spawned Snookie (hint: New Jersey.) We spoke with Teague about the evolution and the future of wine in America — and about her wine drinking pet peeves. (Edited for clarity and length.)

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AP: The book is full of useful information as well as witty and somewhat snarky observations about phenomena like wine charms and winery tasting rooms. What is your No. 1 wine drinking pet peeve?

Lettie Teague: Oh, that's hard. I think it's people who talk about the wines that they've had. It's like the wine equivalent of a slide show. You hold people hostage. You can't taste it. It's like you're just there to bear witness to their experience. It's not very welcoming. It's bragging. In the book, I wrote about collectors. Just random people who have a lot of wine will come up and tell me about their wine. Do you have a bank statement I can look at, too? There's nothing that says, 'I want to make a connection.' And that's what it should be about.

AP: How have Americans evolved in our relationship to wine? I grew up in a house of jug wine.

Teague: So did I. It was purely a beverage then. There was almost no complexity to anyone's experience of wine. A very small minority of people had access to sellers and travelled to Europe. The norm was jug wine. Now, there's so much to know, but also the desire to know and a feeling like you should kind of know. Now that the United States is the No. 1 wine consuming country in the world — not per capita, but in sheer consumption numbers — that's a tremendous leap. Who would have thought that was possible 25 years ago?

AP: So now we're the biggest consumer of wine, but what is our impact on wine culture?

Teague: The openness. Because we didn't start with a wine culture, we're so much more open. This is what producers from Spain and France and Italy say. In one way, it's complicated because we're like 50 different countries. But in terms of embracing wines, it's easier than in their own country. There, people have a regional bias that doesn't exist here. We have a tremendous advantage in that.

AP: How do American wines fit into our drinking habits?

Teague: We have a huge California bias. Which is the safety factor. It's very safe to drink a wine from California. Now there's so much good wine, wines actually being taken seriously from Long Island and the Finger Lakes. It seems like it took forever and then it happened all at once. Even five years ago that wasn't true. Which makes me think maybe people will one day take New Jersey wine seriously. The big challenge for American wine in general is price. You can get terrific Spanish wines for $7 a bottle. Unfortunately, we just can't compete. It's the price of real estate and labour. That's the biggest obstacle to Americans drinking American wine: price.

AP: What's the impact of millennials?

Teague: They've got the huge cocktail culture that's competing with wine. I was just talking to my 26-year-old step-daughter... She doesn't want to know too much, but wants to know what cabernet tastes like versus merlot. There's an interest in forming their own opinions and not following critics. They're really interested in the opinions of their friends. It's much more peer referenced.

AP: Are they drinking wine?

Teague: Yes. Not expensive wine. And it's not the wine that middle-aged wine drinkers are drinking. They're turning to wine from other countries — Argentina, Chile — because of the entry point and the accessibility.

AP: What's the deal with moscato? What was it before hip-hop singer Drake gave it the shout out?

Teague: Last year it was growing at an absurd pace, some insane double-digit growth. Moscato had a moment. Like any trend, I don't think it's sustainable. It was that cheap simple stuff that everyone drank. And then of course there's the real moscato from Piedmont, which is a completely lovely wine.

AP: What's the next moscato?

Teague: It would have to be something made in large quantities. Inexpensive red blends. I see no end to those wines. They are in the $7 to $10 category. And they tend to be fruity and accessibly styled.

AP: What's the average level of wine knowledge in U.S.?

Teague: People know basic wine names. People know that malbec is from Argentina. There's much more awareness of wine. I don't know if that translates into education. Wine is still a specialized thing. The fact that we're the No. 1 consuming nation has to say something about people being interested in learning more. And the fact that people are tasting more broadly — that some obscure Spanish wine is doing really well or that people are drinking large quantities of (the white Argentine wine) torrontes — that there's so much openness. I've got to believe there's a groundswell of a more enlightened drinker in America.

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