“So many Millennials are interested more in the narrative of the wine rather than the wine,” said Jason Jacobeit, the 29-year-old head sommelier of Bâtard restaurant in New York. “A lot of mediocre wine is being sold on the basis of a story.”
Even though I just stole the opening paragraph of Lettie Teague’s piece in the Wall Street Journal—‘How Millennials Are Changing Wine’—I couldn’t resist: The irony is enough to make Alanis Morissette cream her skinny jeans.
Bâtard restaurant is named for Bâtard wine, and who among us is so dull-witted that when we learn that bâtard is French for ‘bastard’ doesn’t want to learn the story behind that?
Now, I am not saying that in general Bâtard-Montrachet is mediocre wine, but by golly, some vintages certainly are: Jancis Robinson—one of the few wine voices I consistently admire—gave 2011 the Parker-scale equivalent of 87.5, or solidly within the range of mediocrity. I promise you that this wine sold well nevertheless, and based on a number of premises that all involve narratives.
Foremost is the fact that Bâtard is not Montrachet. Just as I usurped Tarantino’s film for my title and Lettie’s opening paragraph for my lede, so the 27-acre AOC within the communes of Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet—neither of which are genuine Montrachet either—Bâtard usurped the name of its more famous, non-bastard brother, Le Montrachet.
In other words, although Bâtard produced wines that are not as rarefied and pricey as the 43,000 or so bottles of Le Montrachet, they surgically attached the name to their own via a hyphen in order to bask in a little reflected glory.
In short, they opted for the story over the substance.
Bâtard restaurant—the Tribeca throne from which Jason Jacobeit lops off the tastebuds of Millennials—was so named because [Yellow Tail] Grill or Gallo Hearty Burgundy Bistro did not adequately symbolize the standard-of-excellence that Drew Nieporent was aiming for; naming it after Bâtard-Montrachet, which averages $500 a bottle, did.
But that’s not to say that Nieporent has any more of an obligation to uphold Bâtard-Montrachet’s reputation than Hearty Burgundy has to uphold Burgundy’s. I could change my name to Jancis Robinson Kassel and you can bet I’d still be writing the same old tripe.
Nieporent is opting for the story in the hopes of living up to the substance.
Without a Story, It’s So Much Grape Juice
So, on to the pointless dig at Millennials:
I guarantee that Jason Jacobeit—who at 29 is smack dab in the middle of Gen Y—sells plenty of wine based on the story, especially the four labels of Bâtard-Montrachet he carries on his wine list—more than all nine of Nieporent’s other restaurants combined. A detailed history may not be what the average diner willing to shell out $1150 for a bottle of LeFlaive Bâtard 2009 is after, but if the guest wants to know why it’s called ‘Bastard-Montrachet’ and not ‘Skanky Ho-Montrachet’, I imagine a head sommelier would want to be handy with the Cliff’s Notes explanation.
From a wine writer’s perspective, the story about the story is a different story. I assume that most wine-conscious Millennials find a free, anecdote-filled (if mediocre) wine blog like this one a better bargain than an expensive, anecdote-less bottle of Bâtard 2011, and I will, with all confidence, suggest that the story behind Lord Puligny’s bastard kid having a vineyard named after him is much more interesting that the 87.5 points I might (as Jancis Robinson’s doppelganger) give the wine.
What does Jason Jacobeit expect me to write about? My opinion of a wine’s substance is of limited interest, even to me. To adopt some sort of role as swill sensei to Gens X, Y and Zed, I better bring more to the table than tasting notes. Look, into every life, some wine-flavored rain must fall, and nearly all of it is going to be mediocre.
I hope Jacobeit is not suggesting that young people are drinking $20 Bourgogne instead of $1200 Grand Cru because they prefer it.
The Teague piece goes on to quote another borderline-Millennial somm, Taylor Parsons of République in Los Angeles. He attributes ‘gaps’ in Millennial wine knowledge to their incessant search for ‘the next cool thing’.
“We get tons of requests for Slovenian Chardonnay,” he says by way of example.
Forgive me for playing the credibility card here, Taylor, but really? Tons of requests for Slovenian Chardonnay? In the first place, who measures requests by the weight, and second, say that one request tips the scale at two pounds—that means you have personally received one thousand requests for Slovenian Chardonnay, and yet your wine list (which I just Googled) contains exactly zero.
If I own ‘République’, the first thing I do is get rid of the uppity accent in my name and next, fire your beverage-directing ass for not providing my guests with what they want.
And what’s wrong with poor Slovenian Chardonnay anyway? I recall it was the generation before mine, not after, that discovered you could make pretty goddamn decent wine in Napa and that your Chianti was better if you blended in Cabernet Sauvignon instead of Malvasía.
From the standpoint of a narrative, to me (a scribe) the wine itself—lofty, luscious, lyrical and, on occasion, mediocre—is far less riveting than the men and women who live it, create it, engulf it.
Those are the stories that I want to share with any of you Millennials, Perennials or Quadranscentennials who are willing to listen. And if you young whippersnappers have stories of your own—like if you mix Slovenian Chardonnay with Harlem Ripple and get Slovarlem Chardonipple—I hope you will beat a path to my doorway.
…Just stay the f**k off the lawn, you little bastards.