More visual and less personal than Facebook, less studiously regimented than apps like Vivino, Instagram is surely the social medium of choice for serious wine lovers. It’s where sommeliers and winemakers, journalists and amateurs can all rub shoulders, offering up a more or less carefully curated account of their drinking and their impressions of each other’s consumption. And since we’re buying more and more wine online, Instagram becomes our go-to tool.
Charting what’s hot and what’s not has become a favourite pastime of mine, perhaps because it helps me maintain the illusion that I’m an observer, not a participant. Clos Rougeard, for example, is still a likes-multiplier – but we don’t see it as often as we did a year ago. On the other hand, has anyone else noticed the Maconnais wines of Domaine Valette popping up with increasing frequency?
It seems to me that Instagram is influencing the wine market. Is the reason we see fewer Clos Rougeard snaps these days because the Foucaults’ wines have increased in price by fifty per cent in the last year? Or because they’ve become twice as hard to find? Sometimes it seems as if the entire production has already been drunk and posted online – until, that is, people start tucking into the just- released 2012s.
Once upon a time, knowledge of Clos Rougeard’s very existence was reserved for the initiated. It took time and a certain amount of luck and erudition to discover.
But today’s novice wine lover is only a hashtag away from Loire Cabernet Franc nirvana – assuming they can pay the tariff.
The same is true of other niche producers, and of great wine lists too: every under- the-radar French provincial restaurant with a great cellar is just one location-tag away from a ravishing that makes the sack of Constantinople look like child’s play. Choice watering holes in the middle of nowhere, blessed with cheap Coche-Dury and cursed with atrocious cuisine (you know the place I mean), are a dying breed.
“My only concern is that homogenisation, the great curse of social media, is at work in Instagram’s wine community. ”
To me, all this begs a broader question, seldom honestly posed: how democratic do we want wine to become? A free market combined with optimally informed consumers will make good things in finite supply more expensive: it’s the logic of capitalism. And that logic will soon place good things beyond the means of those who love them.
Wine writers who consider themselves consumer advocates are thus their own worst enemies: laud that emerging talent in Chassagne-Montrachet, and you can say goodbye to your allocation. Publish those reviews, and it’s time to start convincing yourself that you really do like cru Beaujolais better than Richebourg. After all, it’s so much more refreshing.
On the other hand, of course, our virtual world brings instant recognition to emerging stars. Only decades of accumulated and hard-earned esteem won Henri Jayer his place in the Burgundy firmament; these days, the new stars of Vosne-Romanee become celebrities after only a handful of vintages. Assuming they merit the hype, surely that’s a good thing: they’ll enjoy the success they deserve in their own lifetimes, and play out their talents on a wider stage.
What’s more, remember that we all begin as outsiders. Pity anyone who discovers Gentaz-Dervieux or Verset for the first time via Instagram this year, but what of those who are inspired to track down a bottle of still-affordable Gonon or Pattes Loup? It would be churlish, surely, to resent anyone availing themselves of the fast-track to the best the wine world has to offer. And then go online and buy the wine through Vivino.
My only concern is that homogenisation, the great curse of social media, is at work in Instagram’s wine community. Perhaps I’m mistaken; after all, birds of a feather flock together, and I am unlikely to follow those whose tastes I don’t share. Nonetheless I’m convinced that Instagram is a centripetal, not a centrifugal force.
Pierre Overnoy’s wines, after all, were never supposed to be mainstream. Yet there are few producers’ wines which will elicit more virtual appreciation. Has ‘liking’ a picture of a bottle of Selosse become a rite of passage, even for those who honestly don’t appreciate acetaldehyde in their Champagne? Does everyone truly despise Batard-Montrachet and Meursault-Charmes, too gourmand and lacking in minerality?
Do we really all like the same things?
One of the most wonderful things about our community is its tolerance for individuality; its capacity not merely to harbour but to glorify visionary eccentrics. Wine, indeed, is superbly humane: the ultimate arbiter of its quality is none other than the human palate; the best bottles, like the healthiest vines, enjoy the same lifespan as a human being.
I hope we can use Instagram to assert that truth, not to efface it.