Greg Sherwood MW: Taste in food changes with age so why not wine?

By , 22 May 2024

A spread of Thai food.

Always fascinating spending a couple of days wondering around the London Wine Trade Fair in Kensington Olympia. While the 2024 show is undeniably a mere shadow of the wine megalith we became accustomed to in the early to mid-noughties, I certainly don’t side with the populist pessimists that proclaim that this event has outlived its usefulness and we are better off just leaving it to Vin Italy, Wine Paris and Prowein to fly the international wine trade flag. Nonsense! London has always been and remains the engine of wine innovation, fine wine dynamism, and creative liberal thinking when it comes to championing new wine styles and new wine regions. To deny this, is simplistic, negative, and defeatist.

The wine trade is undoubtedly encountering significant headwinds that are having a major effect on the wider sales, promotion and messaging of wine marketing… globally. It is certainly not a phenomenon restricted to the ultra-dynamic and extremely competitive market in the UK. Every European supplier and EU mainland exporter / producer I talk to conveys the same message – the wine times are a changing… and so are the end-consumers! At the London Wine Trade Fair, where a few years ago we might have expected to see a proliferations of fancy pavilions for the Wines of Bordeaux, the Wines of the Loire, the Wines of Tuscany, and the Wines of California, we now see innovative stands for the Wines of Turkey, the Wines of Romania, the Wines of Ukraine, and the Wines of Greece. Perhaps more evolution than revolution?

There are of course smaller outposts of producers, gathered together in mixed, shared Alamo-style pavilions promoting wines from more mainstream areas like Rioja, Chianti, New Zealand and even South Africa, sharing ever diminishing budgets, but the commercial realities are real and stark, and the cost and commercial outlay for wineries and national wine promotional bodies is a significant deterrent in times when almost everyone’s promotional budgets are being cut to the bone. But ironically, desperate times breed an admirable amount of innovation and commercial resilience together with a reinforced and resolute will to do things better, more efficiently and in a more exciting manner.

Leading into the London Wine Trade Fair, I have spent many an evening pondering the changing face of the wider wine trade as well as the changing dynamic of all strata of modern day consumers, some of which I interact with actively on a daily basis and some of which I merely observe with keen interest from a distance, like an anthropologist trying to work out what makes humans human or equally, trying to work out what makes modern wine consumers attracted to certain wine styles or regions.

As a parent with two young boys, one 13-and-a-half and the other almost 18 and on the cusp of proper adulthood, I love to observe their eating patterns, like a wine buyer studies wine consumers’ buying patterns. As the main parent who oversees all the cooking in the house, I am fascinated why my youngest child is obsessed with eating mostly plain, generally bland food while my eldest is finally showing signs of enjoying, literally, a little more spice in life, with a growing penchant for Thai curries, Chinese noodles and aromatic Mexican dishes. When does the switch flip in their heads? When do they suddenly decide they are attracted to more exotic styles of food?

 During my ponderings, I couldn’t but help draw comparisons to wine drinkers, who traditionally moved from drinking beer and sweeter cocktails to experimenting with initially riper, sweeter, more obvious wines, mostly white, before moving on to softer, richer, riper, more overtly opulent and possibly RS (residual sugar) laden red wines. But of course, over time, we then slowly witness the progression of maturing palates to more mineral, dryer, more structured, picante wine styles, with a noticeable movement away from riper, sweeter, more obvious New World wine styles to a decidedly more restrained, classical, savoury leaning style of wines. It is, of course, impossible to illustrate this analogy without treading very close to a great number of generalities and obvious wine cliches.  

I, for one, could not help wondering if our obvious evolution of palate and wine drinking tastes towards the more restrained, savoury and classical was indeed almost inversely matched by the development and evolution of our epicurean tastes towards the more exotic, spicy and mysterious? It just seems to me, on reflection, that these generalised trends are too clear cut not to question their absolute validity.

Without doubt, none of us in the broader wine trade can honestly, hand on heart, say we have done our utmost to make wine more broadly attractive, agreeable, engaging and enticing to a newer, younger generation of potential wine consumers. We may envisage luring them in with opportunities to drink inviting old bottles of expensive aged Claret that outwardly cost the equivalent of a proper long weekend away in Marbella, Spain, but is this really the kind of bribery and enticement that is realistically going to reel in a new catch of engaged young fine wine enthusiasts? Somehow, I’m doubtful. The wine trade simply needs to work harder to convince the next generation of wine consumers that expanding and educating their wine drinking palates is just as important and enjoyable as cultivating their ever-expanding culinary tastes. Indeed, the two should go hand in hand without doubt!

  • Greg Sherwood was born in Pretoria, South Africa, and as the son of a career diplomat, spent his first 21 years traveling the globe with his parents. With a Business Management and Marketing degree from Webster University, St. Louis, Missouri, USA, Sherwood began his working career as a commodity trader. In 2000, he decided to make more of a long-held interest in wine taking a position at Handford Wines in South Kensington, London, working his way up to the position of Senior Wine Buyer. Earlier this year, he moved across to South African specialist merchant Museum Wines to become the Fine Wine Director. He qualified as a Master of Wine in 2007.


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