What I am about to do may represent the most annoying aspect of wine writing: the overtly creative and expansive comparison of wine to other art forms.
So by comparing Lou Reed to wine, I have taken wine to a completely wishful place, if I have not completely left reality. But the death of Lou Reed and, more pertinently, the life of Lou Reed demands of his ardent fans — yep, I’m one of them — some sort of accounting.
He was irascible — to be kind — but also brilliant, world-changing, amazingly hip far longer than any of his peers and nevertheless, apparently, uninterested in popular or even critical opinion.
Why is this an appropriate way to launch a wine column? Because these days wine is as fashionable and as mercurial as pop music. Some wine producers seem so eager to please that their wines can feel almost arbitrary in style.
Like pop music, wine is a consumer material, far less defined by notions of art than artful fad. Those music makers who can crack the code of fad while making something that speaks to a sense of our identity may be savants or con men or future politicians or merely future late-night cable salesmen.
But when they are able to craft a song that sings our own thoughts, they deserve their commercial success.
Lou did that with “Walk on the Wild Side,” but also with “Heroin,” “Candy Says,” “Sweet Jane,” “White Light White Heat” and even “I Want to be Black.” And suddenly, I find myself wanting to name tens more songs. You don’t have to reference “Metal Machine Music” to know that he didn’t really give a damn if his songs found popularity as much as a determined and passionate audience.
And that’s really the point of this column. You can make safe, albeit clean and tasty wines and you will sell them as a result. But when you make wines that fire up a significant chunk of the wine drinking populace, that’s something different. There is no particular style of wine that does that, and even faddish practices, such as organic winemaking or bio-dynamism or whatever, aren’t what I’m talking about. I’m talking passion.
Some do and most don’t. It’s no particular style, grape, region or winemaking method. It’s something beyond that and it’s why we can speak of wine — or pop music — as art.
Doug Frost is a Kansas City-based wine and spirits writer and consultant who for decades has happily educated the public about all things drink. He is one of only three people in the world to have earned the coveted titles of master sommelier and master of wine. He contributes a monthly wine column for The Star’s Food section.