The Best Things Come...
The internet age has taught me a very important lesson over the years: that time is of the essence. I remember back in the day when you could actually line up for concert tickets. If you were first in line, you got the first crack at the front row. When Pink Floyd went on tour in 1994 I remember there were actually people camping out in front of the Ticketmaster office in Modesto in order to save their spot in the queue. That ended quickly, however, when the box office began doing a lottery. But the entire concept of lines, waiting, and paying your dues ended entirely when the internet allowed concert-goers to buy their tickets online. Now it's all just a mad rush once the ten o'clock hour hits—who's got the fastest fingers? You can buy tickets now from the comfort of your toilet seat if you so wish. Remember when an important new rock album was being released (hell, do you remember when rock albums were important?) and you'd go to the Tower Records midnight sale for a chance to get it first? Now you can just download the songs you like as soon as the record hits the web. Remember when you had to actually make time to watch TV, to reserve the spot on your calendar so that you didn't miss the latest episode of Beverly Hills 90210? Those days are over. Maybe time isn't of the essence after all. Maybe time works for us now.
As I talked about this subject with my friend Ben last night, he said to me at one point: "I love binge watching TV shows. It's great. It's an incredible option, but I'm not going to act like waiting a week in between episodes wasn't more exciting." Rather than time creating nostalgia at this point for many of us, time itself is nostalgia. We're actually looking back at the past and saying: "Remember when you actually had to wait? Wasn't that nice?" Why was waiting so wonderful, you ask young millennial? Because back before the internet existed you actually had time to develop context, evaluate quality, allow for deeper concepts to sink in, and reflect on the enjoyment you derived from an experience. When you can get whatever you want, whenever you want it, it unwittingly devalues the very thing you're looking forward to enjoying; it turns from a luxury into a simple convenience. "I can't tell you the last album I've downloaded that I've listened to more than once," Ben added at one point. Of course! Why listen to something again when you can just download a new one once you've finished? We're passionate about saving the earth these days, about reusing our paper cups over and over, but what about art? Is an experience something you actually experience anymore, or is it now just something you record on your iPhone, post on Facebook, and immediately move on from?
And where do wine and whiskey fall in the conversation? Are today's new drinkers even interested in having an experience, or are they more interested in crossing off another name on a list of the ten best whiskies that they found after seven seconds of Google searching? Are they actually trying to enjoy the liquid, or are they more interested in forming an opinion so that they can add another blog post, tweet, or Instagram opinion to their daily regiment? Companies are really asking these questions because they want to know if it's even worth the time to explain everything! What's the point of going into detail when no one's going to actually pay attention? We live in an age of efficiency. We want to be able to learn about as much as possible, as fast as possible, by putting forth as little effort as possible. But as we've learned from the current strain of affluenza, when you're given something for nothing you tend to lose sight of what's really important. Professional wine or whiskey reviewing is no different. You often go into a room, there are thirty glasses in front of you, and you do the best you can with the time allotted to you. In no way, however, is tasting thirty Bordeaux wines back-to-back the same as sitting down with one bottle over the course of an evening, which is why the entire concept of power tasting is flawed. It's for that reason I love tasting at Signatory each year with Des, tracking down the actual cask in the warehouse, climbing up on top of the stacks, and using the screwpump to open each bung. The fact that we actually have to work for our whisky makes it that much more enjoyable.
On a larger scale, you can use the example of the 2012 Bordeaux vintage I wrote about a few months back to see what happens when professional critics race to be first and completely miss the context as a result. You had guys releasing scores before the wines had actually developed, lowering the release prices, but then scrambling to go back and rescore their initial attempts to save face. We're leaving on Saturday to score the 2015 vintage (the first week of April as we do every year), but we heard stories of other guys tasting in February! That's like trying to psychoanalyze a child while it's still in the womb. Sometimes you just have to wait, and by waiting you actually get a more substantive review. The quality of all connoisseurship increases by moving slowly, taking one's time, and allowing the nuances of the process to reveal themselves. But who really cares about context these days, anyway? Just give me the quick rundown. And quickly! I don't have much time to spend on this purchase. Is it good? On a scale of 1-100, where would it land?
And there you have it.