The Who. The Kinks. The Yardbirds. Eric Clapton. Jeff Beck. Rod Stewart (long before he started singing about his perceived sexiness). Paul Butterfield. The Dave Clark Five.
As good as that invasion was, I'm not looking for another one of those. Besides, there already was another one in that vein in the mid-70s.
I ponder the coming of the next one whenever I'm in England (as I was just last week visiting my lovely wife's sister and her husband and three kids). We could stand to learn a lot from the Brits, something they're usually very willing to point out to us, usually politely, of course.
The two most important things, in no particular order, are queuing up at bus stops (or for anything, for that matter) rather than jostling for position or stepping in front of one another (remember what happened two Black Friday Christmas shopping kick-offs ago?) and drinking.
Obviously, we all know how to drink. And I'm certainly not suggesting that we, a nation of binge drinkers, need much more instruction in that regard, even from very skilled binge drinkers like the British. But what we could glean from all their years of tippling is how to leave our prejudices and fears of picking wines on any given night behind.
I touched on some of our ignorance in the post on screwcaps. Having lived in several very different wine markets in the United States, I have been able to form some very firm opinions on the subject of just what makes the American wine consumer tick. Not that there is "an" American wine consumer, something that was very, very hard for the Italian and Portuguese trade commissions to understand when I did a little consulting for them a number of years ago. That said, it's fair to say that most American wine drinkers are at least a little reluctant to venture toward unknown parts of the wine world. Coupled with this is usually about the same level of nerves concerning the area(s) that are "known."
There are oodles of reasons for this, many of which are simply a function of our limited history as a nation of wine drinkers (something, by the way, that we're really not; despite being on the cusp of taking the lead in worldwide wine consumption within the next few years, our per capita numbers are still miniscule). Rather than try and list them all and make us feel worse about ourselves, I'm hopeful that the British example will inspire us.
You see, the British are the world's greatest consumers of wine (they may also be for spirits and beer, but that's not my area of so-called expertise).
This isn't because of how much they consume. Or how much they know. In fact, I'm not so sure that the average British wine drinker knows that much more than our average consumer. But I do know that the British don't make their buying decisions on what the label looks like, how the bottle is closed, what country it's from or how many points Robert Parker gave it. Of course, there is some of all that there as there is everywhere, even in winedom's mothership, France (subject for another day: the French don't know practically ANYTHING about wine; and I'll prove it).
A bottle could be topped with a dirty rag, and the only analysis that will take place while confronting rows of wines at Marks & Spencer concerns whether the bottle provides good value for what it purports to be. That's it.
But of course, you say, that's the way we all do it. No it isn't.
It's no accident that just about every emerging wine country or region that has emerged did so first in the U.K. Or in a bit of a twist on that theme, thanks to a Brit.
Chile. Check. Australia. Check. South Africa. Check. Even our Golden State got a much-needed push into relevancy thanks to the now-famous Paris Tasting (see, it must be famous because it's in caps) of 1976 when a British wine merchant set out a bunch of glasses before some experts. In them, he poured a handful of California wines and Bordeaux and Burgundy. The two winners were from California.
I'm not suggesting that marketing doesn't matter to them. Only that for the most part, the buying choice is less about cute little critters or dirty words adorning the labels than it is the sense that he or she will be getting what they're paying for regardless of where it's from.
Maybe this is just an accident of location and history. After all, when you've spent that history on an island and much of it being at war with France, you're going to need some wine back up. And maybe springing from that is a matter-of-factness about wine in the British collective unconscious. It's not something to agonize over or even gush about (except, perhaps, on special occasions). It's just something pleasing to drink, and if it is to be so, it had better deliver.
It would drive me crazy if I were a producer, however, because there seems to be much less brand loyalty over there as there is here (take a bow, Madison Avenue). Whereas we would rather fight than switch, they're happy to move on if the relationship isn't working any longer. And when one moves on, one invariably ends up with hands wrapped around another bottle.
As a consequence, the British palate and palette are more expansive than ours. Not better. Just broader. And that's the point of all of this.
If you open your mouth in a different direction more often, your mind will surely follow.