As further proof that wine and beer share certain similarities, I point to the ongoing debate within each industry over hot wines and extreme beers, respectively. It seems that both wine and beer have a contingent of followers who absolutely love a highly alcoholic (and in the case of beer, highly hopped) beverage.
But then there are the "average" drinkers: the bulk of folks who don't know nor particularly care about the nuanced differences between a French Bordeaux and an American Meritage, who don't understand (nor care about) how an extra pale ale really differs from an IPA. These folks happen to be the bulk of the market, which means that when trends like "extreme" beer and highly alcoholic wines take off, there are a whole of people left out in the cold. Witness winemaker Randy Dunn's latest missive:
"The current fad of higher and higher alcohol wines should stop. Most wine drinkers do not really appreciate wines that are 15 -16. +% alcohol. They are, in fact, hot and very difficult to enjoy with a meal...I don’t believe the average person is so insensitive to flavors and aromas that they must have a 15% Cabernet, Chardonnay, or Pinot Noir to get the aromas and flavors."Now compare this to Lew Bryson's exploration of the extreme beer backlash in February's issue of Beer Advocate magazine:
"...we are, as Independence Brew Pub (Philadelphia) brewer Tim Roberts reminds us, a very small group: 'While we might consider Sierra Nevada Bigfoot tame,' he says, 'almost everyone else in the world would disagree. It's a very small group of people that feel that those types of [highly alcoholic, highly hopped] beers are somehow standard now, and want something more over-the-top.'"The fact is, the majority of the market doesn't want extreme. And this is equally true for both beer and wine. The funny thing about it, though, is that I suspect many extreme wine fans have discovered an appreciation for extreme beers through their very love of such...extremity, and vice versa. Those who seek out intense flavors and tongue-tingling ABV levels easily recognize such characteristics in other beverages, which can quickly open up a whole new world to them.
Now, I would never advocate limiting production of any particular kind of wine or beer. Instead, I think we'd all be better served if producers would keep taking risks, keep seeking out new audiences for their "fringe" products, and keep mastering the old standbys as well. It's all a matter of appreciating the various points on a single beverage spectrum.