Category:Wine advice

The new U.S. Pizza Museum is missing just one thing – wine

u.s pizza museum

My Old Style days are a thing of the past — today, it’s wine and pizza.

Four wine-related exhibits for the U.S. Pizza Museum

The new U.S. pizza museum – in Chicago, of course – is a wonderful idea. The only thing that seems to be missing is wine.

Which we can’t have if the museum is to be taken seriously (despite the usual pizza whining from Manhattan). The Wine Curmudgeon knows this because, before I wrote about wine, I wrote about pizza. Those were the halcyon days of Pizza Today magazine, working for the great Bruce Allar and knowing the joy that was the annual Pizza Expo trade show. Where else could anyone get so excited about flour and yeast but at Pizza Expo in the Las Vegas convention center?

I also lived pizza, growing up in Chicago and understanding the symbiosis between cheese, a proper thick crust, the correct tomato sauce, and Italian sausage. Those were the days of Dave’s Italian Kitchen, the pre-chain Giordano’s, the Silo in Lake Bluff, and cold, leftover Rosati’s pizza for breakfast. And yes, I used to drink Old Style with pizza, but I write about wine now, don’t I?

So if the museum doesn’t have a wine and pizza exhibit, then the Wine Curmudgeon will do something about it. Consider these possibilities:

• Always pink: rose with pizza. A French chef, long before the rose boom, told me the only proper wine for pizza was pink. So why not Cuvée des 3 Messes Basses Rose ($10, purchased, 13.5%), a solid, well made southern French rose with tart berry fruit, some minerality, and the necessary freshness and crispness. Imported by Kindred Vines

• Chianti, tomato sauce, and pizza. Any of our cheap Chiantis would work, as would any sangiovese-based wine from Tuscany in Italy. The Monte Antico Toscana, a sangiovese blend, offers fresh cherry fruit and the Italian earthiness I so enjoy.

• Regional pizza and regional wine. One of the things that surprises me about pizza is someone somewhere always seems to be doing something new with it (though you can probably guess how I feel about pineapple as a topping). Given the success of Drink Local, a top-quality Missouri norton like the St. James Estate Norton ($15, purchased, 13.5%), full of spice and dark black fruit, would complement even the unique St. Louis style of pizza.

• Why not seafood? I first saw shrimp on pizza at Gino’s in Houma, La.; despite my Chicago roots, it took me just 12 seconds to accept it as legitimate. In fact, seafood is a common topping in much of the U.S., like the clam pizza popular on the east coast. Seafood-friendly white wine, like the Fantini Farnese Trebbiano d’Abruzzo ($8, purchased, 12%). It’s less tart and crisp, but more spicy and chalky than ugni blanc (the French version of the trebbiano grape) as well a little citrus fruit. Imported by Empson USA.

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Pizza Museum, using a Creative Commons license

Ask the WC 17: Restaurant-only wines, local wine, rose prices

restaurant-only winesThis edition of Ask the WC: Are there wines sold only in restaurants, plus local wine’s success and the cost of rose

Because the customers always have questions, and the Wine Curmudgeon has answers in this irregular feature. You can Ask the Wine Curmudgeon a wine-related question .

Hey Wine Curmudgeon:
What can you tell me about wines sold only in restaurants? I’ve seen restaurant-only wines that I don’t see in any retailers. Why is that?
Dining out

Dear Dining out:
Yes, there are wines sold only in restaurants. No, there isn’t a simple explanation about how this is possible, given the requirements of the three-tier system. There are two kinds of restaurant-only wines — those made exclusively for specific chains (our old pal private label), and those the producer decides to sell just to restaurants. The latter are often more expensive and are usually sold by the glass. The theory is that there will be more demand in restaurants for those kinds of wines than there would be in stores. None of this, of course, explains why restaurant wine prices and markups remain ridiculously high.

WC:
You keep writing that local wine has been a huge success. I don’t see it — I know I can’t buy wine from other states besides California in my local store. What am I missing?
Drink Local

Dear Drink Local:
The very fact that you’re asking this question speaks to local wine’s success. How many people would have know quality wine was made in the other 47 states 10 years ago? That you can’t get anything else speaks to the distribution problems plaguing wine more than the popularity of local wine.

Hey WC:
Someone left a comment the other day about the price of rose, that it was more expensive than $10. I’m seeing the same thing. Where are you finding $10 rose?
Drinking pink

Dear Pink:
The majority of $10 roses I buy are from quality specialty stores and independent retailers. I agree — it’s not easy finding $10 rose in grocery stores, given the phony pricing model that supermarkets use. So, if you can buy from other retailers, do so. Otherwise, you’re buying $1) wine marked up to $18 and then put on sale for $12.

More Ask the Wine Curmudgeon:
Ask the WC 16: Grocery store wine, Millennials, canned wine
Ask the WC 15: Wine consumption, wine refrigerators, wine tastings
Ask the WC 14: The wine availability edition

How to take advantage of phony wine pricing

phony wine pricesThese four suggestions can turn phony wine pricing into real savings

Wine pricing today is a jumble of fake discounts, inflated markups to make the fake discounts look good, and make-believe member and club prices. And let’s not forget all those bogus volume savings, where the multi-bottle price at one store is the one-bottle price at another store.

But there are ways to make phony wine pricing pay off. Yes, it’s a bit of work, and no, wine shopping isn’t supposed to be a bit of work. But the bit of work is the difference between getting the most value for your money, and paying too much for crummy bottles of wine.

Hence, these suggestions:

• Know the real retail price. The free version of wine-searcher.com does just that. If you start there, you’ll be able to tell immediately that the $18 grocery store wine marked down to $15 costs $13 elsewhere. And then you’ll know to buy it elsewhere.

• Plan your buying; don’t buy on a whim. If you need a bottle of wine for dinner, that’s one thing. But if you’re at Target or Walmart, don’t throw bottles into the basket just because. The next thing you know, you’ve paid $75 for five bottles of wine that might have cost $60 at another store.

• Know which stores offer which discounts – and which discounts matter. World Market’s four-bottle, club member discount is often a sham. But one Dallas specialty grocer offers 20 percent off six bottles every week, changing the discount from white to rose to red and so forth. That is almost always real savings. So don’t be afraid to ask how a store’s discount policy works.

• Use those discounts. I stock up at the Dallas specialty retailer depending on what’s on sale. That way, I can buy my $10 wines for $8, as well as splurge on $12 or $13 bottles (even if they cost $10 or $11 elsewhere). This approach will even work with grocery store pricing. In the spring, my Kroger was selling Wine Curmudgeon favorite Spy Valley sauvignon blanc for $16, which is more or less the real price. Thanks to the card discount, I was able to buy the wine for 10 percent off the real price. So I bought two.

Finally, remember that the independent retailer is your best friend. The independent retailer’s pricing is usually the most fair, and most will offer the standard 10 percent case discount. How can you go wrong with that?

More about phony wine pricing
Wine pricing foolishness, and how one group stopped it
Wine pricing skulduggery
Transparency and grocery store wine prices

Winecast 33: Andrew Stover, Siema Wines

andrew stoverAndrew Stover has been fighting the good fight for Drink Local from inside the wine business, “importing” regional wine to the Washington, D.C., area

Andrew Stover has been one of the good guys for regional wine for a decade, “importing” local wine to the Washington, D.C., area. This is especially impressive since Andrew is a distributor, a part of the wine business that has not always been kind to drink local. He brings wine in from more than a dozen states and distributes it to some of the most prestigious restaurants and retailers in the D.C. area. Jose Andres, anyone?

I’ve known Andrew since the early days of Drink Local Wine, and he has always been passionate about local wine and supportive of the cause. We talked about how he got started with local wine, why it has suddenly become the darling of the Winestream Media, and what comes next.

Click here to download or stream the podcast, which is about 14 1/2 minutes long and takes up 11 megabytes. The sound quality is excellent; we recorded it with the Wine Curmudgeon’s Linux-compatible Fifine K669 microphone.

One more time: The independent wine retailer is your best friend

independent wine retailer

No, this is not the selection at a quality independent retailer.

Only the independent wine retailer can save us from crappy wine and unfair pricing

The country’s pre-eminent “natural foods” grocer had two wine displays next to each other last month in a Dallas store. One wine was the kind you’d expect it to carry – Jules Taylor New Zealand sauvignon blanc, a terrific wine and especially for the $15 sale price. Next to it was mass produced schlock, a California chardonnay that uses intensive winemaking to taste sweet and buttery. It was also $15, and I saw the same wine for the same price at Target.

If a store that markets itself as carrying only the finest natural, organic, and sustainable products treats wine that way – junk next to excellence, and for the same price — how can we count on any retailer to offer quality and value?

Fortunately, that’s what the best independent wine retailers do. Because, as a wine business friend emailed the other day, “The consumer has a romantic view, with no idea of all the BS behind the curtain to sell the ocean of wine being made. And I feel the consumer is overpaying most of the time.”

The best independent wine retailers don’t do those things. They won’t sell you something like that chardonnay, where the bottle was probably the most expensive part of the product. In fact, most won’t even have it in their stores.

The best independent wine retailers understand that customer service matters, which is why they don’t carry junk. Better to sell you cases and cases of wine over the long term than six bottles of plonk and never see you again. And they price their products fairly, without the come-ons and phony discounts that dominate the marketplace. Right, Cost Plus World Market?

What makes a quality independent wine retailer?

To paraphrase from the cheap wine book:

• Does the retailer ask questions about your preferences, helping you figure out what you want – red or white, sweet or dry?

• Does the retailer let you ask questions? Do you feel comfortable asking those questions? Or do you feel you’re being humored in the way adults humor small children?

• Does the retailer answer your questions? Are the answers understandable or in winespeak? And, when you say you don’t understand what he or she means by leathery or oaky, do they explain so you do understand?

The best retailers do more than sell wine. They help you find wine that you didn’t know you would like. It’s easy to sell someone something that they already know about. What’s more difficult, and a mark of the best retailers, is to find something new – a Spanish albarino or French picpoul for an Italian pinot grigio, for example, or a fruity rose instead of a white zinfandel.

I’m lucky to have two top-notch independents in Dallas, and I have rarely been disappointed. I know if the wine is on their shelves, it’s probably worth buying. And I also know I can ask any question I want, no matter how Wine Curmudgeonly cranky, and I’ll get an intelligent answer. No one will sell me something because it’s on sale or because they get a bonus for selling it. They sell it because they want to make me happy.

And when’s the last time we could count on that in the wine business?

Nine bottles of wine for $96.91 (not including the discounts)

$10 wineIt’s still possible to buy quality $10 wine; just avoid the cute labels and marketing gimmicks

Premiumization has made it that much more difficult to buy quality cheap wine, but it’s still possible. The key, as I have written before, is to concentrate on value and ignore cute labels, scores, and marketing gimmicks. That’s how the wine business tricks us into paying $15 for $8 worth of wine. Which is why we have the cheap wine checklist.

I bought these nine wines last week at Jimmy’s, the well-regarded Italian grocery in Dallas. I spent more this time than during previous cheap wine shopping expeditions, but that’s because all the wines are Italian. Hence, no $6 Spanish values.

Having said that, there’s not a stinker in the lot, and the average is still around $10 a bottle. Suck on that, premiumization:

Cusumano Insolia ($12). This Sicilian white has long been a favorite, even though it has experienced some quality ups and downs. Regardless, it was one of the wines that helped put Sicily on the wine geek map. The red, made with nero d’avola, is worthwhile, too.

Falseco Vitiano Rosso ($10), One of the great moments in my wine writing career was meeting Riccardo Cotarella, whose family makes these wines. Year in and out, $10 or $14, the red, white, and rose are some of the world’s great wines regardless of price.

Garofoli Macrinia ($14). A tip of the WC’s fedora to the Italian Wine Guy for this white.

Scaia Rosato ($11). I bought two bottles of this, one of the best roses I’ve tasted this year.

Fantini Sangiovese ($10). One of literally dozens of terrific $10 red wines from Italy made with sangiovese. Plus, a screwcap.

Rocca di Montemassi Le Focaie ($10). See the Fantini (though no screwcap).

Scaia garganega chardonnay blend ($11). I mentioned this white to another Italian winemaker, and he got visibly jealous.

• Rocca Caselli Toscana ($8). Difficult to find (one more example of how screwed up three-tier is), but this Italian red is well worth the trouble.

More cheap wine shopping trips:
Once more: A case of quality wine for less than $10 a bottle
• Cheap wine checklist: $82.67 for a case of wine
• $100 of wine

 

Five wine stories you never need to read again

wine storiesYou don’t need to read these five wine stories again, because they don’t say anything anyone needs to know to enjoy wine

Wine writing can be repetitive and boring, and it’s just not because all too many of us write entirely too much about scores and toasty and oaky. It’s because certain stories appear over and over and over that always sound the same and that never offer information that matters to most of us.

In other words, five wine stories you don’t need to read:

It was a great vintage: Vintage stories have been meaningless for years, and not just because post-modern winemaking technology has made vintage irrelevant for 95 percent of the wine in the world. It’s because every vintage story, regardless of what happened during the harvest, quotes someone as saying it was a terrific vintage. It might have been challenging or it might have been smaller than expected, but it was terrific. I saw this the other day with a couple of stories about this year’s Texas harvest: One story gushed about a bumper crop, while the other talked about lower yields but high quality.

Wine is good (or bad) for you: Regular visitors here know I’ve banned health stories from the blog almost from the beginning, mostly because almost all of them are silly. Wine, like just about everything we put in our body, is neither good nor bad. It’s how much we use. If we drink in moderation, there seem to be health benefits. If we don’t drink in moderation, there are no health benefits. You don’t need a PhD or MD to know that.

Corks are the ideal wine closure: One day, perhaps, someone will do a scientific study about the efficacy of corks. Until then, there is no reason to read any cork story. Most of the studies are paid for by the cork industry, so what would you expect the results to be? Let’s not forget that cigarette makers once claimed smoking was good for us, and they had the experts to prove it.

Such and such is the hot new grape varietal: Typically, these stories originate on the East Coast and quote high-end sommeliers talking about a wine made in such small quantities that no one except high-end sommeliers can buy it. The original hot new grape was gruner veltliner, and you can see how that turned out. When’s the last time you saw gruner on a store shelf? In the last couple of years, we’ve gone though Greek grapes like assyrtiko; the current favorite is the country of Georgia and its saperavi. The point is not quality, because some of the wines are terrific (if overpriced). Rather, it’s availability. How can a wine be the next big thing if there isn’t any to buy?

Such and such is the hot new wine region: When I started doing this, the hot new wine region in California was Paso Robles. So guess what a recent story identified as the hot new wine region in California? Paso Robles, of course. Some of this is the way the news business works, where each new generation of editors and reporters figure they’ve discovered something because no one else in their peer group knows about it. But most of it is just laziness.