Category:Wine advice

Wine availability: Whose fault is it anyway?

The reader didn ?t mince any words: ?This is the third time I have attempted to purchase a wine you recommended in your column only to find that one or more of the locations you identified as carrying the wine was listed erroneously. … As for me, I will ignore your reviews in future since the prospect of actually obtaining the wine is remote. ?

Fortunately, this wasn ?t a blog reader; rather, it was someone castigating Dave McIntyre of the Washington Post. But it could have been someone here ? or anywhere in the wine world, for that matter. Availability is the bane of the wine writer ?s existence, and there is very little we can do about it.

Did Dave ?s reader have a right to expect the wine to be in that particular store? He did. But it wasn ?t Dave ?s fault that it wasn ?t there, because wine doesn ?t work that way. After the jump: Why that ?s the case, and why not much can be done about it.

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Ask the WC 2: Health, food pairings, weddings

Because the customers always write, and the Wine Curmudgeon has answers every month or so. Ask a wine-related question by clicking here.

Dear Wine Curmudgeon:
Why do doctors say red wine is more heart healthy than white wines? I have acid reflux and whites, roses, and light bodied red wines seem easier on me than heavy red wines. I want to drink heart healthy if possible.
Aging as well as I can in Texas

Dear Aging:
Red wine has more resveratrol, which comes from grape skins, than whites, and roses. Which makes sense, since the skins are used in making red wine more than they are in rose and white. Doctors think resveratrol helps prevent blood vessel damage, cuts bad cholesterol, and can even help with blood clots. Having said that, wine and health remains a controversial subject, and some physicians figure the bad things about wine outweigh the good. I don ?t, and I firmly believe in a heart-healthy lifestyle ? wine in moderation, walking the dogs, and lots of fiber.


Dear Cranky Wine Guy:
You offer wine and food pairing suggestions with your reviews, but also write that we should drink what we want and not worry about stuff like that. What am I supposed to think?
Confused reader in the Midwest

Dear Confused:
That contradiction has always bothered me; the last thing I want to do is scare people away with food pairing rules. On the other hand, to paraphrase Paula Lambert, one of the world ?s great artisan cheesemakers, there is a relationship between the two. She says to look for wine that makes the food taste better and for food that makes the wine taste better. Most pairing suggestions will get you close, and you ?ll often be surprised by how much better each tastes. Though, if you want big red wine with crab cakes, who am I to stop you?


Dear Wine Curmudgeon:
My daughter is getting married next year, and we ?ve already had problems finding wine for the reception. It ?s expensive, I don ?t understand the process, and I ?m afraid we ?ll get wine that no one likes. Can you help?
Perplexed future mother-in-law

Dear Perplexed:
The WC gets that question all the time, which is why I wrote a wine for your wedding post covering caterers, hotels, pricing, and suggestions about what to serve. In general, It’s your wedding — pick the wine you want and can afford, and don ?t worry about what people think. Anyone who goes to a wedding and complains about the wine probably shouldn ?t have been invited.

Wine availability: How to find what you’re looking for when it’s not on the shelf

Wine availability: How to find what you're looking for when it's not on the shelf

So much wine, but so much that never seems to be available.

Wine availability is the bane of any wine writer’s existence. Even the Wine Curmudgeon, who only writes about wine that I see on a store shelf or am assured is on a shelf on pain of my considerable wrath, gets emails all the time asking why something I wrote about isn’t available.
There are a variety of reasons for this, most of which are discussed in the link above. The point of this post is to help you find wine when your local retailer doesn’t have it.

The caveat in all of this is that wine availability varies from store to store, city to city and state to state. As Michigan State’s Phil Howard noted in his landmark study of the wine business, there are no national brands, and availability is one confused mess.

So these pointers should work — but it doesn’t mean they always will:

Ask the retailer to check his or her distributor books. More wines exist than any retailer can possibly carry, so just because they aren’t in the store doesn’t mean they aren’t available. A distributor book lists every single wine — often thousands for the biggest distributors — that can be sold at retail in that market, and many markets have at least a half a dozen distributors. If the wine is in one of the books, a good retailer will get it for you.

Check with the winery. Obviously, if you can buy it from them, so much the better. But if you can’t (thank you, three-tier system), send an email, and there’s a decent chance you’ll get a reply. The best solution: Some producers have database apps on their site, like this one from Terlato, that let you search for their wines in your area.

• The importer should know. If the wine is not made in the U.S., there’s a line on the back label that says “Imported by such and such.” Look for the importer’s web site; sometimes, they’ll have a database app. More likely, you’ll have to send an email.

• Look for on-line retailers like This comes with the proviso that on-line wine sales are notoriously annoying, what with shipping charges and state laws designed to restrict on-line sales.

• Use Plug in a wine, and this site will tell you who carries it (as long as the retailer has paid to be listed in the results). Despite its limitations, which include results that aren’t consistent from search to search and outdated retailer availability, it can be quite helpful. And the free version is usually sufficient. One visitor to the blog used Wine-Searcher to find a wine I had reviewed that wasn’t available in her market, but was at another retailer in her state who shipped it to her.

• Send me an email. Believe me, I don’t mind forwarding it to the producer or importer.

Ask the WC 1: Loose corks, cava, unadulterated wine

loose corksBecause the customers always write — this feature, which will run every now and then. Ask a wine-related question by clicking here.

Greetings WC:
A bottle of white wine I bought got warm in the car last summer and the cork pushed out a small amount. Is that possible? If so, should I expect any negative impact to the wine getting warm?
Car & Driver

Dear Car & Driver:
Heat expands, and that’s what happened here. It’s not unusual, and often happens with wine kept in warehouses without air conditioning. Yes, they still exist. The wine may have spoiled or oxidized; really no way to tell until you taste it.

Dear Mr. Curmudgeon:
I am a faithful reader of your ever informative and always entertaining blog. I want to re-stock my wine rack with cava. Any suggestions?
Bubbly drinker in New York

Dear Bubbly:
So hard to answer while I’m blushing. But you can’t go wrong with the widely available Segura Viudas and Casteller and Naveran from Ole Imports, which may be more difficult to find. Each is around $10. If you want to spend a bit more, try Raventos and Juve y Campos.

Dear WC:
I’m looking for a simple red wine, one that is unfortified, unsweetened, with nothing added — no spices, flavors, etc. What’s available?
Confused by winespeak

Dear Confused:
I’m surprised I don’t get this question more often, given the terms used to describe wine flavors. If a wine writer says a wine has cherry fruit, it’s not untoward to wonder if cherry juice has been added. But most dry red wine is made without adding those things — typically, just grapes, yeast, and sulfites. You can buy a red wine from McManis, for instance, and it should meet your criteria. The fruit flavors come from wine grapes, which have different flavor properties than table grapes.

Anthony J. Hawkins and the Wine Grape Glossary

The Wine Grape Glossary, perhaps the most important wine reference tool on the Internet, was compiled by someone who did it to learn how to use a computer and to teach himself basic programming.

Thank you, Anthony J. Hawkins.

“That’s one reason why it’s so simple,” says the 83-year-old Hawkins, retired from the ceramics department at Alfred University in western New York state. “I didn’t want to put in any bells and whistles because I didn’t want it to be too complicated.”

It’s almost impossible to overstate the significance of Hawkins’ work. The site lists thousands of grapes (not even Hawkins knows how many), cross-referenced by parentage and the grape’s name in different regions and countries, along with growing and winemaking notes. All of this is annotated with academic sources and references.

Not sure what monastrell is? A couple of clicks and you’ll see that it’s a Spanish red grape that isn’t related to the French mouvedre, as is commonly thought. Surprised to see symphony listed as a grape on some California white blends? Click through and you’ll find that it’s a cross devised in 1948 at the University of California-Davis to blend with sweet wines.

And it’s free and incredibly easy to use. By comparison, Jancis Robinson’s new book, “Wine Grapes,” which has been released to critical raves, runs almost 1,300 pages and costs $175.

Is it any wonder I check the glossary (hosted by Robin Garr’s Wine Lovers Page) at least a couple of times day? Or that it’s reference material at many wine competitions that I judge?

Even more amazing is that Hawkins wasn’t all that interested in wine when he started work on it in early 1990s (though, he says with a laugh, he has a nice cellar now). He knew a home winemaker, and wanted to learn more about what that involved, as well as to understand what grapes were being grown in upstate New York 20 years ago. His goal, he said, was to grow a couple of vines so he could pluck grapes from his bedroom window. Besides figure out computers.

And, in those almost pre-Internet days, there weren’t many places to look. “Jancis Robinson ?s Guide to Wine Grapes,” her first grape book, wasn’t published until 1996 and only had 800 entries, an abridged version of a more expensive book that was almost impossible to find. Hawkins was on his own.

“The sources were hard to come by, though I did eventually get decent references from Cornell,” he says. “And the first versions were a little inaccurate, and I got some comments on that. It was like working in the dark. But then it started to grow like topsy.”

Until 2007, when Hawkins had to stop work on the glossary. He has had some health problems, he says, including heart surgery. But that doesn’t mean he wants to see it fade away.

“Yes, I’d like to see someone take it over and improve it,” Hawkins says, knowing that it’s time for an update that he can’t do. For one thing, diamond, one of my favorite New York state hybrids, is missing. Anyone who is interested can send him an email at hawkins at alfred dot edu (forgive that format, but I want to spare him any spam).

As for me, I want to double check the difference between ruby cabernet and cabernet sauvignon. Excuse me while I click.

2012 holiday gift guide redux

wine gifts

Unfortunately, this Champagne bottle lamp has been sold.

Just a week until Christmas, so it ?s time to remind everyone who missed it the first time that the Wine Curmudgeon has you covered. Check out the holiday gift post, as well as a couple of more suggestions:

? Templeton small batch rye whiskey ($38, sample): The revival in brown goods means those of us who drink rye have more to choose from than Old Overcoat. The Templeton, from Iowa no less, has that wonderful rye sweet edge, and it lasts from beginning to end. Cut it with a little water, sit by the fireplace, and it doesn ?t matter how cold it is outside.

? ?Wine Grapes, ? which my pal Dave McIntyre described as ?a book of biblical scale. ? How about entries for 1,368 grape varieties over 1,280 pages for $175? Yes, it ?s not for everyone, but I have to confess: It would be fun to have around the house.

The “What do you drink when your magazine is sold and everyone gets fired?” blog post

The Wine Curmudgeon ?s career in the newspaper business included three newspaper closings as well as one really spectacular newspaper wake (for the late and much lamented Dallas Times Herald). So I am, sadly, well qualified to write this post.

Pet Age, the premiere trade magazine for the pet retail business, has been sold and all of its employees have been fired. I have freelanced for Pet Age since the early 1990s (one does not live by wine writing alone), and so I know the good work the staff did. Cathy Foster, who was my editor, was smart and quick to see how a story should be written, and editor Karen MacLeod, a fellow Northwestern alum, may know the pet business better than I know cheap wine.

So this is my gift to them for a job well done: What to drink when they hold the Pet Age wake, be it public or just sitting at home trying to make sense of the whole thing:

A decent boxed wine: Because, frankly, a lot of people are going to want to get drunk, and boxed wine provides the best price quality ratio for that purpose. Black Box and Bota Box whites are a safe bet (though I’d skip the pinot grigio); the price works out to the equivalent of $4 to $5 a bottle. (Though, of course, the Wine Curmudgeon does not advocate drinking to get drunk, driving while drunk, or any of those sorts of things.)

A bubbly for toasting: Regular visitors here know this one — Cristalino, all $6 or $7 of it. Or, as I wrote the last time it was the wine of the week: “bone dry, refreshing and brisk.”

Something nice: As my pal Tim McNally reminded me when I told him about this post, life is too short to not to drink something nice at a time like this. I’d open one of my remaining bottles of 2002 Sauzet Puligny-Montrachet, but any fine wine will do. What was something you once had and really liked, but never drank again because it was too expensive or too hard to find? Now’s the time for it.

The hard stuff: I’m not much of a cocktail guy; I prefer my fruit in a pie. I do, however, appreciate good spirits. Wild Turkey makes a rye whiskey for about $18 that gets the job done (just cut it with a little water). And I was lucky enough to sample Partida tequilla, which offers value for $45.

Drink up, my friends. You deserve it.