One would think that it would be incredibly difficult to rate wine as if it was a refrigerator. There are objective measurements for refrigerators — how well does it maintain temperature? — and hardly any for wine.
Nevertheless, Consumer Reports, which has been rating products for some 80 years, does wine. I don't know that I agree with all of the choices in the December issue (a famous critter wine made it), but I can't argue with their methodology. This is about as objective as wine tasting gets.
"We're very specific about what we're looking for," says Maxine Siegel (no relation), who oversees the wine project for the magazine. "There are acceptable standards that we're looking for. And it does have to be a tasty wine."
Stephen Dubner is the co-author of the popular Freakonomics books and blog, which look at economic theory from a less than traditional perspective. In this radio interview transcript, Dubner talks about wine prices and the wine business, and whether price reflects quality and whether the experts are really experts.
A couple of the Wine Curmudgeon's pals show up, including Robin Goldstein of The Wine Trials, and it's a decent discussion of the objective vs. subjective nature of wine quality and wine prices. Which is nothing new to regular visitors here.
But anyone who appreciates what we do on the blog will love this. Dubner quotes his Freakonomics co-author, Steven Levitt: "My approach to buying wine for gifts is simple: I go in the store, and I look for the label that looks the most expensive of anything in the store. And I make sure it costs less than $15, and if it does, then I buy it."
Maybe I should should send each of the Steves a tin of Wine Curmudgeon M&Ms.
Suggestions for Thanksgiving wine, and please don't agonize over pairings and propriety and pinot noir. Thanksgiving is not about scoring points with the wine snobs, but about sharing what you have with friends and family. In other words, if Aunt Dorothy likes white zinfandel, who are you tell her she can't have any? More, after the jump:
Gary Shansby tells the story with an almost wistful air. A good friend of his, who is smart and wealthy, will only drink Grey Goose vodka. Gary, who owns Partida Tequila, offered to buy his friend a Partida. No thanks, says the friend. I only drink Grey Goose. Can I buy you another kind of vodka? asks Gary. No thanks, says the friend. I only drink Grey Goose.
Why do you only drink Grey Goose? asks Gary. Because it's the best, says his friend. How do you know that? asks Gary. Have you tried any other vodka? No, says the friend. Have you tried my tequila? No, says the friend. Then how do you know that you don't want to try anything else? Because I don't, says the friend. I just know.
Shansby finishes the story and I laugh. He has outlined, neatly, the dilemma facing those of us who do wine education. Yes, this story is about tequila and spirits, and I usually don't do much of that here. But Shansby is also a wine drinker who knows how the business works, and Partida makes some damn fine tequila. I was especially impressed with the blanco (about $45, sample), which had almost nothing to do with the cheap, poorly made tequila that one sees around Dallas.
Besides, the principle is the same, whether we're talking about tequila or pinot noir. It's not enough that wine is confusing. We also have to fight the prejudices that consumers pick up, many of which are fostered on consumers by the companies that sell wine.
"There are so many great wines all over the world — from Chile, from parts of the U.S. — that it's just so confusing to the consumer," says Shansby. "But that also means that they are so many great wines to try at so many attractive prices."
In fact, he says, those attractive prices are going to be around for a while. The recession is the main reason (and he expects its effects to be with us for a long while), which is something we've discussed here many times before. Producers are stuck with unsold wine, with more wine in the production pipeline, so they are cutting prices to move it. Shansby says it won't be unusual to see discounts of 20 to 40 percent. So why not take a chance and experiment? Why not try a wine from a different region than your usual? Why not try a different varietal?
Just don't, says Shansby, let your prejudices make your decisions for you. And who can argue with that.
My pal Dave McIntyre, the wine writer at the Washington Post, got a surprisingly nasty email from a reader. Why, asked the email, is Dave wasting the reader's time writing about Virginia wines, which no one is interested in, which cost too much, and which stink? And, by the way, Dave should stop pandering to Virginia wine producers and recommend French wines for people to drink.
On the other hand, I was talking to a wine drinker at a French wine event in Dallas last night (ironically enough). Ralph Lewerenz is a huge advocate of Texas wine, and he has the knowledge and wherewithal to drink just about any wine he wants. "It would be outrageous not to drink Texas wines," he told me. Yes, some of them aren't very good, Ralph said, but a lot of them are. Best yet, when Ralph travels, he tries regional wines. I almost hugged him in the middle of the event.
I feel sorry for Dave's emailer. Wine is supposed to be fun, which Lewernez understands. It's about exploration and discovery. How alienated from the joy of wine must someone be who sends nasty emails to a wine writer trying to helping them have fun?
What do you do when you're ready to take the next step in wine drinking? As noted last week, anyone can learn about wine. But what do you do after you're starting to feel comfortable with the basics? You have found several wines and styles that you like, and you're ready to be more adventurous.
That's when it's time to start doing the paperwork, which is not as off-putting as it sounds. What it means is keeping track of the wines you drink, how much they cost, and whether you enjoyed them. In addition, now is the time to improve your wine vocabulary — not because you should start talking that way, but because so many other people do.
Fortunately, there are several tools to help you do these things. They're mostly easy to use, they're free and they're web-based. The latter means that you can access them from almost anywhere you find yourself drinking wine. After the jump, a look at four sites that will make your wine drinking easier, and even if you're not a novice.
One of the most common complaints I hear from people who don't drink much wine is that it's too intimidating. "How am I ever going to learn about wine?" they ask.
The answer, of course, is to drink wine, and to drink enough of it and to drink enough different kinds so that you learn along the way. This usually gets a laugh, but too many people don't see this approach as a practical solution. "It can't be that simple," they say.
But it is. Really. One is not born to wine, anointed from on high. Everyone learns one glass at a time — and I have examples from the big-name guests we're interviewing this year at the Texas Wine Garden at the State Fair of Texas. More, after the jump: