Category:Wine advice

Making wine easier

wine advoceThe wine industry has had a revelation: Wine is too difficult.

First, an important British advertising executive told the industry: “You’ve seen it ? the way people in restaurants nervously pass round a wine list. It’s fear. You as an industry have encouraged that fear. The wine industry is the most fragmented market I’ve seen. Fragmented, confusing, impenetrable.”

Then, Tom Klein, the new president of the Wine Institute, said more or less the same thing: “In general, we need to make wine more accessible to everyone. It can be a bit intimidating to some people. Could we do a better job at explaining wine and making people more comfortable? Yes, but that’s beginning to happen.”

What’s going on here? Has the wine business finally come to its senses? Can we expect real change and not just lip service? Will we finally see labels that do more than patronize with cute design or confuse with jargon and platitudes?

It’s not news that a problem exists, though it is news that people in the industry have noticed it. This is an industry, after all, that thinks a back label for a grocery-store quality wine that says “Our Pinot Grigio … is reminiscent of a pear cupcake with white chocolate” is effective marketing. Which it’s not. For one thing, the wine doesn’t taste like that. For another, why would anyone want it to?

We can thank the recession for this new perspective. It has wreaked havoc with the wine business model — sell expensive wine to people who don’t understand what they’re drinking. Since the mid-1980s, this has been a fabulously successful approach, with sales and consumption reaching all-time highs.

Even many of the companies that make cheap wine succumbed. No one, and I mean no one, knows more about selling wine than Gallo, yet this is the description the company uses for its Barefoot chardonnay: “Golden and smooth, with a sweet vanilla aroma, our medium-weight Chardonnay is full of honeyed peach and Fuji apple flavors.” Fuji apples? In a $6 wine? We’re approaching peach cupcake territory here.

This is why it’s going to be difficult for the wine business to change. It dislikes change (corks, anyone?), and cute and confusing has been around so long that it is ingrained in the industry’s being. It’s like losing weight. I know that I shouldn’t eat takeout pizza if I want to drop a few pounds, but it’s just so easy to pick up the phone and order and worry about losing weight later.

This is not to say that there haven’t been positive developments, like the International Riesling Foundation’s sweetness guide. The group has developed a sensible, easy-to-decipher label symbol to tell consumers just how sweet a particular style of riesling is. The problem, though, is that the rest of the wine business is busy telling consumers they’re a bunch of yahoos if they drink sweet wine.

So what needs to happen?

? A recommended, industry-wide standard label, based on the riesling foundation example, that offers information that consumers need. How dry is the wine? What temperature should it be served at? How fruity is it? What grapes is it made with (since a wine that says merlot can be 25 percent something else)?

? Education, education, and more education. How about a Wine Institute road show, featuring top winemakers, that travels the country giving wine education seminars?

? Making wine for wine’s sake, not as line extensions or to take up shelf space. In some grocery stores, there are more wines for sale than cereals. What’s the point of that? All it does is confuse the consumer.

And, as always, the Wine Curmudgeon is ready to do his bit.

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Fourth of July wine 2010

Yes, one can drink wine on the Fourth of July. It's a picnic holiday, after all, and there are plenty of picnic wines. It's a barbecue holiday, and there are certainly barbecue wines. It's a party holiday, and there is an entire category of party wines — Champagne and sparkling wine.

Here are a few thoughts about what to buy and how to approach the holiday:

? Rose, rose and some more rose. This solves the sweet wine problem for people who don't like to buy sweet wine. Most roses, even though they aren't sweet, are fruity enough to do the trick. It also answers the question about what kind of white wine to serve with beef — pink.

? Sparkling wine: Toast the U.S.' birthday with New Mexico's Gruet, which recently received the stamp of approval from the New York Times. Or check out the Wine Curmudgeon's value-oriented suggestions (or cheap, as we like to say).

? Lighter red wines: I did a Facebook chat for Dallas' Advocate Magazines the other day, and this is one of the subjects that came up. This is a good time to mention Ridge's Three Valleys, a zinfandel blend for about $20, that has long been one of my favorites. Look for red blends, wines made with grapes like grenache, and pretty much anything that isn't the standard cabernet sauvignon or merlot.

For more on Fourth of July wine:
? Fourth of July wine 2009
? Wine of the week: Rene Barbier Mediterranean White NV
? Wine of the week: La Mano Mencia Roble 2007

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Memorial Day wine and rose

Memorial Day traditionally marks the beginning of summer, so what better time to discourse on rose — one of the Wine Curmudgeon's favorites and a style of wine that is too often overlooked?

The quality of rose has improved dramatically over the last decade. I don ?t know that I have actually tasted a poorly made rose in the past couple of years. Some of them have been too expensive, but that ?s another story. Usually, you can buy quality rose for $10, and often less.

The most important thing to know about rose is that it isn ?t white zinfandel (or white merlot or whatever); roses are pink wines made with red grapes, and roses aren ?t sweet. Why are they pink? Because the red grape skins are left in the fermenting grape juice just long enough to color the wine. That's how all wine gets its color, in fact. White wine is white because the skins aren't used to color the wine.

More, after the jump:

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Wine aerators, America’s Test Kitchen, and why more people don’t drink wine

America’s Test Kitchen, the cooking show run by the people who do Cook’s Illustrated magazine, does a fine job explaining why recipes work and demonstrating how to successfully make a dish.

The program’s mantra is: “Use quality ingredients, think about what you’re doing, and don’t be confused by shiny objects.” This is especially true when the show reviews products and kitchen gadgets, and host Christopher Kimball is famous for his cheap, Down East approach when it comes to spending money for overpriced olive oil or frou-frou accessories.

Given all this, why did America’s Test Kitchen review wine aerators — and suggest that one can’t enjoy wine unless one spends $50 for an aerator? Chris, $50? $50?

The Wine Curmudgeon’s attitude towards these sorts of things is well documented. If you’re going to buy a gadget, ask yourself if it’s worth buying instead of a similar amount of wine. Most of the time, it’s not, and it’s especially not when it comes to aerators.

Yes, wine needs to breathe. But most wine — and almost all wine that we drink on a regular basis — doesn’t need anything more than some glass swirling and to sit for a couple of minutes after it’s opened. That’s it.

Even if you don’t believe me, you still don’t need to spend $50 on an aerator. Go to a discount store and buy a glass pitcher. It will cost a couple of bucks. Pour the wine into the glass pitcher. This process, called decanting, will do the same thing as the aerator. And you’ll have $45 left to spend on wine.

The idea that one needs an aerator is yet another example of how the industry makes it difficult for people to drink wine. What would the reaction be if a non-wine drinker saw the Test Kitchen bit? “That’s too complicated.” “I don’t want to spend the money.” “I’ll drink beer or Dr Pepper instead — they’re easier.”

The other thing that has always bothered me about aerators is that their devotees, who are incredibly passionate and send me nasty emails when I write stuff like this, insist aerators are easy to use and are quicker than letting the wine sit in the bottle. I have never found either to be the case. I’m convinced that much of their enthusiasm is from the placebo effect; that is, they paid $50 for the thing, and by God, it’s going to make the wine taste better.

One final note for America’s Test Kitchen: The wine that was used to test the aerator in the clip I saw on TV was Chateau Bonnet Rouge, one of the Wine Curmudgeon’s favorites (there’s also a Bonnet Blanc). It’s a $10 or $12 red Bordeaux blend, and if it needs to be aerated, then I’m going to start giving scores and writing about why California chardonnay needs more oak.

So, Chris, seriously — the next time you do a wine gadget on the show, throw your weight around. Most of them serve the exact same function as those $100 olive oils you don’t like. And if you have any questions, call me.

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Mother’s Day wine 2010

A few thoughts for wine-loving Mom on your list: 

? Charles Krug Sauvignon Blanc 2008($18): Always quality California-style sauvignon blanc. This year's vintage is more French in style, with lots of minerality and muted fruit.

? Prazo de Roriz 2007 ($16): Lots of black fruit and quite rich, which makes it a nice food wine for everything from barbecue to fancy dinners. A step up from most $10 Portugese red wine blends.

? Jackson-Triggs Vidal Icewine Proprietors' Reserve 2006 ($20 for a 187-ml bottle): Ice wine is one of the world's great guilty pleasures, and this is no exception. It's dessert wine, so it's honeyed, rich and luscious, but the sweetness is much more than just sugary.

For more on Mother ?s Day wine:
? Buying Mom wine for Mother's Day
? Wine of the week: Acrobat Pinot Gris 2008
? Mother's Day wine 2009

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How to hold a home wine class

Holding a home wine class isn't as difficult as it seemsEver wonder why so many people are both intrigued — and intimidated — by wine? Consider this, which a woman told me several years when I was working on a story about home wine classes.

"This is the first time we ?ve ever done anything like this," she said. She and her husband were at a friend's house in suburban Fort Worth, where they were participating in a class. "We don ?t even drink. But we were out to dinner the other night, and we ordered a filet, and we wanted wine to have with it, and we were clueless. We didn ?t know what to get. So we decided we ?d better go and get educated."

And, frankly, a home wine class is a great way to learn — and the Wine Curmudgeon says this even allowing for the shameless plug. You're among friends, the atmosphere is cordial, and there is much less intimidation than if you were at a store or restaurant.  I've been doing it for five or six years now, and I don't know that any of them weren't fun (save for the bridal shower, which is probably worth a short story of New Yorker proportions).

In this type of class, you hire a professional, who comes to your house and gives the class. It's more formal than having people over to share wine, though that subject is worth a blog post, too. Hosting a home wine doesn ?t require experience or wine knowledge as much as some pre-tasting preparation. After the jump, eight questions to ask if you want to do a home wine class:

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Why blind tasting is the most important thing in the world

The Wine Curmudgeon writes a lot about blind tasting and why it matters. Nothing demonstrates this more than what happened when I judged The Dallas Morning News competition earlier this month, where I was able to put my foot firmly in my mouth.

I can't tell you the wine involved here; the results are embargoed until April 15. But I can tell you that my panel gave a gold medal to an absolutely lovely pinot gris. It was easily one of the best wines we tasted over two days and 200 entries — fresh, crisp and balanced. It tasted much more expensive than it actually is.

So imagine my surprise when I found out what the wine was. That's because I had tasted this wine last fall, as a winery sample, and I was not impressed. I wrote in my notes (on CellarTracker, the unofficial wine inventory software of the Wine Curmudgeon): "It's OK, though it would offer more value at a lower price. Bright fruit and some acid, but it tastes almost manipulated to get it to a certain flavor profile."

That's why blind tasting is essential. I don't know that I had made up my mind before I tasted the sample that I wasn't going to like it, but I do remember looking for flaws more intensely than usual. Maybe I was more cranky than normal, maybe I was suspicious of the brand. Who knows? But the price I paid was to dismiss a quality wine, and that's my loss. Life is too short, and there isn't enough good wine, to throw one away just because you're having a bad tasting day.

The photo is from Jeremy Doorten of Alberta, Saskatchewan, via stock.xchng, using a Creative Commons