Category:Wine Curmudgeon

“So simple, so cheap:” Home-made apple wine

Home-made apple wine: “A perfectly passable table wine.”

There are any number of reasons to love this video from BrewTube — the narrator’s English accent, the addition of oak chips to the fermenting apple juice, and his conclusion: “A perfectly passable table wine.” The bravest among you might want to try this and let me know about the passable part.

I post this for a couple of reasons. First, my El Centro class ended this week, and one of the highlights this year — as it is every year — is the anecdote about making wine from orange juice. I always start the first lecture with the orange juice story: If you want to make wine, take a bottle of orange juice, put it in the back of the refrigerator, and you’ll get wine in a couple of weeks.

The wine may not be very good, but it is wine since the sugar has been converted to alcohol. More importantly, it demonstrates that winemaking is more than just the technical stuff. Not a lot of terroir in fermented orange juice. There’s also the bit about the student who had been in prison, and had done this in his cell, but that’s a story for another day.

Second, because I once tried making wine at home, using grape juice and the method in this video. The less said, the better, other than to note I had to dump 64 ounces of moldy grape juice down the sink.

Back label wine descriptions: What the jumble and winespeak on the back label really means

Back label wine descriptionsBack label wine descriptions can be as confusing as anything written by wine critics

The recent post about wine critics and their almost indecipherable wine descriptions reminded me that they aren’t the only ones whose goal is confusion and obfuscation. We also have back label wine descriptions for that.

In fact, back label wine descriptions may be more annoying, since their job is to help sell the wine. Who wants to buy a wine where the back label promises something that isn’t there? I’m not the only one flustered by this; a marketing official for one of the largest wine companies in the world told me it bothers good marketers, too. But many of the biggest producers contract the back label writing to third parties, so they’re stuck with what they get.

The other annoying thing? Yes, many of the worst examples come from cheap wine, but many also come from wine costing as much as $25. And what does that say about the $25 wine?

The following are taken from actual back label wine descriptions, with my explanation of what they really mean:

• Silky mouth feel: “We’ve removed the acidity and tannins and added sugar to cover up anything remotely resembling either, just in case any is still in the wine.”

• Unusual fruits like lychee nut and guava: Most wine drinkers probably haven’t tasted those, so the description does two things – first, shows that even a $6 bottle of wine can be exotic. Second, that the wine is deep and complex, even when it only costs $6. So shut up and buy it already. But then there is the other side of the descriptor.

• An alluring hint. … : “The flavor isn’t actually there, but if we suggest it, you’ll probably taste it and think the wine is better than it is.”

• Robust, with intense, dark fruits: “We’ve added as much Mega Purple as humanly possible.”

• A mocha finish with lingering oak: Regular readers here know what that is without any help from me – scorching amounts of fake oak, and then even more. And maybe even a little bit more just to be on the safe side.

• Freshly picked peaches (or apricots or even red fruit like cherries): “You’re damn right it’s sweet. But we’re not going to say that, are we?”

• A long, stony finish: “We couldn’t get rid of that odd, bitter taste in the wine, and we didn’t want to add any more sugar. So we want you to think that the bitterness is a good thing.”

The fourth do-it-yourself wine review

do it yourself

Drinky appreciates white wine with fresh stone fruit and citrus aromas and flavors.

How else to combat the foolishness in so many wine reviews? Hence, the fourth  do-it-yourself wine review.

The fourth do-it-yourself wine review gives you a chance to play wine snob, wine geek, and wine know it all, just like so many who do it professionally. Why deprive yourself of writing: “The strawberry, rhubarb, blueberry and cranberry flavors are juicy and fresh, with plenty of purity and oomph, offering a firm backbone. Dried herb, fresh earthy loam and spice notes linger, but the fruit continues to sing out on the finish.”

So write your own wine review, using the drop-down menus in this post. Just click the menu and choose your favorite line. Those of you who get the blog via email may have to go to the website — click here to do so.

And, as always, thanks to Al Yellon, since I stole the idea from him.

In the glass, this white wine:

I smelled the wine, and:

I tasted the wine, and:

All in all, I’d say the wine:

More do-it-yourself wine reviews:
The first do-it-yourself wine review
The second do-it-yourself wine review
The third do-it-yourself wine review

Want to get young people interested in wine? Try wine education

wine educationWine education is the key to help Millennials enjoy wine; otherwise, they assume it’s expensive, snobby, and geeky

The news is everywhere for anyone who wants to pay attention: Younger people, and especially the Millennials who should be the future of wine, aren’t much interested in it.

I see this every time I teach at Dallas’ El Centro College. Beer and spirits, yes, those they want to know about. But wine? As one student said, midway though this semester’s first wine tasting: “I’m never going to understand this. It’s too complicated.”

Never fear, though. Wine education to the rescue.

This has happened every time I’ve taught a class. The idea of wine perplexes the students, most of whom have never had any and don’t know anyone who has. About the only thing they do know is that wine is expensive, snobby, and geeky, which are hardly qualities to recommend it.

This is disheartening enough, but consider that these are culinary students in El Centro’s top-notch Food and Hospitality Institute. They need to learn wine in order to have a career. And if they’re overwhelmed, how must the rest of their age group feel? They don’t need to learn about wine to make a living.

Which is where wine education – something the wine business considers as unnecessary as ingredient labels and tasting notes written in English – comes in. This also happens every time I’ve taught a class. Get the students past the idea of expensive, snobby, and geeky. Show them that wine can be simple and fun. That’s when the light bulb goes off and they aren’t intimidated anymore.

In other words, wine education.

Give potential wine drinkers something other than toasty and oaky to work with. Show them wine doesn’t have to cost as much as a car payment to be enjoyable. Let them figure out what they like instead of telling them what they should drink.

And it works every time. This semester, the same student who was ready to give up after tasting two red wines was confident and assured during the sparkling wine tasting. She was able to explain why she liked the California sparkling better than the French Champagne, and her reasons were considered and well thought out. (The fruitiness, mostly.)

The other key here? I didn’t pass judgment on the student or tell her she was stupid for daring to prefer the “inferior” wine. Sadly, when’s the last time you saw someone in wine be that open minded?

21st-style hacker fun and excitement on the blog this week

hackerWhat do you do when hackers target your site and your software sides with them?

Some of you trying to access the site on Wednesday and Thursday may have gotten a couple of different error messages instead of my always brilliant prose. That’s because the blog was “under attack from hackers and the like, just a random thing that happens these days,” says the site’s web guru, Kermit Woodall.

No, I didn’t ask Kermit who launched the attacks, assuming that the Winestream Media, cork business, and other assorted types that I may have criticized once or twice would be more subtle – like continuing to ignore me. Besides, since the blog has few assets other than my brilliant prose, there’s no reason to hold it for ransom.

But that was only part of the problem. The software we use to fend off hackers stopped them, but it also registered their attacks as visits to the blog. That got the attention of the company that hosts the site, whose server was going ga-ga from too many visits. So it shut down early Wednesday morning.

We got that fixed by Wednesday afternoon, thanks to Kermit and the support people at Siteground, my hosting service. Siteground is top notch, easily the best I’ve used over the past 10 years. When it advertises 24/7 support, it actually means it. They can even talk down a panicked Curmudgeon at 5:45 in the morning.

Which was all well and good, except that the fix needed to be fixed on Thursday. Fortunately, that was simple enough, and one chat with Siteground support got the site up again by the time most of you finished your coffee.

So we’re OK. I hope. Because I really don’t want to have to learn about Bitcoin.

The fourth, almost annual, $3 wine challenge

$3 wineYou asked for it, so the Wine Curmudgeon will endure. I’ll drink $3 wine with dinner every night next week to see if ultra-cheap wine matters

Each night next week, I’ll drink a $3 wine with dinner; can they offer quality and value for so little money? I don’t do this to break new enological ground, given how crappy most of the wine was in the first three $3 challenges. But this remains one of the most popular features on the blog, and I regularly get emails asking me to do it again.

So once more unto the breach, dear friends (and I wish I had his sword). Can a wine drinker live on really cheap wine? Or are the ultra-cheap wines just cheap, without any other reason for being?

The details about the first three $3 challenges are here, here, and here. This year, it will be five merlots (all purchased in Dallas):

Two-buck Chuck merlot ($1.99, 12.5%). The Trader Joe’s private label was the first — and remains — the most famous of the very cheap wines. It’s a California appellation from the 2014 vintage, and made for Trader Joe’s by Bronco Wine. The price surprised me; it has been $2.99 for a couple of years.

Three Wishes merlot ($2.99, 12.5%), the Whole Foods private label. It carries an American appellation, which means it’s non-vintage and at least three-quarters of the grapes used to make it were grown anywhere in the U.S. (though most probably came from the Central Valley in California). It’s made by multi-national The Wine Group, which is best known for Cupcake.

Winking Owl merlot ($2.89, 12%) from Aldi (but may be available elsewhere). It’s a California appellation but non-vintage, so 75 percent of the grapes came from California but from different harvests. It’s made by E&J Gallo, the largest wine producer in the world.

Oak Leaf merlot ($2.96, 12.5%), the Walmart private label. Also made by The Wine Group, American, and non-vintage. The price is a penny less than the last time I did this.

Bay Bridge merlot ($2.99, 12.5%), the Kroger private label; sold at Kroger, Fred Meyer, and Kroger-owned banners. It’s American and non-vintage, and the third of these made by The Wine Group.

The Wine Curmudgeon’s favorite posts of 2017

These six posts weren’t necessarily the best read, but they were among my favorite posts of 2017

Anyone can do a top 10 list, but only the Wine Curmudgeon can do year-end top 10 list that is different from everyone else’s. Hence these six posts, which I thought were among the best I wrote in 2016 – the third time I have done this exercise.

Note that these aren’t necessarily the best-read posts; Google, rather than my brilliance as a writer, determines that. Rather, these are the posts that I enjoyed writing, thought were important to write, or both. But they didn’t get the attention they deserved.

Here, in no particular order, are my favorite posts of 2017:

What do we call legalized marijuana, now that it is for in sale in one form or another in more than half the states? This post combined a bit of humor with the reminder that legal weed is going to hurt wine, even if no one in the wine business wants to worry about it. In fact, several people canceled their email subscriptions to the blog shortly after they received the post.

• The annual Halloween post usually does poorly, but this year’s did even worse. Frankly, it was some of my best writing, and it featured Dr. Who. What wasn’t there to like, what with the Doctor and cheap wine?

• We finally have nutritional labels for booze, so why not for wine? What more needs to be done to convince the wine business to take this step to bring their product into the 21st century?

• My on-going struggles with the post-modern PR business may not seem like something you should care about, but wine drinkers are the biggest losers when critics shill for crummy wine. And we’re expected to do that all the time. And, to add insult to injury, a couple of months after this post ran, a PR flack sent me an email that contained almost everything I complained about in the post – including how much he enjoyed reading the blog.

• The wine business turns a blind eye to the neo-Prohibitionists who want to make drinking more difficult, and that includes legal, perfectly acceptable two glasses of wine with dinner drinking. Hence, this reminder from Iran, where Prohibition has been the law for decades, and how banning booze doesn’t work – even when the penalty for drinking is death.

• Finally, the idea that accessing the Internet for sites like mine may become a thing of the past. This is the only political piece I wrote in 10 years, and it was almost completely ignored. Net neutrality – the idea that everyone should be able to access everything in the cyber-ether without paying extra or suffering speed reductions or restrictions – is as important as a free press. But the FCC thinks otherwise; the regulator has abdicated its duty to protect consumers to help companies like AT&T get even richer. This is so horrendous a decision that I can see a time in the near future when I have to give up the blog because I can’t pay for the special access that Internet operators will demand from websites and content providers. Because, if I don’t pay, you’ll try to get the site and your cursor will just spin and spin and spin, and what’s the point of a website no one can access?

More on the WC’s favorite posts:
Favorite posts of 2016
Favorite posts of 2015