Category:Wine Curmudgeon

Disconnected from reality: How the wine world thrives on hyperbole, assumption, and exaggeration

Napa Valley wine

If it’s expensive, then it must make me a better person.

Most of us will never drink pricey Napa Valley wine, but that doesn’t stop us from assuming that expensive wine is the only kind that matters

Two recent postings in the cyber-ether show how disconnected the wine world is from reality: First, a comment on the blog last week asking how California could have a record grape harvest this year given the Napa Valley wine fires in 2017. Second, an article on Wine-Searcher.com declaring: “The simple truth is that if you don’t have Napa on your label people just aren’t that into you, and winemakers would be forgiven for throwing their hand in and becoming whiskey makers instead.”

The fact everyone is overlooking here? Napa Valley wine accounts for less than five percent of California’s production.

This is not to denigrate Napa’s product, which is some of the best in the world. Rather, it’s to note how hyperbole, assumption, and exaggeration continue to power the U.S. wine business. Most wine drinkers in this country will probably never taste a Napa Valley wine. First, Napa prices are two and three times the national average, so cost eliminates all but the most devoted. Second, the majority of the grocery store Great Wall of Wine, where as much as three-quarters of wine is sold in some states, is not from Napa. So we couldn’t buy it even if we wanted to.

But there are wine drinkers, and then there are wine drinkers.

That’s because, as the two Napa items demonstrate, only expensive wine matters. This has always been a problem, and explains how I got started doing this. But it has become more prevalent given premiumization. I did a tasting several years ago where a 40-something man refused to drink anything that didn’t cost at least $20 because he knew it was awful. And how did he know that? Because the Winestream Media told him anything cheaper than $20 was awful, saving him the trouble of tasting it himself.

Second is the idea that people who drink expensive wine are somehow better than the rest of us. You can see this in the comments on the blog’s Barefoot posts. This attitude baffles me. I vote, I pay my taxes, I’m nice to my dog. Why does my choice of wine speak to my quality as a human being? What difference can it possibly make to someone else that I don’t drink the same wine they drink?

Those are also two reasons why cheap wine quality has fallen so far since the end of the recession. What’s the point of making decent wine for someone who doesn’t deserve it? After all, as the Wine-Searcher article said, none of the wines we drink matter. Hence, the increasing difficulty in finding quality and value for less than $15.

July Fourth blog schedule changes 2018

The blog is off for the July Fourth holiday next Wednesday, and there are couple of other changes in our schedule next week:

• The wine of the week, which usually runs on Wednesday, will run on Monday. That way, you can buy it to enjoy on the Fourth.

• Our regular features return on Thursday, including Friday’s post discussing the continuing divide between what we buy and what the Winestream Media tells us we should drink.

Someone likes one of those Yellow Tail TV ads — really

Is it possible that this Yellow Tail TV ad isn’t awful?

Yellow Tail, the Australian grocery store wine, has come in for a fair share of criticism on the blog for its TV commercials. Which, to put it nicely, are everything that has been wrong with TV wine commercials for 60 years – pretentious and snotty, as well as emphasizing that we need Yellow Tail to hook up with a hot chick.

Because, of course, that’s what we associate with $7 supermarket wine.

The intriguing thing about this Yellow Tail ad from 2012 is not that it is different. It isn’t. It’s more of the same, and told in the same annoying, “I drink Yellow Tail, so I’m cooler than you are” way. What’s intriguing is that someone likes it – several someones, if the comments on the ad’s You Tube page are to be believed.

“Very cool commercial nice use of motion graphics,” says one comment. “Great commercial….I always have to stop what I’m doing to watch……Great music too!” says another.

Far be it from me to suggest that all this praise isn’t legitimate, though it’s worth noting that all 10 comments are uniformly gushing (and that fake praise is currently bedeviling the Internet). Then again, maybe I’m missing something, and the ad is truly genius. If so, does that mean I have to like the infamous Yellow Tail “pet my roo” ad?

“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?