Category:Wine rants

The Wine Curmudgeon as hipster: Dude, he likes rose

rose

I totally get the resemblance… hat and beard and even glasses.

The news is official, from not just Deadspin and Details, which are about as hipster as post-modern media get, but from Manhattan sommeliers — and even their more hip Brooklyn brethren: “Dude, we’re drinking rose.” “Bro, you are so right.”

This is so exciting that the Wine Curmudgeon, given his long love and advocacy of rose, is going to grow one of those hipster beards and wear one of those hipster hats. Because, dude, rose is freakin’ awesome. Fist bump here.

On the one hand, I should be thrilled that the hipsters have embraced rose, because anyone embracing rose is a good thing in the fight for quality cheap wine, given that it’s almost impossible to find a $10 pink wine that isn’t worth drinking. Plus, that people who may not know wine, who usually drink craft beer or artisan cocktails made with pickle brine, are now drinking rose is something to be much appreciated.

On the other hand, why is this trend — any wine trend, really — only official if a Manhattan sommelier approves of it? Why can’t it be a trend if a cranky, middle-aged ex-sportswriter who lives in the middle of the country approves of it? And, regardless of the personal insult to me, why isn’t it a trend because rose sales have been spiking upward for a couple of years — without any help from people who work at what the Details article called a Brooklyn “fauxhemian” hangout?

Just chill, dude.

Maybe so. The Wine Curmudgeon has been known to visit Manhattan (Brooklyn, even). So, in the spirit of rose-mance, I will bring rose with me the next time I go, and not the usual Provencal pink the hipsters know. How about South African rose? Or Spanish rose? Or even Texas rose? Because, bro, I want to, like, be totally cool with that.

 

Wine education: Four things you don’t need to know about wine

wine educationBut that the wine business, through its allies in the Winestream Media, harps on ad nauseum. That’s because it makes them feel important to write about this stuff, even though no one else cares and it has nothing do with wine education. Hence, four things that you don’t need to know about wine:

? Wine fraud. This is an issue that affects almost no one who drinks wine; who is going to counterfeit Cupcake Red Velvet, Barefoot moscato, or any of the hundreds of other wines that dominate sales in the U.S. ? Nevertheless, wine fraud been blasting around the Internet for years, and especially if it’s in China. There seem to be couple of stories about it every day, bemoaning the fact that a very rich person has been cheated or that a world famous French winery has been besmirched by Chinese counterfeits. In fact, counterfeit wine probably accounts for less than one percent of all the wine made in the world each year. But you’d never know that by reading the Winestream Media.

? Bordeaux futures. This is the process in which very rich people buy very expensive French wine at a discount, even though they haven’t tasted it and won’t take delivery for a couple of years. In other words, about as far removed from buying wine at the grocery store as possible. Each week, I see at least a dozen stories about the futures process, which again affects fewer than one percent of the people who buy wine in the U.S.

? The next big thing. These stories make the Wine Curmudgeon the craziest, since they focus on an obscure grape, usually produced in small quantities in a lesser known part the world. And they always quote a Manhattan sommelier about how this wine will sweep the country, taking for granted that if someone in Manhattan says it is true, it must be, and ignoring three-tier and how little of the wine is actually for sale in the U.S. Hence, Georgian wine (and not the state in the southern U.S.) Note to Winestream Media: The next big thing is sweet red wine, and it has been here for two years.

? Wine writing. Every week, someone will write a long, garment-rending piece about how terrible wine writing is and how it was so much better in the old days. Or someone will write a long, snarky piece about how much better wine writing is today than it was in the old days. Or, and this is my favorite, someone — usually the same couple of older white guys — will do both in the same story. Wine drinkers don’t care about wine writing, which is why I stopped writing about it a couple of years ago. Writing about wine writing is just one more kind of cyber porn, and not nearly as interesting as the rest.

None of this is wine education. That would include practical advice about wine pricing, how to buy wine, and why three-tier matters to the ordinary wine drinker. But who gets famous writing about that?

More about wine things you need to know:
? Five things that make me crazy when I buy wine
? Five things the wine business can do to help consumers figure out wine
? Finding the next big wine region

The revolution in wine terms

wine termsWho knew wine terms had become more than they were? Certainly not the Wine Curmudgeon, who has been using words like sweet and dry and fruity for more than 20 years. But, apparently, I am not au courant, as a post at VinePair, describing “20 wine words most drinkers don’t know” reminded me.

My first question? Why, if these terms are so important and wine drinkers need to know them, how is it that most don’t? That would be like most food eaters not knowing what hot and cold means. “Hmmm, this soup is hurting my mouth. Is there a term to describe that?”

Second, one of the terms was hedonistic: “Robert Parker ?s favorite word. Wines that just blow you away. Parker likes hedonistic, but you can just say the wine is damn amazing.” Note to Adam Teeter at VinePair, who wrote the post and, save for an occasional lapse into cuteness, seems to know his business. Most wine drinkers don’t know who Robert Parker is and don’t care, so why do they need to know his favorite wine term? Plus, in 30-some years as a professional writer, wine and otherwise, I have never used hedonistic to describe anything. And I have had a fairly successful career.

Third, wine terms should be objective, like sweet and dry and fruity, and hedonistic (as well as ponderous, also on the list) isn’t. Parker may think those wines are damn amazing, but many of us don’t. We find them overblown and unenjoyable. What’s the point of using a term that tells someone they’re supposed to like something that they may not like?

Again, this is not to criticize Teeter, who is probably trying to help, but to point out yet again how most post-modern wine writing has little to do with the average consumer. It’s as if they’re writing a movie review that discusses camera angles and editing techniques instead of the plot, and then getting angry when someone asks them what the movie is about.

And what’s worse is that they call those of us — who want to write intelligently and clearly, who want to educate wine drinkers and not preach to them — a variety of not very nice names. I’m not going to link to them, because it’s not worth the aggravation and the Internet sniping that will ensue. But two prominent California wine writers have recently questioned whether people like me are competent to write about wine. Our sin? That we try to make it less intimidating and confusing, when real wine writers know wine is supposed to be intimidating and confusing. Otherwise, one of them wrote, what’s the point of learning about it?

How wonderfully self-absorbed and insensitive to the world around them they must be. Does this mean that we can’t enjoy wine unless we enjoy it exactly as they want us to? Nuts to that, and pass me some of that $10 Gascon white I like so much — the one that’s fruity.

Image courtesy of Westword.com, using a Creative Commons license

Local wine, local food

local wineThe Wine Curmudgeon, despite his good intentions and his advocacy of all things local, is not perfect. Even the co-founder of Drink Local Wine sometimes forgets that local wine goes with local food.

Case in point: A recent dinner with pork shoulder rubbed with cumin and coriander, roasted with garlic. onions, and peppers, and served with guacamole and black beans. So, like the wine snobs and dilettantes that I spend so much time excoriating, I bought a French wine, a white from the Rhone, to drink with it.

What a maroon.

I live in Texas. I have been advocating Texas wine for Texas-style food for almost three decades. So why did I buy a French wine made with viognier when when we make some of the best viognier in the world in Texas?

Like I said, what a maroon.

It’s not so much that the white Rhone was overpriced and under-qualified. Even if it had been better made, it didn’t have the bright apricot and peach fruit to stand up to the pork the way a Texas viognier (Brennan, McPherson, and Pedernales among many others) would have. And it was heavier, as well, with an unpleasant oiliness, both qualities that didn’t complement the pork’s spiciness and something the best Texas viogniers don’t have. Ours are lighter and more crisp, which gives them an affinity for something as rich as the pork shoulder.

So the next time you opt for safe instead of local, know that you’re making the same mistake that I did. Just be willing to admit it, and do the right the next time.

Arsenic and cheap wine

arsenicDavid K. TeStelle may be a terrific trial attorney, a tremendous human being, and a snappy dresser. But he apparently knows little about logic and even less about wine.

“The lower the price of wine, the more arsenic you are getting,” said TeStelle, one of the lawyers suing Big Wine for knowingly selling arsenic-laced wine in the class action lawsuit that has the wine business all atwitter (pun fully intended).

The Wine Curmudgeon will assume that TeStelle was misquoted or taken out of context, since to assume that all cheap wine is stuffed full of arsenic and that all expensive wine is pure and virginal is silly. Logical fallacies, anyone? Did we stop driving cheap cars because the Yugo was a piece of junk? My Honda Fit certainly isn’t. Are Mercedes and BMW models never recalled?

The testing behind the lawsuit apparently didn’t check the arsenic level in any expensive wine, which takes the rest of the logic out of TeStelle’s argument. Maybe BeverageGrades, the lab that did the testing, didn’t want to to spend the extra money, and it was easier to buy Two-buck Chuck since there are three Trader Joe’s in Denver. Or that the Big Wine companies that make most of the cheap wine in the lawsuit have deeper pockets than a $40 brand that makes 25,000 cases. One can’t get damages out of a company that doesn’t have money to pay for damages.

Besides, and I can’t emphasize this enough, none of my wines — the three dozen or so in the 2015 $10 Hall of Fame — are on the arsenic list. This speaks volumes about the difference in quality in wine, cheap or otherwise, and something that I have repeated and repeated and repeated throughout my wine writing career. It’s not the price that matters — it’s the honesty of the wine. Does the producer care about quality and value, or is it just making wine to make wine? Which is just as true for $100 wine as it is for $10 wine.

That’s something that everyone who is being snarky about the quality of cheap wine in the wake of the lawsuit (including people I like and whose opinions I respect) should remember. Quality, as well as safety, isn’t something that can be measured by price. It’s something that depends on integrity, and no amount of money can guarantee that.

Will cheap wine kill you?

cheap wine arsenicYes, “Will cheap wine kill you?” is a great search engine headline. And no, it’s not a plot by the the Winestream Media to return us to the good old days before the recession, when they thought cheap wine was so bad that anyone who drank it deserved what they got.

Rather, it was the big wine news last week, based on testing by a Denver lab and carried on the CBS News website: Cheap California wine has lots and lots of arsenic, more than we should ingest. And it might kill you.

A few thoughts about the story after the jump, and why it reflects so badly — again — on the Fourth Estate: Continue reading

Chateau Bonnet Blanc and why scores are useless

Chateau Bonnet BlancChateau Bonnet is the $10 French wine that is one of the world’s great values and has been in the Hall of Fame since the first ranking in 2007. As such, it has always been varietally correct, impeccably made, an outstanding value, and cheap and delicious. The 2012 Bonnet blanc, which I had with dinner the other night, made me shake my head in amazement. How could a cheap white wine that old still be so enjoyable?

What more could a wine drinker want?

A lot, apparently, if a couple of the scores for the 2012 on CellarTracker (the blog’s unofficial wine inventory app) are to be believed. The Chateau Bonnet blanc scored 80 points from someone who said the label was ugly and 83 points from a Norwegian, and that a Norwegian was using points shows how insidious scores have become.

The irony is that the tasting notes for the low scores were quite complimentary. The 80-point mentioned “crisp dry tones and pleasant blend of melon flavours” while the 83 described herbs, minerals, and citrus, and neither noted any off flavors or flaws. Yet, given those scores, the Bonnet blanc was barely an average wine, hardly better than the grocery store plonk I regularly complain about on the blog.

Which it’s not. Those two wine drinkers are allowed to score the wine as low as they like, and they’re allowed to dislike it. That’s not the problem. The problem is consistency; someone else gave the Bonnet blanc a 90, citing minerality and lime zest — mostly the same description as the low scores. Yet a 90 signifies an outstanding wine. How can a wine that three people describe the same way get such different scores?

Because scores are inherently flawed, depending as they do on the subjective judgment of the people giving the scores. If I believed scores and I saw the 80 or the 83, I’d never try the Chateau Bonnet blanc, even if I liked melon flavors or minerals and citrus. Which is the opposite of what scores are supposed to do. And that they now do the opposite of what they’re supposed to do means it’s time — past time, in fact — to find a better way.

For more on wine scores:
? Wine scores, and why they don’t work (still)
? Wine competitions and wine scores
? Great quotes in wine history: Humphrey Bogart