Category:Wine trends

Wine and memory

image No, this is not going to be a Joycean literary exposition. Rather, it’s the answer to a question that I get a lot — how do you know so much about what wine tastes like?

The Wine Curmudgeon would like to say it is because I am special, a genius, or even an idiot savant. In fact, it is because I taste a lot of wine — maybe more than 1,000 bottles a year (though not necessarily the entire bottle every time).

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Tuesday tidbits 16

? Wine as an investment: What’s the point of drinking wine when you can invest in it? None, actually, but that hasn’t stopped people with entirely too much money from treating wine as if it was real estate. In 2007, reports Reuters, the main British stock index rose by less than four percent. The main index on Liv-ex, where fine wine is traded, ended the year up 40 percent. At the risk of sounding much too curmudgeonly, let me say two two things: First, wine is not an asset like a house or shopping center, but an intangible with no intrinsic value. It is made to be drunk, not traded like soybeans. Second, those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it — see the 17th century Dutch tulip bubble.

? More wine company buyouts: The Wine Group, which already owns Big House, Glen Ellen, and Mogen David (among many others), has bought the Almaden and Inglenook brands from Constellation Brands. The transaction makes the Wine Group California’s second- and the world’s third-largest wine producer by volume. Almaden and Inglenook, though not much more than jug wine brands now, were once some of the most prestigious labels in the country. Their purchase solidifies the Wine Group’s hold on its share of the largest portion of the U.S. market — wines that cost from $3 to $9 a bottle.

? More from Champagne? The French are expanding the area in the Champagne wine region, so that more sparkling wine can be labeled champagne. The government will redraw the 1927 boundaries for the region (what the French call an AOC or appellation d’origine contr l e) to include up to 40 villages. The motive? Increased international demand for bubbly, which can only be called champagne if it’s from the champagne region of France. Quality shouldn’t suffer, though, since many of the villages that will be added didn’t want to be included when the boundaries were drawn 80 years ago.

My dinner with Randall, part I

My dinner with Randall, part I This is the first of a three-part series detailing my conversation with Bonny Doon winemaker Randall Grahm. To see part II, go here. To see part III, go here.

Bonny Doon’s Randall Grahm is one of the legends of the California wine business, a winemaker who was among the pioneers in putting screw tops on quality wine, giving wine clever names, and inventing the modern, no-holds-barred wine label.

But Grahm also makes damn fine wine, whether it costs $10 or five times that . And yes, even the man who gave the world the legendary $10 Big House makes pricey wines. He does it with a style and flair that endears him to those of us who think wine is about more than how expensive it is. This is a man, after all, who once gave a speech called “The Phenomenology of Terroir” for a philosophy symposium at the University of California at Berkeley.

Grahm’s windmills, for there is a bit of Don Quixote in him, are the people who pay too much attention to scores, who worry if what they’re drinking is hip enough for them to drink, and who insist that all wine be over-oaked, over-tannic and over-alcoholic because they read somewhere that it’s supposed to be.

Which makes Grahm the Wine Curmudgeon’s kind of guy — especially after one of the first questions he asked me was whether I realized that wine writers were to blame for much of the woe in the wine world.

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Tasting five really expensive wines

image And each was impressive — not just to me, but to the other 56 people in the room. But impressive is only part of the story.

The tasting was a promotion for Terlato Family Vineyards, which produces a red Napa blend called Angel’s Peak. We tasted the 2004 vintages of Angel’s Peak and five of Napa’s biggest names: Silver Oak, Insignia, Opus One, Episode (another Terlato product), and Dominus. The idea? Taste each wine blind, so we weren’t swayed by price or reputation — and then see which wine that a knowledgeable group of drinkers enjoyed the most.

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The ongoing discussion about restaurant wine prices

This is actually one of the biggest issues in the wine business, in that markups are so high — often three or four times the retail price — that they dissuade customers from drinking wine.

It’s also, to be fair to restaurants, not as simple as it looks. Yes, prices should be lower (and the Wine Curmudgeon has made this point many times), but some restaurants have legitimate reasons for what they do. I’ll write more about this soon, but I did want to share something that I came across while researching restaurant wines lists (hey, someone has to do it).

In Dallas, a bottle of the basic Veuve Cliquot sells for about $42 retail. Check out the prices on these wine lists — if anyone can explain it, please do:

? $95, at a trendy Mediterranean restaurant frequented by 20- and 30-somethings.

? $95, at a high-end New American that’s popular with critics and people who eat at places the critics recommend.

? $95, at a new Italian restaurant that the food intelligentsia has been fawning over.

Wine tasting season gets underway

The Wine Curmudgeon always makes people laugh when he tells them that the wine business is hard work. Well, get ready to laugh, because this is the beginning of the new release season.

That means that over the next three months or so, I will be at a lunch or a tasting three or four times a week, sampling various new vintages. It means paying careful attention when a very enthusiastic winemaker describes his harvesting techniques or her favorite clonal selections. (Are any readers bored yet?)

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Another wine class takes its final

My second Cordon Bleu wine class finishes its three-week session today with its final, and I was again impressed with how far they have come in such a short time.

This is not so much a reflection of my skills as a teacher; I’m still a work in progress in a lot of ways. Rather, it’s about what the chef who teaches the basic baking class said: “If you give them the information, and you show them why it’s important that they know this, it’s like a light bulb goes off over their heads.” And, he added with a laugh, it’s always a pleasure to see the light bulb go off.

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