This is the first of a three-part question and answer series about wine basics. The second part will run June 6 and the third part on June 13.
It's summer. It's warm. You want a glass of wine. But you don't know a chardonnay from a cabernet. What's an aspiring wine drinker to do?
Have no fear. The Wine Curmudgeon is here. In fact, The first question people always ask me about wine is how to get started drinking it. For some reason, Americans are convinced that wine is not something to drink with dinner, but a secret holy society that requires rituals and initiations to understand.
This is silly, and I ?m proof of that. Today, I ?m a wine writer and educator who travels throughout the wine world. But 20 years ago, I was a sportswriter who drank Miller Lite and thought wine was something that only snooty people did. If I can learn about wine, anyone can. My biggest regret is that I didn ?t start sooner. I missed drinking a lot of good wine.
Hence this Q and A, which is enough to get almost anyone ready to look at their glass, take a sip, and sigh.
The Wine Curmudgeon loves screw caps. And screw tops. And Stelvin closures. Call it whatever you want — just don't call it a cork.
I mention this not because screw caps are embattled, because they're not. The closures are accepted today as never before, whether it's a New Zealand sauvignon blanc, a white Burgundy, or even a high-end Napa cabernet sauvignon. And almost every winemaker I interview who doesn't use screw caps wants to, citing their efficiency and reliability.
My copy of the book, The Wine Trials, arrived last week (that's the Wine Curmudgeon on page XIII in the blind tasters credits). The Wine Trials, of course, is the 189-page effort from author and critic Robin Goldstein that shows that wine drinkers pay more attention to price than they do quality.
Two things struck me as I thumbed through the book:
One of the most common questions I get in my Cordon Bleu classes is whether wine can be paired with fast food. This usually comes from students, trying to be wise guys, who do not yet realize that the Wine Curmudgeon is all knowing and all powerful in the classroom.
Actually, I welcome the question. Showing how to pair wine with a Big Mac (think inexpensive California merlot, with some tannins and acid but lots of blueberry fruit) helps demystify the subject for the students. It also helps change their way of thinking, since most don’t realize that wine is something to drink every day, and just not on special occasions.
Apparently, I’m not the only one who gets questions about this. There is a lot more advice about this floating in the cyber-ether than I realized, whether it’s arguing whether an oenophile is allowed to do it (of course!) or White Castles with beaujolais nouveau. Which sounds mighty damn good.
And then there was this, from the Click Wine Group, which does eight labels from $10-$15, including Fat Bastard. It sent a news release around this week touting its wines’ compatibility with pizza, chicken fingers, takeout Chinese, and even burritos. Some of the pairings seemed a stretch (cabernet sauvignon with a grilled chicken burrito, for instance), but several were excellent, like riesling with a spicy chicken stir fry and a Spanish red blend with barbecued chicken pizza.
The release makes the point that Americans are not only cooking less, but ordering more takeout and delivery. This, it notes, is a reason to pair fast food with wine. That’s all well and good, I suppose, but it does miss the point I make to my classes. Wine goes with anything, regardless of where you got if from.
? The Wine Establishment strikes back: Last week, I noted Alice Feiring’s criticisms of California wine, in which she called much of it “over-alcoholed, over-oaked, overpriced and over-manipulated.” Turns out she is a borderline Luddite and an ultra-conservative, says Matthew DeBord, formerly of the Wine Spectator. DeBord’s rebuttal is worth reading, if only because he lumps every single person who disagrees with him into the category of un-young, uncool and unhip. It’s such an over the top performance that I actually feel sorry for him. DeBord also uses the word prelapsarian and the word sucks in the same essay, which is not an easy thing to do.
? Sommeliers as sex symbols: Not quite as silly as wine writers as sex symbols, but sill enough. (We’ll pause now for a giggle, thinking of the Wine Curmudgeon with a stubbled face and an $800 Italian blazer). Nevertheless, I will pass this on from a Los Angeles publicist, plugging a forthcoming wine event: “They ?re hot. They ?re smart. They work for Batali, Fraser and Myers. They can tell the difference between an Austrian or Washington Riesling with a sniff. They ?re all under 35. … Wine & Spirits magazine will introduce 10 of the city ?s brightest young wine experts to a Gen Y group of wine lovers. ” Thank God, because we know no one who isn’t Gen Y can know anything about wine.
? Another example of why our liquor laws are crazy: The California liquor cops have told a home wine event organizer that they will raid his festival if he holds it. The details are complicated, but what it comes down is that amateurs aren’t allowed to hold wine competitions in California, though professionals are. Says one home winemaker: “”If that’s the case, then just about every county fair and club across the state is breaking the law.”