One of the regular themes here is that restaurants do a lousy job of selling wine to their customers. And now the Wine Curmudgeon has hard evidence to go along with his whining.
The new Texas Zagat guide, released yesterday, notes that only about one-third of the state’s diners order a bottle of wine with their meal. Almost half, on the other hand, order wine by the glass.
I suppose one can look at this positively — that 85 percent of Texans who eat in restaurants order wine with their meal. But the Wine Curmudgeon didn’t get where he is by being positive. And, in fact, that’s looking at the numbers through rose’-colored glasses.
I have never been completely sold on California sauvignon blanc, especially for wines that cost $16 or less. They’re not necessarily poorly made; rather, the style is kind of wishy-washy — not New Zealand and not Sancerre, but not especially California, either.
Which brings us to the Frei Bros. (about $16), which does seem to have found a certain Sonoma style — not especially citrusy, but with some tropical fruit, a bit of grassiness and a long, pleasing finish not often found in wines of this price. It’s more than a solid value.
In fact, I was pleasantly surprised by the entire Frei line. The operation, run by the Gallo empire, has improved the wines with this vintage, focusing on what it get can from the grapes and not what it wants to turn the wine into. Even more impressive than the sauvignon blanc was the pinot noir, a fine example of what can be accomplished in California (though pricey at around $25).
? Why critter wine works: Ever wondered why so many wine labels have so many cute animals on them? So did researchers at Yale, Michigan and the University of Chicago. (Hey, the Wine Curmudgeon runs a class joint.) And they found that consumers are more likely to favor a product that they associate with themselves. Hence, according to the study, we we associate animals (the study tested cats and dogs with several products) with ourselves more than we do with more wine-oriented themes, like a chateau or a grape vine on a label.
? La Bodega wins award: Texas’ La Bodega Winery, best known as the winery in an airport — it’s in terminals A and D at DFW International — was named Best Retail Store Design for the terminal D layout in the Small Retailer Division by the trade journal Airport Revenue News.
? High alcohol wines: The debate continues, with a leading Sacramento retailer announcing it won’t carry wines with more than 14 1/2 percent alcohol. Regular visitors know how the Wine Curmudgeon feels about high alcohol. It’s interesting to see that others who are less curmudgeonly feel the same way.
I was at a business dinner the other night, and the group wanted to order wine. What should we get? asked one. I don’t know much about wine. That’s OK, said another. I don’t know much, either. But Siegel does. He can order it.
I mention this not to tout my wine skills (the Wine Curmudgeon is, of course, incredibly modest). Rather, it’s to offer advice for those times when one needs to order wine and there is no wine writer around. This is most often a problem in a business setting, where what one orders is often a reflection of one’s sophistication (as unfair as that may be).
So keep these pointers in mind: