Talking about U.S. wine to college students is always a pleasure
No, I’m not teaching this semester, but I still got to preach the gospel – talking about U.S. wine this week at my pal Leta Durret’s hospitality classes at the University of North Texas. As always, the students wanted to learn, asked good questions, and gave me hope for the future of wine drinking in the U.S.
The seven things I learned:
• The folly of the three-tier system in the 21st century is obvious to everyone who doesn’t work for a distributor or a state liquor enforcement agency. Or, as one woman asked in the first class, “So you mean the only way I can get this beer I like from Washington state is to drive there and pick it up?” And the answer, of course, is yes.
• The idea of terroir, so alien to so many adult wine drinkers and wine writers, made perfect sense to the students. We did the $10 Bogle sauvignon blanc in the tasting, and its grassy aroma is classic California sauvignon blanc. This did not confuse the students in either class; the heads nodded in agreement when I asked them if they smelled the freshly cut grass and said that California is the only place in the world where this happens. Not one, “Ew, gross.”
• We also tasted the Apothic Red, the category killing sweet red blend from E&J Gallo. I wanted to do this wine because I have been told, over and over, that its target demographic is everyone who is younger than an old white guy. The students in both classes were unimpressed. The wine didn’t get any of the loud cheers or shouts of chocolate that it usually does when I taste it with women of a certain age.
• Speaking of old white guys: The students were surprised to learn that women are generally thought to have better palates than men, and that more women are super tasters, the people who can distinguish the most differences in wine. Why surprised? Because almost all of the most important wine critics in the world are men.
• One of the great joys of teaching wine is showing students how they can tell if the wine has been oaked, and how they can tell the difference between real oak – oak barrels – and fake oak, the chips, staves, dominoes, and sawdust used in cheap wine. Best yet, as these groups did, they were able to tell the difference between fake oak used well and not so well.
• Land prices. The main reason one bottle of wine costs $5 and another costs $50? We can argue about quality all we want, but it comes down to land prices. An acre of vineyard land in the Central Valley costs $25,000, while an acre in Napa Valley can cost as much as $500,000. Again, this idea, most wine drinkers don’t even consider, made perfect sense to the students.
• The Mike Nesmith look is back, and the Wine Curmudgeon is quite pleased. Women, too, are wearing knit caps. Who says college students don’t know cool?