Tag Archives: University of North Texas

Seven things I learned talking U.S. wine at the University of North Texas

U.S. wineTalking 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?

Four things college students taught me about wine

wine educationFour things college students, including my El Centro viticulture and enology class and two University of North Texas classes, taught me about wine this semester. Call it Wine Education for Curmudgeons 101:

? Regional wine matters to people who didn’t help start a regional wine group. I don’t know why this always surprises me, but it does. Maybe because when I mention it to too many adults, they look at me as if I want them to drink castor oil? But when I talk about regional and Texas wine to students, they understand the idea of local wine and its relationship to local food, and they’re more than happy to try it. Enjoy it and buy it, even.

? The emperor isn’t wearing any clothes, and he doesn’t look too good naked. We did a Napa and Sonoma tasting in my El Centro class, five wines that cost at least $40 (that I brought from samples in the wine closet). The students were not impressed, noting how commercial they tasted, how overpriced they were, and how they expected a lot more for what the wines cost. Even more surprising: They came to these conclusions on their own, without any help from me. All I do in a tasting is pour the wines, talk about who made them, and ask the students what the wines taste like. We don’t even discuss price until the end.

? The world does not revolve around cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, and merlot. As someone who never met a grape, no matter how odd, that he didn’t want to try, this always makes me feel better about the future of wine in the U.S. People my age, faced with a grape they don’t recognize, tend to glaze over. The North Texas students, on the other hand, were fascinated with a dry riesling.

? People like wine I don’t like. I know this is true, but it always helps to see it in action. We did a Washington state grocery store merlot, full of fake oak, gobs of sweet fruit, and winemaking sleight of hand at North Texas. When I asked who liked it, as I always do, almost everyone did. Which reinforces the most important (and only) rule about wine: If you like it, it’s a good wine, and it doesn’t matter what wine writers, even the one teaching the class, think. Just be willing to try different kinds of wine to see if there is something else you might like.

Slider photo courtesy of Leta Durrett

Two UNT classes and one very important wine lesson

young wine drinkers
You can always trust a man in a hat who talks about cheap wine.

This has not been the best of times for the Wine Curmudgeon, as anyone who has visited the blog over the past three or four months may have noticed. The posts have been a little crankier, my patience has been a little shorter, and the supply of quality cheap wine has seemed ever smaller. As I have written in a post for later this month, “the wine business has a lot to answer for.”

But I’m feeling refreshed and ready to do battle again, thanks to last week’s visit with two classes at the University of North Texas’ hospitality school. The students’ enthusiasm for wine; their willingness to entertain the idea that they can drink what they want without orders from on high; and their joy at learning new things about wine did much to wash away the grime and irritation of the summer and fall.

They reminded me, as I told them about the myths that dominate wine in the U.S. and prevent us from enjoying wine the way we should, that wine is supposed to be fun. One of my favorite things to do at a class or tasting like this is to ask who liked a wine, and then ask who didn’t. Then, I ask someone from each group to explain why — and almost always, the person who didn’t like the wine disliked it for the same reasons that the person who liked it did. That is, someone said it was too sweet, but someone else said it was just sweet enough, or someone said it wasn’t fruity enough and someone else said it was too fruity.

The look of recognition on their faces when we do this is always gratifying, and it was especially gratifying last week. Because when I see that look, I know they’ve figured out that everyone’s palate is different, and that it’s OK to like a wine, or not, based on their palate and no one else’s. I know they’re beginning to understand that that they don’t need reviews or scores written by bunch of old white guys sitting in a New York office. I know they can see that if they drink enough wine with an open mind and pay attention to what they’re drinking, that they can do wine all by themselves.

Which is why I started doing this all those years ago. Because, as Elvis Costello so aptly put it,

I wanna bite the hand that feeds me
I wanna bite that hand so badly
I want to make them wish they’d never seen me.

For more on young wine drinkers and their effect on the wine business:
? The future of the wine business
? Five things consumers told me during the cheap wine book tours

Photos courtesy of Leta Durrett