This week’s wine news: Legendary importer Terry Theise says wine experts are the problem with wine, plus a food site recommends cheap wine and California liquor cops say salad isn’t a meal
• Wine education: Legendary importer Terry Theise says experts are the problem with wine education: “I want my dry cleaner to be an expert in removing stains, but a ‘wine expert’ is a pathetic thing to aspire to be. And there is Thing-1 that’s wrong with wine education. Its frame of reference is unfriendly, even hostile.” Theise goes on to echo the charge that wine education has turned into job accreditation, making it more about higher salaries than anything else. That someone of Thiese’s stature wrote this is remarkable; it’s the kind of thing that those of us who aren’t part of the establishment complain about. That he did can only help us haul wine into the 21st century.
• Cheap wine: The Delish website lists 24 cheap wines, and mostly gets it correct. Yes, there is a $23.99 wine (not cheap!), and it contains the usual sort of annoyances when someone writes wine blurbs from tech sheets. For instance, it would probably be worth mentioning that the $10 Stella Rosa Peach is a little sweet and a bit bubbly, and just not that ” Peach and almond notes burst straight out of the glass.” But any list that includes the Giesen sauvignon blanc and Dibon cava is worth noting.
• Don’t order the salad: California’s liquor cops, in defining what constitutes a meal as restaurants reopen during the pandemic, have decided that salads don’t count. This means restaurants won’t be able to cut down their menus and include only salads and similar items (chicken wings) and still expect to sell alcohol. Yes, this is both Kafkaesque and quite funny, but it’s not unusual. I remember the same confusion during college in Evanston, Ill., in the late 1970s. Bars were illegal; the only way you could get a beer in a restaurant was to order something to eat with it. So we had french fires or chili; the former won’t cut it in California, though.
Is the cyber-ether – let alone the wine world – ready for Wine Curmudgeon videos?
Nov. 24 update: The video has made its cyber-ether debut — holiday wine tips.
Aug. 1 update: Production woes. The project is still a project, but we won’t have videos until the holidays.
Is the Wine Curmudgeon going to be the Internet’s next viral sensation? We’ll know early this summer, when the first of two wine videos I made this week goes live.
I did the videos, featuring helpful, useful information about summer wine and restaurant wine, for the Private Label Manufacturer’s Association. The videos are part of the trade group’s quest to convince U.S. retailers to step up their private label wine effort – because, of course, Winking Owl. I’ll post a link when the summer wine video goes live.
The experience was unique. How else would an ink-stained wretch see a process that involves makeup, story conferences, green screens, and long discussions about what I should wear? I haven’t spent that much time worrying about my clothes since since my mother picked them out. I should also mention that I have spent much of my writing career gently mocking – or worse – those of my friends who did have to worry about that stuff. I suppose I will have to endure their gentle – or worse – mocking now.
The goal with each video was to avoid winespeak as well as the deadly dullness that overwhelms most wine videos (even those with big names and big budgets). We wanted to offer information that wine drinkers could use when they were staring at the supermarket Great Wall of Wine. Which I think we did.
A very large tip o’ the WC’s fedora to Sonia Petrocelli, the videos’ producer, and Richard Dandrea, who wrote them. Both made the process infinitely easier than I thought it would be, and their patience with my ignorance of all things video was much appreciated.
Wine education is the key to help Millennials enjoy wine; otherwise, they assume it’s expensive, snobby, and geeky
The news is everywhere for anyone who wants to pay attention: Younger people, and especially the Millennials who should be the future of wine, aren’t much interested in it.
I see this every time I teach at Dallas’ El Centro College. Beer and spirits, yes, those they want to know about. But wine? As one student said, midway though this semester’s first wine tasting: “I’m never going to understand this. It’s too complicated.”
Never fear, though. Wine education to the rescue.
This has happened every time I’ve taught a class. The idea of wine perplexes the students, most of whom have never had any and don’t know anyone who has. About the only thing they do know is that wine is expensive, snobby, and geeky, which are hardly qualities to recommend it.
This is disheartening enough, but consider that these are culinary students in El Centro’s top-notch Food and Hospitality Institute. They need to learn wine in order to have a career. And if they’re overwhelmed, how must the rest of their age group feel? They don’t need to learn about wine to make a living.
Which is where wine education – something the wine business considers as unnecessary as ingredient labels and tasting notes written in English – comes in. This also happens every time I’ve taught a class. Get the students past the idea of expensive, snobby, and geeky. Show them that wine can be simple and fun. That’s when the light bulb goes off and they aren’t intimidated anymore.
In other words, wine education.
Give potential wine drinkers something other than toasty and oaky to work with. Show them wine doesn’t have to cost as much as a car payment to be enjoyable. Let them figure out what they like instead of telling them what they should drink.
And it works every time. This semester, the same student who was ready to give up after tasting two red wines was confident and assured during the sparkling wine tasting. She was able to explain why she liked the California sparkling better than the French Champagne, and her reasons were considered and well thought out. (The fruitiness, mostly.)
The other key here? I didn’t pass judgment on the student or tell her she was stupid for daring to prefer the “inferior” wine. Sadly, when’s the last time you saw someone in wine be that open minded?
Thursday afternoon and the WC’s El Centro beverage management class: a perfect pairing
The Wine Curmudgeon’s El Centro College class will return in January – RSTO 1301, beverage management, for those who want to an adventure in wine, beer, and spirits. If you aren’t a student at El Centro, but live in the Dallas area, you can take it as continuing education through this link for about $100.
This semester, we’re doing about a dozen tastings among the 15 classes. That includes the world’s great wine regions, all you ever wanted to know about whiskey (or whisky), and craft beer. Depending on my samples, I usually find a very pricey red wine for those tastings. Note, too, the change in time — 4-5:50 p.m. on Thursdays.
In addition, we’ll discuss the three-tier system and the wine supply chain, and I’ll bring in a Dallas restaurateur to talk about everyone’s favorite subject, restaurant wine prices. That’s just one of the many guest speakers, featuring some of the smartest wine, beer, and spirits people in Dallas. There may also be a rant or two about the alcohol business and its foolishness – delivered with the proper academic perspective, of course.
All is delivered with my unique brand of enthusiasm, map drawing skills (my Texas map is legendary), humor, and passion for wine. And did I mention a dozen tastings?
One more El Centro wine class figures out wine can be fun, and not just another boring subject
This semester’s El Centro wine class taught me several valuable lessons about teaching. First, no class is the same, no matter how much we want it to be. Second, just because it isn’t the same as the others doesn’t mean the students don’t want to learn. That’s where the teaching comes in, right?
Third, that the moment when the students figure it out – and it happened again for this class, if later and not as easily as I had wished – makes all the other aggravation worthwhile.
This is the fifth semester I’ve taught at El Centro, part of the Dallas County Community College system. My students are enrolled in the school’s Food and Hospitality Institute, regarded as one of the best two-year culinary programs in the country. This semester’s group, by its own admission, took pride in being different, and it took me a while to understand that.
But, in the end, the wine won out. Or, as one of the students asked me after we sampled some particularly difficult Australian reds, harsh and overwhelming, in our final tasting session of the semester: “Did you save these wines for the last class because you knew we wouldn’t appreciate them or understand them if we had done them at the beginning of the semester?”
The point, as it always is when I teach wine, is not to judge each wine by whether you like it or not. Good and bad don’t matter as much as what the wine tastes like. And why does it taste that way? And is it a well-made wine? And is there a difference between this wine and a similar wine made elsewhere in the world? And, because they’re culinary students, what can we pair it with? And why does that pairing work?
In this, there are not necessarily right or wrong answers, but only well-reasoned explanations. I explain terroir and demonstrate how it works, but it’s up to them to decide if terroir matters in wine. As long as their explanation makes sense, I’m happy. Education is about teaching students how to make their own decisions, not browbeating the crap out of them.
No wine class in the fall, but it will return in spring 2018. If you aren’t a student, you will be able to take it as part of the college’s continuing education program. I’ll post details on the blog when registration for next spring begins.
This semester’s El Centro wine class is just as baffled by three-tier as everyone else
One of the joys of teaching is that every class is different, and that each approaches the subject from a different direction. This semester’s El Centro wine class is more inquisitive than past classes and takes more notes.
But this El Centro wine class has one thing in common with the others, as well as with every wine class I’ve taught over the past 20 years: The shock and disbelief when I explain the three-tier system. Or, as one student said during the discussion: “So that’s why I got a $39 ticket for bringing beer into Oklahoma.”
The look on their faces as I diagram how three-tier works – that manufacturers can only sell to distributors, who can only sell to retailers and restaurants, and that consumers can only buy from retailers and restaurants with very limited exceptions – makes me smile every time I see it. It’s as baffling to a generation raised on the Internet as space travel was to my grandfather, who grew up in the coal country around Donora, Pa., at the beginning of the 20th century. If my students can buy anything else in the world on Amazon, why not wine?
In addition, we’ve also done a little tasting, and they grasped the concepts involved quickly. That is, that they need to approach wine the same way that they approach food, to deconstruct its flavors as they would for any dish they taste. What I don’t want to hear, I tell them, is that this wine “tastes like wine.” That’s like saying food they don’t understand tastes like chicken, and we know they’re not supposed to do that.