Tag Archives: wine education

Do wine drinkers trade up?

trading up
We assume wine drinkers trade up, but much of the evidence says otherwise.

Trading up is one of the most basic assumptions in the wine business, fitting hand in glove with the concept of a gateway wine. The idea is that one starts drinking wine with the gateway — something cheap and probably sweet, like white zinfandel — and then moves up in price and quality, eventually buying expensive, highly-rated wine and talking like someone who writes for the Winestream Media. Talk to enough people in the wine business, and they’re convinced — or they let themselves be convinced — that this is the way the world works.

It’s much more difficult, though, to figure out whether this actually happens. More, after the jump:

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el centro wine class

A college enology class gets its fill of the Wine Curmudgeon

The video in this post was part of my appearance on Oct. 3 at a viticulture and enology class at Dallas’ El Centro College, which has one of the best culinary programs in the southwest. I offer wisdom on how to learn about wine, the idea behind cheap wine, and the joy of regional wine — all in less than eight minutes. I also managed to plug The Cheap Wine Book.

The class took 90 minutes, and at the end we tasted six Texas wines. The students were mostly pleased with what they tasted, though there was the usual disagreement that occurs at these sorts of events. One group would like a wine because it was fruity, while another wouldn’t like the same wine because it was fruity. This, as I always point out, is just one reason why wine is so much fun. One can argue and drink wine while arguing.

One other point worth noting: The students were fascinated by the idea of $3 wine, and we spent a fair amount of time discussing whether they were worth drinking. Many of them, as it turned out, were big fans of Aldi’s $3 wines.

El Centro College’s Alex Curran shot and edited the piece, and did a terrific job working with a very awkward Wine Curmudgeon. And did I really say I was one of the leading wine writers in the U.S.? Unfortunately, given when we did the video, he had to use the old website in the montages.

And why don’t I have a hat on? It was raining the day we shot the video, so I didn’t wear one. The legendary Gus Katsigris, who teaches the class and helped start the El Centro culinary program, was very disappointed with me. Gus served Texas wine at his Dallas restaurant in the late 1970s and is one of the true standup guys in the food business, so I should have worn a hat. What are a few water stains among friends?

Easy ways to learn more about wine

Wine drinkers are creatures of habit. We tend to drink the same wines and shop in the same places for those wines. Which, frankly, doesn’t do much to expand our wine horizons.

This is an especial problem for beginning wine drinkers, whose lack of experience is compounded by the intimidation factor — wine can be a scary place for newcomers, who are overwhelmed with labels, names, terms, and the like.

Hence this post, part of my New Year’s resolution to write more items for people just getting started with wine. And a big tip of the Wine Curmudgeon’s fedora to Dave McIntyre, who has written about some of this and jarred me into action.

Four easy things anyone can do to boost their wine savvy:

? Drink more wine. Seriously. One of the things that people always laugh at when I talk about wine is the idea that they can learn more by drinking more. This, I’m convinced, has its roots in our post-Prohibition cultural outlook. Americans have been taught that liquor is different, and can’t be approached like other consumer goods. So we reserve wine for special occasions or let people who are supposed to know more about it than we do tell us what to drink. What we should be doing is drinking more (responsibly, of course), deciding ourselves what we want to drink, and not really caring what others think of what we drink.

? Shop in a different store. It’s amazing, as Dave notes, how this will change your wine-buying perspective. For one thing, there will almost certainly be wines that you haven’t seen before. For another, a store employee could recommend something you’ve never thought about. This is very important for people who only buy wine in grocery stores, where there are a lot of wines but mostly from the same old places made by the same companies and tasting exactly the same.

? Write down the names of the wine you enjoy. And even those you don’t. No one, including the so-called experts, remembers the name of every wine they drink. So we write it down (CellarTracker, the unofficial wine inventory software of the blog!). There is nothing wrong or snooty with this; it’s common sense. You don’t even need a computer or smart phone or iPad — pencil and paper work just as well. Record the name, price and what you thought about the wine (and, believe it or not, phrases like good and bad are perfectly acceptable). If you have that information, you can go into a store and ask an employee to recommend something similar to the wine you liked — or to steer you away from one you didn’t.

? Try a wine you don’t like. You don’t have to do it often. But every once in a while, if you don’t like sweet wine or red wine or whatever, taste one. Yes, there’s a good chance that you still won’t like it. But, given that your palate will change over time as you gain more experience, there’s also a chance you’ll find a new appreciation for a wine you didn’t like.

The photo is from luisrock62 of Argentina, via stock.xchng, using a Creative Commons license

Winebits 211: New Jersey wine, really expensive wine, wine education

? Near the center of the universe: There have been a spate of recent articles, not only in the Winestream Media, but in many big-time consumer publications about New Jersey wine. One of the most recent came from the Wall Street Journal (behind the paywall) which revealed that the Garden State is enjoying a wine renaissance. As a long-time and ardent supporter of regional wine, I'll take the good news anywhere I can get it. But it does seem odd that media like the Journal are suddenly discovering New Jersey wine, which has been around for more than a decade. This can be traced to what some media critics call the center of the universe theory — nothing exists until it has been identified and validated by the most important news outlets in the country. And where are the most important news outlets in the country? In New York City, just a short ride down the New Jersey Turnpike from New Jersy wine country.

? Wine prices plummet: Not, of course, for wine we actually drink, but wine the wise guys use to make money — on the Live-ex wine exchange, a stock market for wine. Really. As silly as that sounds. Prices of the 100 top-traded wines fell by an average of 22 1/2 percent between June and December last year ? the steepest fall since the beginning of the recession, reports Drinks Business magazine. The reason for the decline, apparently, is a slump in the Chinese market. The link is well worth clicking on, if only because the story is so bizarre. I've been writing about both business and wine for more than 20 years, and I can barely make sense of it. How anyone makes money trading wine is beyond me — ignoring the fact that the point of great wine drinking it.

? Too much knowledge? Kris Chislett at Blog Your Wine asks a question that I've asked many times here: Why does the wine business do such a lousy job of wine education? "Sure, I can wax poetically with the best of ?em about the meso-climates within this one tiny vineyard parcel within the sub-region of a greater region, which has a sandy loam soil and maritime climate. I just don ?t think that ?s what most people, even the more wine-savvy, can relate to. … I want to help people learn, and I just don ?t think that can be achieved by boring them to death with what for the most part is useless wine trivia." Can't argue with that, can we?

Gary Shansby and the dilemma of wine education

Gary Shansby tells the story with an almost wistful air. A good friend of his, who is smart and wealthy, will only drink Grey Goose vodka. Gary, who owns Partida Tequila, offered to buy his friend a Partida. No thanks, says the friend. I only drink Grey Goose. Can I buy you another kind of vodka? asks Gary. No thanks, says the friend. I only drink Grey Goose.

Why do you only drink Grey Goose? asks Gary. Because it's the best, says his friend. How do you know that? asks Gary. Have you tried any other vodka? No, says the friend. Have you tried my tequila? No, says the friend. Then how do you know that you don't want to try anything else? Because I don't, says the friend. I just know.

Shansby finishes the story and I laugh. He has outlined, neatly, the dilemma facing those of us who do wine education. Yes, this story is about tequila and spirits, and I usually don't do much of that here. But Shansby is also a wine drinker who knows how the business works, and Partida makes some damn fine tequila. I was especially impressed with the blanco (about $45, sample), which had almost nothing to do with the cheap, poorly made tequila that one sees around Dallas.

Besides, the principle is the same, whether we're talking about tequila or pinot noir. It's not enough that wine is confusing. We also have to fight the prejudices that consumers pick up, many of which are fostered on consumers by the companies that sell wine.

"There are so many great wines all over the world — from Chile, from parts of the U.S. — that it's just so confusing to the consumer," says Shansby. "But that also means that they are so many great wines to try at so many attractive prices."

In fact, he says, those attractive prices are going to be around for a while. The recession is the main reason (and he expects its effects to be with us for a long while), which is something we've discussed here many times before. Producers are stuck with unsold wine, with more wine in the production pipeline, so they are cutting prices to move it. Shansby says it won't be unusual to see discounts of 20 to 40 percent. So why not take a chance and experiment? Why not try a wine from a different region than your usual? Why not try a different varietal?

Just don't, says Shansby, let your prejudices make your decisions for you. And who can argue with that.