Category Archives: Wine Education

WHAT MILLENNIALS SHOULD KNOW ABOUT WINE

Millennials (LINK) are in the process of redefining the wine industry, just as the Baby Boomer (LINK) generation has done over the past 40 years or so. But this post is less about large-scale trends than about individual decisions based on some experience and knowledge.

The wine world contains a vast number of possible wines to drink, from many countries and many more wine regions. There are hundreds of varietals and tens of thousands of wine labels. These numbers are steadily increasing, along with total wine consumption (LINK). No one is going to know them all.

“Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards; there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine, a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy.”

~ Benjamin Franklin

Few young wine drinkers have had any instruction or experience as they have come of age to drink wine. Most will grab something cheap off of the shelf in the grocery store and look for sweetness and fruit in the flavor. This is understandable when you combine a desire to spend as little as possible with an untrained palate.

But now you are in your twenties (or thirties), and it’s time to craft your drinking patterns and preferences (if you drink at all, that is, and I assume that if you are reading this, you do).

In other words, it’s time to evolve.

“A bottle of wine contains more philosophy than all the books”

~ Louis Pasteur

Here are my recommendations for Millennials or anyone new to wine:

UP YOUR GAME: Get some knowledge about what you are consuming. If you eat organic food and drink cheap wine, the additives (LINK) in the wine will likely more than offset the benefits of the organic food. Find good value wines that are organic or biodynamic which you like and support them.

DEVELOP RELATIONSHIPS: Connect with the employees at your local wine shop and let them know your preferences and budget. They will be able to direct you to what you want. Note – most supermarkets will not have knowledgeable staff in the wine department (there are exceptions to this).

EXPLORE: Try different varietals, different regions, different winemakers. Branch out a bit and see if there are more areas of the wine world that appeal to you. You can also include wine exploring in your travel. There are wonderful wine regions all over the world that you can visit and expand your experience with wine.

GO DEEP: Settled on a varietal or a region? Study it, explore the wines offered, and learn as much as you can.

ENJOY: The number one rule of wine appreciation is to enjoy what you drink. Find your own sweet spot (or spots) and make a nice glass or two of wine a part of a very good day.

Wine enjoyment should be just that – enjoyable. Whether it is researching what to purchase, purchasing, tasting, drinking, or pairing, it should first be something to enjoy. If you aim for that, you will not go far wrong.

“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans”

~ Ernest Hemingway

Copyright 2017 – Jim Lockard

EXPENSIVE WINE IS NOT A RIP OFF

I was going to let 2016 end without a new post, but then I came across and excellent article at VinePair.com (LINK to Article).

The article by Keith Beavers, is entitled “The People Calling Expensive Wine a Rip-Off Are Lying to You.” It is a thoughtful look at a recent trend in the wine media world – the trend of attacking wine experts, the folks who are highly trained in all aspects of wine  and who often recommend expensive wines to their readers. This would include people such as Robert ParkerJanis Robinson, and Eric Asimov.

Here is a sample from the article (I highly recommend that you read the entire article via the link above):

“The pleasure of “taking down” the wine industry is certainly understandable. There’s something devastating about knowing that other people are able to appreciate something that we can’t. It’s especially unsettling to know this about something we imbibe regularly, yet know we are not fully experiencing. There’s something mystical about wine – all those mouthfeels and blueberries and leather. What could be more delicious than to find out that those shamans, those mavens with their alienating knowledge, were nothing but charlatans, snake-oil peddlers whose knowledge was all a hoax?”

Now this blog is, if anything, a voice urging greater appreciation of wine without all the pretense. I have tried to simplify purchasing and enjoying wine, and generally removing the intimidation factor that many feel when confronted with a complex wine, a point system they do not understand, ridiculously mellifluous tasting notes, or a price tag in the hundreds of dollars.

But I have never said not to read the experts. I am self-taught in all things wine (meaning that I have never taken a wine course for certification; I have taken a few seminars) as is Keith Beavers, the author of the VinePair article. Like him, I learned, in part, by reading the experts. Unlike the experts, I am not doing regular tastings of dozens of Bordeaux or Burgundy wines. I have not tasted wines from dozens of other vintages to compare with what I am tasting now (although that is changing over time). So I count on the experts to be guides, although I am not a slave to their guidance.

A good point in the article is the difference between the typical European and American wine consumer:

“Then there’s the fact that there is just so much wine out there. It makes choosing and understanding each bottle that much more difficult. This is especially true here in the United States, because we are not a culture that grew up with wine. Wine in the U.S. is a relatively young culture, and though we want to understand wine, we’re very new at it.

“Compare us to Europe, where drinking wine is such an integral part of the lifestyle,  a part of the attitude. In the rural wine regions of Europe, you don’t go to a wine store and choose a bottle from a selection of 10,000. You live in a specific region that grows one kind of grape best, and the wine that comes from that grape is what you drink, probably every night with dinner. The soil itself determines what wine people drink, and they grow up with a specific varietal like mother’s milk.”

Americans face a huge variety of regions, varietals, wine growing techniques, wine making styles, terroirs, additives, and more when deciding which wines to purchase. The advice of experts is one pathway to take toward greater understanding, but they are never a substitute for trying things yourself and discovering what you like and enjoying yourself along the way.

 

As to expensive versus inexpensive wines, there are reasons why some wines cost more. And there are reasons why many people prefer cheaper wines, even in taste tests with more expensive wines. Again from the article:

“. . . people with less experience drinking wine tend to enjoy cheaper wines. It’s not because wine is one big hoax. It’s rather because their first experiences with wine were probably with cheaper wines, and cheap wine is manipulated to taste the same every year. There’s no inconsistency, no terroir. It’s homogenized, for a very simple reason: We are a culture that likes sweet things. When you’re drinking a really cheap wine like Yellowtail or Trader Joe’s Two Buck Chuck, you’re drinking a wine that has added sugars and added coloring so it tastes the same every time you buy it. And it’s wine experts who teach us how to move past these wines, and how to enjoy the more expensive stuff.”

In my experience with expensive wines, which is somewhat limited I admit, once you get to about $50 per bottle, you can expect an excellent wine and will often get it. I have drunk and tasted wines that cost $250, $500, even $1000 or more. At those price points, if the wine is old, every bottle is unique, and the more refined your palate (LINK), the greater your experience. There is also a certain mystique in knowing that you are drinking say, a 1982 Chateau Lafitte-Rothschild, which I have had the pleasure of drinking. What is that mystique like? Think of driving a Rolls Royce versus a Nissan – both will get you there, but the experience of the Rolls will be different. In fact, just knowing it’s a Rolls makes a difference.

For me, wine appreciation has been a slow but certain road toward wines that are well-crafted and which have different characteristics from year-to-year. I drink or taste from at least 500 bottles per year (considering that a day of wine tasting can mean 20 or so different wines). Maybe 40% of those are wines I have had before – at least the label is the same, although the vintage may not be. I would say that the average price per bottle of the wines I drink has gone from $10-$12 a dozen years ago to $25-$28 now. Over that time, my tastes have changed, my palate has improved (intentionally), I have read and learned more about wine in general and have experienced a greater variety of wines.

So I recommend that you read Eric Asimov’s Wine Columns in the New York Times (LINK), especially his wine school columns. Get yourself a copy of Janis Robinson’s Oxford Companion to Wine (LINK) or borrow it from the library. Read Hugh Johnson’s A Life Uncorked (LINK) or A Pocket Guide to Wine (LINK). Or, go through the Amazon listings of wine books (LINK) and find something that appeals to you. Read Wine Spectator or Wine Enthusiast Magazines. And, this blog!

If you are a wine lover, or aspire to be, my suggestion would be to enter 2017 with the intention of deepening your knowledge and expanding your experience with wine. Your life will be richer for it.

Copyright 2016 – Jim Lockard

CREATING A STARTER CASE OF WINE

On a recent visit to New York to visit our daughter, Grace, we decided to purchase a starter case of wine for her and to set up an account at a wine shop. There are a number of very good wine shops in Manhattan, as you might imagine. We chose Union Square Wine Starter case -USQLogo_WBShop (LINK) after some online and in-person research, because of proximity to Grace’s school, a good selection of value-priced wines, and free delivery in the city when you purchase $95 or more worth of wine.

Grace, at 22, has developed a pretty good palate. She has been to France a few times and enjoys French wines very much, especially Bordeaux blends. My thoughts in filling the starter case were to take that preference into account and expand her experience a bit with reds, plus add some whites and rosès since summer is just around the corner. I also wanted to keep the prices under $25, being mindful of the budget of a starving aspiring Broadway star.

After discussing our goals with some of the sales staff, we (Dorianne, Grace and I) began to fill the case. I wanted to find some French wines that she would like first, which we did – one Bordeaux red blend, a Pomerol, two Sancerres, a Burgundian Chardonnay, and a wonderful rosè from Tavel, the only French A.O.P. that produces Au Bon Climat only rosès. To this, we added a reliable California Pinot Noir from, a favorite of ours; a nice Oregon Pinot Noir to  compare to the Au Bon Climat; a wonderful Rhône-style blend from Tablas Creek in Paso Robles; a Spanish Tempranillo blend; an Italian Barbara d’Asti and a Nebbiolo from Langhe; and an Australian Shiraz.

Here is the list:

Starter Case Chart
There is nothing here from Germany or eastern Europe, no New Zealand or South America, etc. Fortunately, Grace has a long future to explore these and other options as she chooses.
Now, you can argue with any or all of these selections, but this starter case was built with some preferences in mind. That is the idea – you decide the parameters of the selections and then you find the best representatives of those parameters based on availability, price, and certain intangibles. Our bias was toward France, with an additional parameter of expanding outward from there and focusing on the Old World with some New World representation as well. That is a lot to cover in twelve bottles.

Starter case -USQ
Union Square Wines and Spirits Shop

My suggestion to her was to make tasting notes of each wine as she drinks it and then replace bottles with a balance of things she likes and things she would like to try. Having a set of preferences helps when she is at a restaurant or a party and there are a variety of options. She already knows to steer clear of the bulk wines and the cheap “critter wines” that populate lots of party bars among people her age (and, unfortunately, people my age as well).

To create your own starter case, for yourself or for your children, my suggestion is to begin where you, or they, are. Start with what you already like and populate part of the case with those wines, then expand outward from there. The value of a good wine shop is that they will have staff who can make good recommendations – something you will not get at most supermarkets or places like Target and Costco (with some exceptions).

I can’t overemphasize the importance of finding a wine store employee or owner who you feel comfortable with. I was recently in an independent wine shop in Baltimore that stocked many wines with which I was unfamiliar. When I asked for recommendations from the owner/manager, he told me that he could only help me with Kosher wines; “That’s all I taste,” he said. No one else in the shop had tasted any of the non-Kosher wines! Interesting business model.

A good wine shop staff member will be of great assistance, especially when deciding what to add to your own preferences. He/she will have the experience needed to make recommendations that are very similar to those, or that are different enough to give you a new tasting experience. Good wine shops will also have tastings that you can attend to expand your wine experience.

It is important that you be clear about what you want. Don’t let the sales staff give you a wine that you are not interested in, or one that is too expensive for your budget.

Keeping these things in mind, creating a starter case can be a really great experience. Your comments, as always, are appreciated.

Copyright 2016 – Jim Lockard

SO MANY WINES, SO LITTLE TIME

Please pardon the lack of originality in the title of this post. It was the best I could do under the circumstances. You see, I am trying to experience as many aspects of the world of wine as I can, and there just isn’t time for creative blog title development.

In fact, there isn’t time to write this blog post – but I am devoted to you, my dear readers, and that devotion shall not wane. But communicating with you like this is eating into my wine exploration and experiencing time. Just so you know.

The reason for this post is the fact that there is just too much.

Too much wine, too many varietals, too many producers, too many pairings, too many restaurant wine lists with too many wines listed, too many wine blogs, too many wine books, too many tasting rooms, too many regions, AVAs, AOPs, appellations, districts, domains, too many wine terms, tasting notes, words in those tasting notes, too much chemistry, too many vineyards with too many terroirs, too many wine apps.

How is a wine lover to keep up?

Wine - Poster - Tonights Forcast

One answer, the one that I like the best out of the options that I have thought about, is that one cannot and should not even try to experience it all. Can’t be done anyway, so give up that ambition, my friend. Let that sphere of wine experience shrink down to a manageable size. Perhaps you give up on the nether regions of Eastern Europe, the vineyards to Thailand, maybe even China. Take a pass on the wines of Malibu, Michigan, Maryland, and definitely, Florida. You aren’t going to taste them all, travel to them all, anyway. And even if you could, how much enjoyment or appreciation could there be in tasting five hundred wines in a weekend?

Wine - Cartfull

Now I say this as a wine lover who has a preference for exploration. There are many other kinds of wine lovers. I know one who drinks only one wine 95% of the time – Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay (LINK). That’s it. As for me, looking back over the photos I have taken over the past year, I have probably had 250 to 300 different wines, not counting wine tastings; you have seen many of them here and more on my Twitter feed (@JimLockardWine). And in that, I have had a few dozen wines more than once. So I get that there is a range of behavior in the wine lovers’ universe. My Kendall-Jackson loving friend probably does not care too much about this post. But she is an anomaly, isn’t she?

Take last night. We are staying with friends in Cleveland for a week. Last night was to be a birthday celebration for family friends of our host. One of the guest is a former wine columnist (yes, Ohio has wine columnists), and a another, their daughter, is currently taking the Certified Specialist of Wine course (LINK) in New York, where she lives. In preparation, our host, a wine lover himself, took Dorianne and I to the best local wine storeWhole Foods – where we purchased a mixed case, Italians for last night, and some others for the rest of the week.

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Part of Last Night’s Line-up

I had a great conversation with the other wine lovers (and a heightened level of wine lover they were to be sure). And I found that while we shared some common experiences and areas of knowledge, that for the most part, our experience and knowledge were different. This is, of course, to be expected. And, it tells me that there is no such thing as someone who knows even close to everything about wine. So we all have to operate within a chosen personal sphere of knowledge and experience that we create ourselves, either on purpose or by default.

So what does this mean for you, treasured reader? Simply that you have dominion over your domain of wine knowledge and experience. So choose what you love, follow your nature (an explorer or a few wines that you return to over and over); include travel or stay at home; talk about the wine at a meal or talk about other things; download half a dozen wine apps or none at all; explore those small wine regions or stick with Napa and Bordeaux; opt for the top shelf at your wine retailer or the bottom shelf, or stay resolutely in the middle.

Wine is, after all, about the enjoyment of life. It is best when shared with friends and family, and it is best when sipped alone with a good book or a beautiful sunset. It is a social lubricant and a solitary muse. It can be the reason for travel, or a small part of a larger purpose. It is a living, breathing thing that can add to the quality of your life, as long as you do not overindulge.

Wine - Wineyard last night
Enjoying Wine with Friends

So do not feel pressured to go beyond your own comfort zone in your experience of wine. (Well, maybe a little bit from time to time.) You are not going to know or experience everything anyway. And no matter how broad and deep your knowledge and experience is, you will meet people who know things that you do not, and who have tasted wines that you have not.

My advice is to find your wine sweet spot, explore that thoroughly, and then branch out from there in a way that suits you best. And have fun in the process.

What are your thoughts?

Copyright 2016 – Jim Lockard

2015-05-07 16.02.08

GOOD ARTICLE – THOSE DARN WINE RATINGS

A very well written article from The Globe and Mail (LINK TO ARTICLE) across the Pond on the difficulties with the 100 point scale. It speaks to several of the points I’ve made here before, but it’s well written, as I said, and as a bonus, has some interesting reviews of some little-known (in the US) wines.

Of course, one of the main concepts behind this blog (LINK) is that wine should be both accessible and enjoyable to everyone. Anything, even a rating system that is intended to be helpful, that gets in the way of either of those ideals is problematic. The enjoyment of wine is a subjective experience for everyone, and becomes something close to an objective experience, that is, one that can be quantified generally, for only a very few. So I come down on the side of the many, without denying the few the bounty that results from their training and expertise (and maybe their God-given naturally discerning palettes).

Robert Parker may have started the whole 100 point thing, but don’t blame him – someone else would have done it. And personally, I find his ratings helpful. I trust his Bordeaux ratings and distrust most of his California ratings. So, like I said, subjective.

Enjoy the article!

Wine - Parker 100 pts

Copyright 2016 – Jim Lockard

WINE SEMINARS AT 2015 GARAGISTÉ FESTIVAL IN PASO ROBLES

Each year at the Garagistè Festival, there are two seminars held as part of the VIP package for the Saturday events. This year’s seminars were “Exploring the Aroma Wheel” with Madeline Puckette of WineFolly.com (LINK) and “Techniques of the Garagistè: The Secret of Stems,” with Mikael Sigouin, Ryan Pease, and Stewart McLennan.

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“Exploring the Aroma Wheel” Seminar.

Exploring the Aroma Wheel” explored how to discover the various aromas of wine and how to go a bit deeper than the normal surface sniff of the glass. Madeline Puckette is a very good presenter and the seminar was interactive. Each table had 8 covered and numbered coffee cups, each containing a different scent. We were to begin by sniffing each cup and noting what we thought the aroma was. Then, we were provided two glasses, one with Pinot Noir, the other Cabernet Sauvignon. We were asked to sniff the glasses (some instructions were given) and to list three fruit aromas and three non-fruit aromas that we noted in each.

Madeline Puckette of WineFolly.com
Madeline Puckette of WineFolly.com

Then, we were asked to sniff one or two of the cups again, and then sniff the wines. The experience of most people was that the aroma of the wine changed after sniffing one or two of the cups (the cups had odors like chocolate, mint, vanilla, smoke, etc.). Ms. Puckette noted that sniffing the aroma in the cup tended to eliminate that odor from the wine for the person sniffing; that changed the aromatic experience of the wine. The workshop was a good experience, and yes, we did get to drink the wine.

Mikael Sigouin of Kaena Wine Co., Ryan Pease of Paix sur Terre, and Stewart McLennan of Golden Triangle on the panel.
Mikael Sigouin of Kaena Wine Co., Ryan Pease of Paix sur Terre, and Stewart McLennan of Golden Triangle on the panel.

Techniques of the Garagistè: The Secret of Stems” featured three Paso Robles winemakers: Mikael Sigouin of Kaena Wine Company (LINK), Ryan Pease of Paix Sur Terre (LINK), and Stewart McLennan of Golden Triangle (LINK). Each of these winemakers uses stems and whole clusters in making some or all of their wines. The idea is to bring more of the sense of the terroir to the wines and to broaden the flavor profile beyond the fruit itself.

The wines were:2015-11-07 12.32.14

Kaena: 2013 Grenache – Terra Alta Vineyard

Paix Dur Terre: 2013 “The Other One,” 100% Mourvedre

Golden Triangle: 2013 50% Cabernet Sauvignon 50% Syrah

Each was very different in character, although all were the result of whole cluster fermentation. It was very interesting to hear what each winemaker seeks to get from the process and how this process is impractical for large-scale producers.

After the seminars, a lunch was served and then the VIP ticket holders had first shot at the Grand Tasting, with over 70 Garagistè winemakers, producers making under 1500 total cases each year.

We will explore the Grand Tasting in the next post.

SPANISH WINES HAVE A MARKETING PROBLEM

Here is an excellent article from Fortune.com on issues with marketing the wines of Spain. I have always said that Spanish Wines are the best value in the world today. We recently spent six weeks in Spain and had amazing wines from a variety of regions at very reasonable prices.

Here is a quote from the article:

“The Spanish wine industry’s exporting issues, which have long been a source of concern, have come to the fore in recent years. Spanish wine exports have tripled since 1995, And last year, exports grew 22.4% to 2.3 billion liters, according to the Spanish Observatory of Wine Markets (OEMV), helping the country pass Italy as the world’s biggest wine exporter by volume.

“The problem is that exports have been dominated by low-price/low-profit bulk wine, which accounted for 55% of Spain’s export volume last year.

“Spain’s biggest market in 2014 was France, which bought 518 million liters of Spanish wine—for only €0.47 per liter (about $0.53). Much of that bulk wine shipped to France was then bottled, marked up, and resold as a French product.”

(LINK TO FULL ARTICLE)

Here are a few photos I took in Spain.

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HOW LONG TO DECANT WINES?

Another excellent article, this one from WineFolly.com (LINK TO ARTICLE), on how long to decant various wines, plus some decanting tips. And excerpt with links:

  • The younger and more tannic, the longer you’ll need to decant.
  • Double decanting quickly decants a closed red wine. Just pour wine from the decanter back into the bottle and repeat as needed.
  • You can swirl your decanter.
  • Wine aerators are faster than decanters but are not advisable for aged wines.
  • Hyper-decanting (wine in a blender) has been shown to greatly improve the aromas and flavors on bold red wines as well as affordable wines.
  • Learn how to decant an unfiltered wine over a candle (or even a smart phone flashlight)

Good information. Enjoy the article!

UP YOUR WINE KNOWLEDGE – 3 GREAT ARTICLES THIS WEEK

We can all use some additional knowledge about wine and wine enjoyment. This week, I came across three very good articles from the wine media community that help us do just that.

First, Why Does Wine Taste Different on an Airplane? (LINK TO ARTICLE) a very good article from Business Insider – Australia about the effects of cabin pressure on wine and on you, the drinker. An excerpt (in the original Australian), read the article at the link above:

“Much like having a cold, the pressurised cabin and its dry air numbs your taste buds, and compromises your sense of smell by drying out your nose. Since flavour is a combination of both (in fact, almost 80% of taste is based on smell) things taste different on a plane. Apparently, our sense of salty and sweet can drop as much as 30% on a plane.”

Something to think about before you order that expensive Burgundy in first class.

Second, from Andrew Jefford in Decanter: Tasting notes – the shame of the wine world? (LINK TO ARTICLE)
is not exactly what you might expect on this topic. Here is an excerpt, read the article at the link above:

“The issue, it seems to me, is as follows.  The writing of descriptive (as opposed to academic) wine notes is a specialized form of wine entertainment, and is quickly seen as such by users.  No one takes them literally; they are liberally sprinkled with salt by the experienced reader, and soon leach more water than an aubergine.  The tongue is always somewhere in the writer’s cheek (or should be).  They are drafted with a smile, in a spirit of levity (or should be).  That’s how the genre works.”

Third, again from Decanter, How to Understand Wine (LINK TO ARTICLE) is a very good primer on the qualities that create the experiences that you have when you drink wine. Here is an excerpt, read the article at the link above:

“Try tasting one glass of plain water, then a second with some lemon juice added: you’ll notice the effect of the acidity in your mouth. Any fruit needs some acidity to be enjoyable, and wine – the juice of the grape, at heart – is no exception.

“Too little acidity, and the wine will taste flabby and over-sweet. Too much, and it will be tart, astringent and sour.”

Spending time with articles like these increases your wine knowledge and increased knowledge allows for increased wine enjoyment. The more you know, the more you can find what you like and avoid what you don’t like.

You may also want to review these sites more thoroughly and subscribe if you think it will be of value to you.