“Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing.”
~ Ernest Hemingway
As I prepare to travel to Portugal later this month for the MUST Fermenting Ideas Conference (LINK), where new and innovative ideas will be presented and discussed, I can’t help but look at some of the major issues in the wine industry today.
Issues like counterfeiting, fraud, and outright theft are regularly reported here in France and elsewhere. One might actually take that as a positive sign that there is something of great value which is sought after by the criminally inclined. There may well be truth in that, but that is not the kind of thing I am talking about. Even the great scandal of the past year involving the cheating at the Master Sommelier test in the United States (LINK), while closer to the heart of the matter, is not the really big issue, as important as it may be. These kinds of things only affect the upper tier of wine drinkers, not the vast majority.
For me, the big issue is the fact that the industry is pulling in so many directions that it is becoming more and more difficult for wine consumers to have a broad understanding of the world of wine and the enjoyment such awareness brings. This also adversely affects the industry as customer engagement and loyalty wane.
In the United States, the corporatization of the wine industry is having many negative effects. The buying up of labels from shuttered wineries and the conversion of these labels to bottles bulk wines; the “Gallo-ization” of everyday wines; the failure to support labeling regulation policies; and crazy shipping restrictions due to the efforts of regional distributors’ lobbying efforts all serve to break down trust from consumers. These things also make it difficult for family-run wineries to compete in a market where the deck is stacked in favor of the big producers.
Additionally, the movement toward a generic kind of wine blend for the American palate (again, thanks Gallo et all, although wine critics have a hand in this as well), which is opposite of what is happening in the beer industry, where craft beers are gaining market share to the point that they are becoming corporate targets, has also made it harder for the average consumer to explore different styles of the winemaker’s craft. More and more with New World wines and US red wines especially, everything at $12 and under, tastes the same.
The oases from all of this are the smaller wine shops and non-chain restaurants where wine lists are chosen to match the menu, not to maximize buying power. I routinely encourage younger wine drinkers to go to local shops and talk to the staff, who will give good advice about wines regardless of one’s budget. If someone find that they like wine and are interested in exploring it further, local wine shops are a great place to begin. I still rely on my wine cave in Lyon to help me sort through the myriad labels from local wine regions – their advice is worth an extra euro or two per bottle that I may pay over supermarket wines. The same is true in the US and UK.
NOTE: my wife and I have a budget for everyday wine in the 7€ to 15€ range (about $8 to $18). Our go-to Provencal rosé for this summer costs only 6€99. We find that we can get very good wines in this price range here in France – with the advice of our cavistes. We do occasionally splurge for more expensive wines, of course.
On a larger scale, the wine industry would do well to create a more welcoming invitation to wine enjoyment than the usual bifurcated choice of cheap wine laden with additives or more expensive options often marketed for snob appeal. If labeling regulations were supported by the industry, many people who choose to eat healthily would see that their organic food choices are all too often negated by chemical-laden cheap wines. Many of today’s consumers are more health-conscious and the wine industry is doing them few favors by not supporting labeling requirements.
The period of continual growth for the industry seems to be over, meaning that attracting new customers will require more than just putting wines on shelves. Making wine an everyday beverage, as it is in much of Europe, will necessitate a more welcoming and egalitarian approach and require more attention to health concerns. Seeing wine as food seems like a good place to begin.
More to come on all this, but I am interested in any comments you have. I you will be at MUST – see you there!
Yes, it is 26 minutes long and very few of you are going to have the dedication for that. And don’t think I am trotting this out as a slam-dunk on the argument. Just an interesting piece about 5 years old which needs to be dredged out occasionally. Nothing ground-shaking here–more about marketing than anything. Anyone who has ever had a 1985 Napa Cab and a 2005 Napa Cab and a 2015 Napa Cab and wondered what happened should watch this. Anyone who enjoyed Sonoma Zinfandel in the 90’s and has tried Paso Robles Zinfandel today should watch this. It is in-depth enough the serious wineNerds will enjoy it and if it just plants the seed of “Why?” in the minds of the not-so-wineDork, then I have done my job. Read your labels, people.
Here is the video:
I think the video does a good job of defining the territory – and, perhaps as was noted, the younger generation (Millennials) and beyond will move to new ways of discovering wine. And remember, the oldest Millennials are nearly 40. That said, if the Parker favored style is not to your taste, there are plenty of options – but you will have to become educated about them.
As I often say in this blog – wine is about enjoyment, and the depth of knowledge of any wine lover only needs to be sufficient to allow the level of enjoyment desired. We don’t need to be experts to enjoy wine, but it is good to have information like this as wine consumers.
REFUSE TO BE INTIMIDATED. The world of wine is populated with a few, well, snobs. There are people whose income depends on you, the consumer, feeling like you don’t know enough to order a wine you will like. There are some whose income depends on getting you to buy a wine whether you like it or not. There are also few who want to make you feel uncomfortable just for their own ego gratification.
That said, there are also lots of folks who can and will help you feel more comfortable. These can include wine stewards or waiters in restaurants, employees in wine shops and at large retailers like Costco, tasting room employees, and, yes, wine bloggers like me. Take advantage of their knowledge and willingness to help. Even with the first group, you will usually find if you ask a couple of clear questions and let them know what you like and what you are willing to pay, you will get what you desire.
2. BE AN EXPLORER. Try some unfamiliar wines. Even if after doing so, you become a drinker of one kind of wine, you will at least know that you aren’t missing something better for you. Again, wine retailers and restaurant employees can be helpful. Like Malbec? Try something close, like a Barbera or a Tempranillo. Traveling? Try the local wines. (LINK to my post WHAT KIND OF WINE DRINKER ARE YOU?)
3. AVOID REALLY CHEAP WINES. The issue here is not so much about price or quality as it is about additives. Most new world (that’s everyplace but Europe) wines under $10 to $15 are laced with additives of various kinds. There are no labeling requirements, so you don’t know which ones or how much of them are in your wine. Some additives are benign, some are not. Many people who eat only organic food buy cheap wines filled with chemical additives – unknowingly, of course. (LINK to my post on ADDITIVES)
There are three main reasons that cheaper wines have more additives than more expensive wines: One, consumers of cheaper wines tend to want their wine to taste the same every time. They are not interested in seasonal variation – the kind based on weather which affect wine grapes from just about everywhere. So, additives can mask changes – and in cheap wines, the issue is not seasonal variations; most are bulk wines, made from whatever grapes or juice are available at that moment from any location. Second – additives can make a rough product taste smoother, smell better, look better. In other words, mask problems. Third – there are economic reasons to use additives in some products, and your health is not one of them.
4. NEW TO WINE? TRY A STARTER CASE. I blogged about this a while back. If you are new to wine or have someone, like in my case, my daughter, who is new to wine, consider a starter case. This is a mixed case of wines for them to try to learn about. Then, when returning to the wine retailer, you or they can say what you liked and would like to get more of, or maybe explore a bit with something like what you enjoyed previously, but different. (LINK to my post on STARTER CASE)
5. LEARN HOW TO SHOP FOR WINE. I often go into wine shops without intending to make a purchase – just to look around, familiarize myself with the kinds of wines available, the labels, the price points. I may engage someone in the shop in a conversation about a specific wine, or a wine region that they feature. And, truth be told, much more often than not, I walk out with a bottle or three.
Many reputable wine writers and bloggers will tell you to ask questions when shopping for wine. Wine shop employees will generally enjoy helping you (with the possible exception of the Holiday rush). For example, you might ask for a wine in the $20 range to go with a lamb roast, or something to take as a special gift to a lover of Argentinian Malbec. (LINK to my post on SHOPPING FOR WINE)
6. LEARN HOW RESTAURANT WINE WORKS. There are a few things to be aware of when ordering wine in a restaurant. One is the pricing structure. The norm is to mark up a bottle two to two-and-a-half times retail cost. Many restaurants are offering wines at a lower mark-up (in Europe it is often the same as in a wine shop). Wine is a significant part of the profit structure at many restaurants. For others, it is an afterthought; the wines may not even go with the food offered.
There are myths about ordering wine in restaurants. Most are false or only partly true. The reality is that if wine is a serious consideration in a restaurant, the wine list will have been chosen with care based on what is important to that restaurant’s management. It might be by region – focusing on Italian wines in an Italian restaurant; or by type of food served – an emphasis on white and rosé wines in a seafood restaurant; or it may be wines selected for the specific items on the menu. Some say that the best buy is the 2nd cheapest wine on the list. This is almost never true. If it is good value you are seeking, a good choice is to order a bottle of one of the wines they are selling by the glass. These wines are usually a good value and they are sold by the glass because they are well-received.
Again, don’t be afraid to ask the waiter, wine steward, or sommelier for guidance – and DON’T forget to give him or her your budget! I have never had a negative experience with wine in a restaurant when I have been given guidance (I don’t always ask for it). (LINK to my post on ORDERING WINE IN A RESTAURANT)
7. REMEMBER CORKAGE. In many places, you can bring your own wine to a restaurant. Normally, a corkage fee will be charged, to cover the cost of using the glasses and having the wine open and served by the restaurant staff. This is a good option if you have a special bottle to share with family or friends that will go well with the restaurant meal. Some etiquette – if you don’t know, check in advance on the corkage policy of the restaurant; don’t bring a wine the restaurant has on its wine list; don’t pay $20 corkage on an $8 bottle of Yellow Tail to save money. And, if the wine is corked or otherwise bad, don’t try to send it back for another bottle! (LINK to my post about corkage)
8. LIFE IS TOO SHORT TO DRINK BAD WINE. I know you have a budget, which, like mine, is limited. And maybe you don’t have an educated palate to justify really expensive wine. However, as I noted above, just about all of the really cheap wines are filled with additives and are bad for you. So, think about how much wine you drink and what it would take to get the average cost per bottle up to $15 or more. At that price point, generally speaking you are drinking wine, not just a mixture of random grapes made in bulk. You will notice qualities like minerality, or terroir – the effect of the soil on the wine. You will begin to tell varietals apart ($7 Cabernet Sauvignon tastes surprisingly like $7 Merlot). And you will be drinking a more healthful beverage.
Also, if you buy a decent bottle and it’s bad (corked or chemical tasting for example), don’t drink it! Pour it down the sink, or if it’s not too bad, save it for cooking. If you get a bad bottle (meaning there is a flaw of some kind) at a restaurant, let the staff know. They should replace it. If they disagree with you, let them know that you may not be an expert, but you find the wine undrinkable. They should replace it with another bottle. If the first one was bad, you will taste the difference in the new bottle. It is bad form to ask for a different wine in this situation. Maybe you will get lucky and that will have been their last bottle of that kind in stock! (LINK to my post on EXPENSIVE WINES)
9. WINE ENJOYMENT IS SUBJECTIVE. No matter what the experts tell you, for 95% of wine consumers – the ones who haven’t trained their palates for years and taken rigorous certification classes – wine enjoyment is subjective. You either like a wine, have a “meh” reaction, or don’t like it at all. Robert Parker can’t tell you if you will like a wine. I try to look at tasting notes only after I have tasted a wine, to see if they got it right for me. There are things to know about specific wines, but, let’s be realistic, most who drink wine will never invest the time and energy to learn more than a few of them.
Wes Hagen, currently of Central California’s J. Wilkes Wines (LINK), shares his way to taste wine for most consumers:
Swirl the wine in the glass and look at the color; put your nose to the glass and sniff the bouquet; if it smells like something you want to put into your mouth, take a sip; if it tastes like something you want to swallow, swallow it; notice the finish.
If you begin from there and add some knowledge as you go, you will never get to a point where Wes’s advice doesn’t hold true.
10. HAVE FUN WITH WINE. Wine is both a beverage and, for some, a lifestyle. I love sharing a good bottle with friends and family, and almost never have an expensive (say over $30) bottle when alone. Dorianne and I used to have wine dinners, where we would ask our guests to bring a special bottle, like the one they’ve been saving for a special occasion for ten years, and a dish to accompany it. At the dinner, each guest will tell the story of their wine as everyone shares it. Or bring a bottle from a trip and share the story of the trip.
Go wine tasting when you travel near wine country – there are hundreds of “wine countries” these days. We have tasted in Mexico, Hungary, Poland, Ukraine, England, and in Michigan, Maryland, New York, Virginia, and Texas, to name a few outside of the normal wine destinations. You will meet some great people in the local wine industry, and fellow tasters are often interesting as well.
I am sure that there are other guidelines for enjoying wine. These are my top ten and I hope you find them of value!
“But now that wine drinking has become so very much more commonplace than it used to be, wine has definitively lost its elitist veneer. For heaven’s sake, it has long been the drink of choice not just for The Archers but on Coronation Street.”
“I would honestly be delighted if every wine drinker felt confident enough to make their own choices dependent on their own individual responses to wines previously tasted. But I do recognise that for many people it will always be simpler to be told what to like.”
I am re-posting and quoting this because the idea of taking responsibility for your own wine drinking decisions, of reading the “experts” but finding your own way and developing your palate in a personal sense – is for me the best way forward in today’s wine world. But as Ms. Robinson says above, there will always be people who want to be told what to drink – but there are now many more people willing to tell them, myself included. So there will always be experts, but few, if any, will rise to the stature achieved by my fellow Baltimorean, Robert M. Parker, Jr. in today’s crowded field of bloggers and other influencers.
On the other hand, there are simply too many wine regions, varietals, producers, and labels for anyone to be a true expert in the generalist sense any more. Those who specialize in a single region or varietal may be exceptions, but even there, it is becoming more difficult (Bordeaux has 8500 producers and counting).
I am heartened by the prospect of a reduction in the influence of the 100 point scale to govern so wide a swath of wine consumption – even if you don’t adhere to it, your favorite restaurant or wine shop likely does. Variety is the spice of life, and making a choice of an unknown wine that you end up not particularly liking can actually increase your ability to judge wines for yourself. The experts of the past had to drink a lot of bad wine to become decent judges of quality. There is still some truth to that idea.
There is a little wine cave near where I live in Lyon called Cave Chromatique (LINK), where the owner takes great care in selecting his wines. When I shop there, I don’t get directed toward a particular style. When I inquire about a wine, I get a description of the wine, thewine producer, the terroir, the process, and maybe the vineyard. I make my purchase and try it. Now, I am an Explorer(LINK to What Kind of Wine Drinker Are You?), so I like to try different wines – and some end up set aside for cooking or even go down the drain. But I also get some amazing experiences with wines that I would not have otherwise tried.
So, I appreciate the post by Jancis Robinson. And I will continue to read her and others who are knowledgeable about wine – but I will be making my own choices including exploring things outside of my own experience recommended by good wine retailers, wine stewards, and friends.
And if you want a treat, there are a number of videos of her wine lessons from 1995 on YouTube.com (LINK) that still stand up well and are very informative and entertaining.
Since moving to Lyon, France this past summer (LINK to Post About Moving to France), much of our time has been spent attempting to learn French (definitely a work in progress), finding our way around town (easy as Lyon is a very walkable city with great public transportation), and traveling back and forth to the US (which will become increasingly less frequent).
I will do another post as a sequel to the one about moving to France soon. For now, let’s talk wine.
Lyon is located in the Rhône-Alps Department (there are 100 departments, or states in France), in the upper part of southeastern France. We are just north of the Rhône Valley at the confluence of the Rhône and the Saône Rivers. A few kilometers to the north, Burgundy begins with the Mâcon region; to the west, Beaujolais is a few kilometers outside the city; to the east, the underappreciated Jura region is a short drive away. Wines from all these regions and more pour into Lyon, a city of about 500K with 2.2 million in the metropolitan area.
There are only two large supermarkets in the city limits, both at malls. Big box stores are restricted to outlying areas, meaning that mom & pop businesses thrive. Every neighborhood has multiple small boulangeries, boucheries, fromageries, green grocers, and wine caves. Small grocery stores have wine departments featuring representative wines from the surrounding regions, mostly from larger producers. The caves (wine shops) have more wines from smaller producers and a few higher-end bottles, but almost all the wines are reasonably priced and would qualify as “everyday wines.” (LINK to @EricAsimov column on Everyday Wines from the NYTimes). We are drinking these wines for the most part with our lunches and dinners at home – spending an average of 10 to 12€ per bottle (top shelf at these stores) – sometimes much less – and enjoying most of them very much. This is why I have not been blogging and Tweeting as much about the wines I am drinking – they are, for the most part, not stand-out wines, but they are good!
My admittedly limited personal research thus far has revealed an interesting fact: THE FRENCH DON’T LIKE TO SPEND A LOT OF MONEY ON WINE.
I don’t know why this surprised me – but I just have not encountered the kind of wine conversations that I had with friends in California. It is more likely to encounter a boxed wine at a dinner party than a higher-end Burgundy or Châteauneuf du Pape. And, by the way, I have had some very drinkable boxed wines here. But I was a bit surprised that the Mecca of fine wine is largely populated with folks who prefer to spend under 10€ a bottle (and 3€ can get you a very nice rosè from Provence). Even when higher-end wines are served at dinner, the conversation is not about the wine. Perhaps a quick recognition of whoever provided it (usually the host), but that’s about it.
Dorianne and I eat at restaurants once or twice a week. Lyon is a gastronomique capital – many of the great Parisian (and New York) chefs train in the many cooking schools here. Lyon has more Michelin Star restaurants per capita than any other city, so food is a big thing here. And this extends downward from the Michelin restaurants all the way to the Bouchons (think bistro but serving Lyonnaise cuisine) and comptoirs. It is difficult to find a bad meal here, and some very nondescript looking places are working magic in their tiny kitchens. And as for wine, once you get out of the Michelin range, the wine lists tend to be fairly modest, featuring value-priced bottles and vins de la maison, usually from a tap or box. The wine list prices are usually at regular retail or just a bit above.
So, my everyday wine experience here in Lyon has been mostly with everyday wines from the wine regions surrounding the city. I will say that French wine producers seem to understand that the French don’t like to pay a lot for wine. The 13€ Burgundy Pinot Noir I get at the local wine cave tastes equivalent to a $30 or $40 bottle of Burgundy purchased in the US. We are enjoying very good wines for very reasonable prices – and feeling very grateful in the process!
This has been a very unique year for me in terms of wine exploration and enjoyment. After traveling full time between North America and Europe for 2 ½ years, Dorianne and I have settled in Lyon, France. Although we continue to travel for various reasons (I’m writing this in Southern California), we have been exploring the local wine scene in and around Lyon since July – and have discovered that there is a lot to learn, and even more to enjoy.
The year began with our annual few days in Pismo Beach, CA with our friends to explore wineries from Paso Robles, the Edna Valley, Santa Maria, and the Santa Rita Hills AVAs. The highlights of that trip were Sculptera Vineyards in Paso Robles (we all joined the wine club and bought two cases), Presqu’ile Vineyards in Santa Maria, and Pence Winery in the Santa Rita Hills. (LINK to Post about the last two)
The cases from Sculptera (mixed cases) were sent to Roam Miami (LINK), where Dorianne and I stayed last winter. A co-living/co-working space, Roam offered a haven of tropical peace and calm right next to downtown Miami and the Brickell area. We were surrounded mostly by Millennial digital nomads, and we conducted a few wine tastings and seminars to help educate them about wine enjoyment. (LINK to Post about Millennials and Wine).
In late March, we headed back to southern Oregon, Medford and Ashland, to see friends and explore more of the Rogue Valley wine scene. A month there took us to several wonderful wineries (LINK to Post) and some great restaurants.
The next highlight was two weeks in New York, staying in my daughter’s Harlem apartment, where we got to explore the burgeoning Harlem French wine and restaurant scene (LINK to Post about Harlem). Lots of good experiences there.
In June I traveled solo to Kelowna, British Columbia, the heart of the rich Okanagan Wine Region in western Canada(Link to Post about the Okanagan). Here I explored a variety of wineries and wines, as global warming has opened the region to growing red grapes, from Cabernet Sauvignon, to Tempranillo, to Syrah. Kelowna is a boomtown for vacation homes and recreation on its 90-mile-long glacial lake. The wine scene is growing more sophisticated with over 200 wineries in the area. Dirty Laundry Winery showcases much of what is fun in the Okanagan (LINK to Post).
Lyon has been a revelation in terms of wine. Centered between Burgundy to the north, the Rhône Valley to the south, Beaujolais to the west, and Jura to the east, there is an embarrassment of riches. And some surprises.
The French don’t like to spend a lot of money on wine. I’m sure that there are exceptions, but you rarely see a bottle above 20€ in a grocery store or over 40€ in the local wine cave (shop). Restaurants generally sell wine bottles at or just above retail. And winemakers sell wines for half to 2/3’s what they would cost in the US. A “pot” is a 460ML bottle – a bit more than a half-bottle – of house wine which will cost 8 to 12€ in a Bouchon (Lyonnaise for bistro). There are also demi-pots and rare 500ML bottles.
Box wines are better quality than I expected. For about 25€ you can get a 5-liter box of a very drinkable Luberon Valley red wine; 18€ for the rosé.
Rosé wines are very good at 4€ per bottle, excellent at 7 to 10€. We drank rosés almost exclusively during the hot summer months.
Maconnais Chardonnays are wonderful wines. Just north of Lyon, the vineyards of Macon produce some wonderfully approachable wines which sell for ½ or 1/3 of what their Burgundian cousins to the north fetch. Another nice surprise was Aligoté, the other Burgundy white – crisp, with a mineral/floral nose, it is a great value choice from the same winemakers who make the expensive stuff.
In France, Cabernet Sauvignon is just Cabernet and Sauvignon Blanc is just Sauvignon. Cases in France are 6 bottles. Just FYI.
As I noted in the Moving to France Post (LINK), we tend to shop every day for fresh items at the open-air marchés and the mom-and-pop bakeries, butchers, etc. This may also include a stop at the wine cave to pick up a bottle or two and have a conversation with the proprietor about what is new and interesting.
We have not yet begun to explore the wineries and vineyards in the area – our focus has been on learning French, getting to know the city, and finding a flat to purchase – however, we expect to do a lot of that in 2018.
We are winding up 2017 in Southern California with friends and family. Our New Year’s Eve dinner with friends will feature a cold lobster appetizer that I am making and a Ken Brown Chardonnay to accompany it; then roast leg of lamb with a 2005 Opus One and a 1994 Harlan Estate Cabernet Sauvignon to see the year out with something wonderful.
Next week, we return to Pismo Beach to explore the Central Coast some more, then . . .
Thanks for being a part of this year on the blog.
As always, your comments and suggestions are welcomed!
“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
There are a lot of ways to categorize oneself (or, for more fun, someone else) as a wine drinker. Let’s look at a few . I will provide some recommendations for those in each category to enhance the wine experience based on personal habits and preferences. It is important to have some balance, I think. I realize that all of us may cross categories from time to time, or as part of our evolution as wine drinkers. But, just for fun, let’s explore this idea a bit.
“All generalizations are false, including this one.”
~ Mark Twain
So as a caveat to any categorization scheme, I will acknowledge that this is in no way representative of anything approaching ultimate truth. It’s just for fun, and it may contain just enough truth to make it humorous.
1. THE CREATURE OF HABIT DRINKER
This kind of wine drinker is predictable to a fault. She may always drink the same varietal, even label, just about every time she has wine. She always drinks at the same time of day, for example, only with dinner. She may be a bit expansive and drink the same varietal from more than one region, but probably not. The wine shop employee knows just what to have on the counter when she comes in to purchase.
RECOMMENDATION: Break out of the box, at least a little. Add a varietal to your routine, such as Merlot if you drink only Cabernet Sauvignon. Or, create a day of the week or of the month when you explore other wines.
“his lips drink water but his heart drinks wine”
~ e.e. cummings
2. THE EXPLORER
This kind of wine drinker seeks variety in all ways. He may drink a different wine every time, exploring different varietals, regions, decanting techniques, glasses, etc. While he may have a few favorites, he returns to from time to time, he is on the prowl for something new and interesting. He badgers the wine shop employees to get in some more interesting wines, and likely explores the shelves of every wine shop in town.
RECOMMENDATION: Find a couple of favorite wines or, better yet, varietals. Then explore them in greater depth to get a deeper knowledge and appreciation of the variety within them. You might try Sauvignon Blancs from a number of producers, regions, and countries to get a sense of how that varietal differs across the range of viticulture and wine making techniques.
“I rather like bad wine. One gets so bored with good wine.”
~ Benjamin Disraeli
3. THE COLLECTOR
This wine drinker is primarily focused on developing a wine cellar that will be the envy of some target audience, or that will appreciate as an investment. He drinks around the edges of his collection, waiting until wines are “ready to drink,” or are on the downside of their life-cycle and no longer as valuable. He is driven more by the labels and the calendar than by his palate. The wine store employee never sees this wine drinker, as he purchases mainly via auction and directly from high-end wineries.
RECOMMENDATION: Have a little fun. Set your concerns for increasing the value of your cellar aside for a bit, let the urge to wheel and deal go and settle in with a couple of bottles that you really enjoy and have some friends over. Wine is a social lubricant and good wine is best enjoyed with friends. Do this occasionally and see how it feels.
“I drink Champagne when I am happy and when I am sad. Sometimes I drink it when alone. In company I find it compulsory. I sip a little if I’m hungry. Otherwise I don’t touch it — unless I’m thirsty of course.”
~ Lily Bollinger
4. THE WINE SLUT
This wine drinker will drink whatever wine is being offered. He has no sense of appreciation of wine. His desire is to be sociable and get buzzed. If his host is serving Trader Joe’s Charles Shaw or Screaming Eagle, he will drink it all the same. The wine store employee points him to the sale bin and the bulk wine shelf in the wine shop.
RECOMMENDATION: Take a course on wine. Your wine shop or store may offer one, or the local community college. Increase your knowledge and learn to cultivate a better palate. Realize that a lot of the cheap wine you guzzle is full of additives (LINK) that you may not want in your system.
“As you get older, you shouldn’t waste time drinking bad wine.”
~ Julia Child
5. THE WINE SNOB
This drinker is all about image – being seen as an authority on fine wines. She may also be a collector, but that is not the driver of her wine consumption. The Wine Snob is about seeming to be the authority in the room. She will spout grandiose tasting notes (including characteristics that no one else seems to taste or smell), turn up her nose at “everyday wines,” and let others know when their wine choices or opinions don’t make the grade (her grade, of course). See will name-drop wine makers, labels, authorities, and distant vineyards that she has experienced. The wine store employee has a happy/sad relationship – she will be a pain to wait on, but will buy expensive wine.
RECOMMENDATION: It may be hopeless. But if you can, try saying NOTHING about wine in a social setting. No, really. A winemaker friend of mine once attended a dinner at one of the premier Burgundy wine estates. Wines worth thousands of dollars a bottle as old as 100 years were served. He said that the amazing thing was not there was no mention of the wine at all during the dinner. The conversation was about other things. Try that sometime.
“This wine is too good for toast-drinking, my dear. You don’t want to mix emotions up with a wine like that. You lose the taste.”
~ Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises
6. THE SOCCER MOM/DAD
This drinker is looking for a reliable wine that meets three criteria: consistent, inexpensive, and gives a buzz with minimal hangover. The primary reason that this person drinks wine is as a reminder that there is more to living than the stresses and routines of everyday life. Wine is to relax and forget. The wine store employee sends cases of the same everyday wine home with this drinker a few times a month.
RECOMMENDATION: Learn to manage your life without self-medicating. You may be using wine in a non-beneficial manner. And you are missing most of the joy of the beverage. Read a self-help book, maybe see a therapist. Then, drink wine for enjoyment.
“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
7. THE YOUNG MILLENNIAL
Think Yellow Tail, Barefoot, and box wines. That’s pretty much all you need to know.
RECOMMENDATION: You will likely grow up anyway, but you can hasten the process. See the recommendation for The Wine Slut above.
“I went to the hospital for a blood transfusion and they gave me a wine list.”
~ Dean Martin
8. THE OLDER MILLENNIAL
On the path of The Explorer, but not in a traditional sense – seeks out wines from obscure or emerging regions as long as they are organic or biodynamic. A wine gets extra credit if it comes from a third-world country. Enjoys paring wines with trendy and ethnic foods. Talks more about the “vibrations” of the wine than fruit vs. minerality. The wine shop employee needs to be up on the ecology of the wines in the shop.
RECOMMENDATION: You are driving the wine market. Keep seeking out wines produced sustainably with little or no additives. Keep expanding your pairings and urging winemakers and restaurateurs to be more creative. If anything, take yourself a little less seriously, but you are on the right track. Oh, and find ways to honor the great traditions of wine making while you create a new future.
“We are all mortal until the first kiss and the second glass of wine.”
~ Eduardo Galeano
Wherever you fall in or beyond any of these categories, may your wine drinking bring you great pleasure and add to the overall quality of your life. That, after all, is what it’s all about.
“Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing.”
~ Ernest Hemingway
Your comments are welcomed!
Text Copyright 2017 – Jim Lockard; some images are re-posted. If your image is here and you do not want it here, please let me know and I will remove it.
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 Parker, Janis 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 $50per 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 palatehas 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’sWine 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.
2016 was a year of travel for Dorianne and me. Since we sold our home in early 2015, we have been on the road. 2016 found us in the U.S. and Europe, on a Mediterranean cruise, and in the Middle East. We traveled in 8 states and in Spain, Czech Republic, Ukraine, Poland, England, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Israel, and Malta. There were wine experiences everywhere. Here are some highlights and “bests” of a very interesting year:
MOST INTERESTING WINERY VISITS:
In July, we went for a day of wine tasting in Rhonda, Spain (LINK). I blogged about it at the time. What made it special was the beauty of the countryside and the fact that it is such a small wine region. You can read about it at the link.
Merecouri Estate, Korakohori, Greece (LINK). We visited during a cruise at the port of Katakolo. This is a very interesting winery and vineyard, where the 4th generation of the family is making some good wine. The tour is fun, lots of history, even a museum. The tasting is good – 4 wines and cheese and other snacks. One of the better cruise-related winery tours I have been on. I had a chance to speak to the current patriarch of the family, Christos Kanellakopoulo about wine making techniques. Some of their wines are exported to the U.S.
BEST WINE EXPERIENCES IN A RESTAURANT:
Osteria Barberini, Rome, Italy (LINK). This gem of a restaurant on a very narrow side street near the Spanish Steps and the Piazza Barberini, was both a revelation and a great find for Dorianne and me. We were arriving in Rome from Lyon at about 8:00 pm, and I looked at Trip Advisor for something near our hotel off the Via Veneto. I made a reservation via email for 9:15 pm, as that was the only time available; a good thing, as our flight was late. When we arrived, they were turning people away from what turned out to be a very small restaurant seating about 36 people in three small dining rooms.
And the food! They specialize in truffles, black and white, and we had three wonderful meals there (we went back two more times). A small but well-selected wine list of mostly Italian wines was also a highlight. Here are the wines we had there:
I’m limiting this list to just five, but there were many more – hundreds actually. These sort of separated from the herd for one reason or another.
1994 Harlan Estates, Napa Valley, CA, enjoyed in Agoura Hills, CA
2012 Jean-Luc & Eric Burguet, Gevery-Chambertin Symphonie, Burgundy, France, enjoyed in Macon, France
2009 Firriato Quater Rosso, Sicily, Italy, enjoyed in Rome, Italy
2005 Diamond Creek, Gravely Meadow, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, CA, enjoyed in Pismo Beach, CA
2003 Gruppo Matarromera Bodega, Cyan Prestigio, Castilla y León, Spain, enjoyed in Granada, Spain
BEST OVERALL WINE EXPERIENCES of 2016:
Sharing wine with good friends – or new acquaintances – is, to me, the best part about enjoying wine. This year we had many chances to do just that, and a few of them stand out as very special.
We opened the year with two nights in Pismo Beach, CA, at the mid-century gem, the Kon Tiki Inn with two other couples. Wine tasting ensued, both in terms of bottles brought and a tour of some of the Edna Valley wineries, just west of Pismo Beach. Great meals, and a wonderful two days. We will be repeating the experience again this January 1-4.
Sharing a very special case of wine with my good friend Richard Clark in the early part of the year was very special. Richard received a gift case of selected top-of-the-line wines from California, France, and Italy from his employer for Christmas. One of my top five wines, the Harlan Estates was in that case, along with many other gems that could also have qualified.
Wine dinners in Cambridge, England and in Macon, France with friends that we made through Dorianne’s interest in chamber music were also very special. Wonderful wine, wonderful food, wonderful conversation, and wonderful music ensued.
Two meals with good friends in Rome – one at a great wine bar, another at their beautiful apartment – featured wonderful Italian wines and, again, great food and conversation. You can see Francesco perusing the red wine list at the legendary Rome Wine Bar – Enoteca Ferrara (LINK).
Just this week at Roam-Miami, where we are staying for most of the winter, Dorianne and I hosted a wine tasting and presentation for other guests and their friends. We sampled four varietals/blends – one of each from the Old World and the New World. There was some very nice French and Spanish cheese and dark chocolate; and a glass of Cava to get things rolling. It was a great evening of fun and some of the young people attending learned something about wine.
While there is still some time left in 2016, I am also looking forward to 2017. Our plans include visits to Mexico, Canada, Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, California, Oregon and possibly, Washington state. Summer will take us back to Europe – Ireland, Scotland, then to France, where we intend to find an apartment in Lyon to be our new home base. Of course, we never know where serendipity will intervene. I will keep you informed.
The wine world is filled with possibilities. There are dozens of nations, hundreds of regions, thousands of appellations, tens of thousands of vignerons and wine makers, and probably hundreds of thousands of wine outlets if you count restaurants. You can add to that all of the wine knowledge, science, literature, publications, websites, bloggers, and well, it’s a lot. Can you imagine walking into a restaurant, asking for a wine from a specific label which you happen to like, and them actually having it?
How is one to make choices about what to drink and when?
And there are price points to consider, wine rating points (should I order a 91 or an 88?), sometimes snooty sommeliers and wine shop employees, various vintages of differing quality, and labels, labels, labels. And those labels are on bottles with corks, bottles with screwcaps, boxes, cans, casks, and more. And by the way, how should you store that wine?
Oh, and what wines to serve with which foods? Which wines to sip alone? What kind of wine opener should I use? What other wine accessories should I buy? What temperature at which to serve the wine? In what kind of glass (or slipper)? Bubbly, sweet, dry, demi-sec? Port or late harvest? And ice wine!
All of this can be seen as a huge obstacleto wine enjoyment, or it can be seen as a vast array of opportunities to enjoy wine. Like much of life, it all depends on your attitude.
Entry into the world of wine is really quite easy. Wine is practically ubiquitous – it’s pretty much everywhere. I was just in eastern Ukraine and had local wine, some of which was delicious (LINK).
One way to view the many options in the wine world and all of the different types of knowledge and skill that goes into the whole process of bringing wine to your table, is to see an opportunity for almost endless exploration. You can have a different wine every day and never repeat yourself (assuming varied wine retail options in your area and online).
Another way to approach the wine world is to find a few wines that you like and stop there. I have a friend who rarely drinks anything beyond Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay; another who will only drink oaky chardonnays. Some may only drink Port wines; others Napa Cabernets.
You can study broadly or do a deep dive into a narrow range of wine knowledge and experience. Most will be somewhere in between the extremes, but there is a niche for everyone. The key is not to pay too much attention to what the “experts” or the marketing forces tell you as they try to steer you toward their own preferences. Find your own way – if it isn’t interesting or fun for you, you’re not doing it right.
Me, I have some favorite wines, some favorite producers, some favorite growing areas, and some favorite countries. I also like to experiment with wines I have not tried yet, but I tend to favor a known quantity with a good meal. For example, we were in Kraków, Poland recently (LINK), dining at Padre, a local Polish restaurant. I was having lamb and noted that there was a very nice French Malbec from Cahors on the list. Knowing how a rich, inky Cahors Malbec would go with lamb made my decision easy – so I passed on some Polish wines. I picked a favorite over the chance to explore – that time. At other times, I will make a different decision. But that is me. You may well do something different.
My point is that the bulk of the effort in learning about wine should go into learning what YOU like about it. Then go from there. You may become an expert in Cabernet Sauvignons from the east side of Paso Robles; or you may be the go-to person for advice on Hungarian reds. Or, you may be that person who always drinks Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay.
So, if you are new to wine, consider building yourself a starter case (LINK) to see what you like. Let your local wine retailer know your preferences, including if you like to try new things or stick close to what you already know. If you travel, check out the local wine scene, either in town – wine bars, urban wineries and restaurants; or head out into the local wine country to taste and explore. In an airport? Stop at Vino Volo and try a wine that you’ve never had before. Sign up for an online service like WTSO.com(LINK) and opt for something new to you.
Maybe you are a long-time wine consumer who is ready to spread your wings a bit. You might begin with your local wine shop – tell them what you like and ask them how you can explore some new wines that have a similar profile. Go to a Greek restaurant with good Greek wines on the wine list, and try some if that is new to you. See if there are some small producers of wines in your local area and give them a try. There are lots of possibilities. Try not to be intimidated by the experts or by too many choices. Take your time and stick to what you like – and maybe explore around the edges.
The world of wine is literally at your feet. Enjoy!