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Making The Same Mistakes

August 11, 2022 Leave a comment

Are we humans prone to repeat ourselves all the time? Good and bad – first we repeat what was done again and again, then wonder why we achieve exactly the same result as before. There is nothing wrong with repeating the good things, except that we might be limiting ourselves – think about bench-pressing 150 lb all the time, without ever trying to increase the weight. That’s a good weight to press, of course, but you need to increase the weight if you want your muscles to grow.

The process of repeating the bad things is far more peculiar. We know that something doesn’t work. We know that we did something in the past and it painfully didn’t work. Should we learn? Should the brain have a mental capacity to remember the bad result of the past and then simply remember not to repeat it? You think? This is so obvious, and yet unattainable at the same time. Why? Really, why?

Case in point. My business trip took me to Anaheim in California. Going to Anaheim, people who travel occasionally would fly to LAX (Los Angeles airport), and then have quite an expensive (and potentially very long) taxi ride to get to Anaheim. People who travel know that the closest airport to Anaheim is John Wayne, a.k.a. Orange County a.k.a. Santa Ana airport. As I belong to the second group (I generally travel for business), I took an early morning flight from Newark, NJ to John Wayne airport, arriving even faster than anticipated and enjoying the easy trip.

When traveling inside the US, ideally you want to take the early flight – outside of mechanical and horrible weather issues, you stand the best chance to arrive at your destination on time and in a happy state of mind. As the day progresses, travel becomes more chaotic, as flight schedules start shifting, and every slight delay aggregates to bigger and bigger ones. See, I know my flying rules. And what I said is 10 times true for the most overloaded (and badly run) airports in the country – Newark, Washington Dulles, Houston, Boston are all stand out in this category – by the end of the day, Newark would typically aggregate about 2 to 3 hours delay – and this is in the best weather throughout the country, God forbid it rains somewhere.

See, I know my traveling stuff, right? Do you think this knowledge helped me? Yep. Of course, you figured out the answer already. No, it did not. Instead of taking 6:30 AM out of John Wayne airport to fly back to Newark, I decided to fly at 12:30. Would you expect me to apply my knowledge? Of course, but I didn’t not. After arriving at the airport about two hours prior to my on-time departure, I spent the next 4 and a half hours (that includes 2.5 hours of an actual delay) literally swearing at myself, at United, at Newark, and back to myself. What’s even worse, I managed to repeat yet another old mistake again.

Insanity – repeating the same thing over and over again, every time expecting a different result

If you like wine, and if you ever traveled through Austin, Portland, San Francisco (and many other) airports, I’m sure you noticed restaurants/bars called Vino Volo. There are more than 50 Vino Volo locations around the country. Everything in Vino Volo revolves around wine. Every restaurant has a great selection of wines by the glass and wines to buy by the bottle – as they are located past security, you can buy a bottle of wine to bring to your destination if you are so inclined.

However, my main attraction at Vino Volo is wine tasting flights. At any given moment, Vino Volo offers 6-8 different tasting flights, red, white, Rosé, each flight typically consisting of 3 wines. Each flight is accompanied by detailed tasting notes. Very often you can find a selection of local wines offered as part of the flights – Oregon wines in Portland, Texas wines in Austin, and so on. When I have time, I never pass on an opportunity to visit a Vino Volo store and taste some new wines.

This brings us back to the subject of repeated mistakes. I know full well that young and expensive California Cabernet Sauvignon wines are undrinkable, 9 out of 10. I generally enjoy Vino Volo flights, with one memorable exception being Californian Bordeaux blend Overture, the second label of Opus, which I didn’t enjoy at all. And now, while at the John Wayne airport, I chose the flight of 3 high-end but young California Cabernet Sauvignon wines, instead of taking one of the other 7 or so. Why? Was a driven by the bad mood due to the flight already being delayed? Was there a hidden, subconscious desire to exacerbate the pain? I don’t know. But this was the flight I ordered. And it successfully exacerbated my pain – which you can see in these tasting notes:

2019 Faust Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($83)
Black currant, cherries, eucalyptus
Gripping tannins, green notes, black currants, tart finish.
Not enjoyable now.

2018 Vineyard 29 CRU Cabernet Sauvignon St. Helena ($84)
Cherries, dust
A bit more balanced than the previous wine, still weaved on the core of green notes, but definitely more approachable and enjoyable than the previous wine. Glimpses of greatness. Maybe decanting for an hour would make a miraculous change.
7+

2018 Grgich Hills Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Napa Valley ($82)
Distant hint of black currants and nutmeg
Tart, green, fruit is hiding. Almost flat in terms of soliciting an emotion.

Why do we do these bad things to ourselves? This question is half rhetorical, half actual. If you know the answer – or have a story to tell – please, I’m all ears.

Wine Reflections on the Go, and Cognac Ramblings

June 10, 2022 1 comment

While in San Diego for work, I was on a very strange quest. I wanted to find cognac in miniature bottles (50 ml). Strange and dumb, you say? No problems, I accept the criticism. It is strange, but not criminal or immoral by any means, so let me continue my story.

I don’t know if you drink cognac, but if you do, you could’ve noticed that it is generally in a short supply, and often absurdly priced. Some stores carry no cognac at all. Some stores have a very limited selection, incomparable with other liquors – look at a typical tequila or bourbon selection – the ratio would be 10 to 1.

Why cognac all of sudden? A dear friend is coming over in a few weeks, and we always do a serious tasting of scotch/whiskey with her. What does “serious” mean? At any given moment I have 15–20 (or more, I honestly have no idea) bottles of whiskey open – some might be for 10 years – unlike wine, whiskey doesn’t care, nothing can change in the 46% – 70% ABV weather – as long as the bottle is closed well. This time around, the said dear friend said that she doesn’t want to do a scotch tasting, and would much prefer that we would change the subject – for example to the cognac.

While I love cognac, I prefer scotch for my occasional hard liquor sip. It is much more difficult to find a palatable, never mind tasty cognac which one also can afford – delicious whisky can still be acquired for less than $30, but drinkable cognac in that prices range is mostly a dream.

Okay, so back to that tasting. I set for myself a goal to have at least 15 different cognacs to taste, without spending a small fortune. I probably have 2 or 3 open. I procured two tasting sets (they are very hard to come around), and found one miniature of Courvoisier to include in the tasting, but that’s about it. So I went on the mission to find at least the main brands (Martell, Hennessy, Courvoisier, Remy Martin) and maybe some others – but seemed to be mission impossible in Connecticut and even in New Jersey.

Wine Reflections, as promised

Which brings us to the wine store in San Diego. I honestly went to the wine store creatively called The Wine Bank to look for my cognac miniature bottles. Who goes to the store called The Wine Bank to buy cognac? Happy to be ostracized again, but if I would be looking for tequila, bourbon, or even gin believe me I wouldn’t leave the store empty-handed. But cognac? Nowhere to be found in any size.

The store was “much bigger on the inside” with a huge basement filled with wine shelves. So what should the wine lover do when he encounters wine heaven? At least take a look, right? Just a look. No touch. I promise. I was well behaved. But would you believe me if I would tell you that I left the store called The Wine Bank without buying a bottle? Even if you are naive, my reader(s?), don’t trust the wine lover visiting the wine store.

I was looking for something interesting, yet inexpensive. Interesting means I don’t readily have it at home and would love to drink often but drink rarely. And so I found my beloved Chinon (Cab Franc) and a white blend from the Rhône, $17 and $16 respectively.

I really like Chinon wines, a classic, cold climate, old world renditions of Cabernet Franc. This wine was from the 2017 vintage, so it had 5 years of age on it. I previously had an amazing experience with Chinon wine from Olga Raffault, so now seeing the same name (Raffault family had been cultivating vines in Chinon for 14 generations!) together with the reasonable price has given the rationale for the decision.

I rarely drink white Rhône wines because there are very few of them available at most of the wine stores, and finding tasty ones is not an easy task as well. However, seeing 60% Roussanne on the back label – and Roussanne might be my favorite white grape – together with a reasonable price again made it an easy decision.

2017 Jean-Maurice Raffault Les Galuches Chinon AOC (13% ABV, $16.99, Les Galuches is the name of the vineyard, had been organically farmed since 2016) was interesting. When I just opened it, it had a beautiful classic nose with a touch of bell pepper, and an almost jammy load of the black currants on the palate, very generous. On the second day, the nose was somewhat closed, and black currants were still pleasant though somewhat scarce. On the third day the wine pretty much closed and offered mostly bell pepper and tart acidity. I don’t believe the wine turned – it should be either consumed upon opening or left alone for 10+ years to enjoy it later.

2019 Chateau L’Ermitage Auzan Blanc Costieres de Nimes AOP (13% ABV, $15.99, 60% Roussanne, 20% Grenache, 20% Viognier) was even more interesting. I chilled this wine first overnight in the fridge. When I opened it, I really wanted to like it, but I couldn’t. It was disjointed, with fruit and acidity randomly poking in different directions. As the wine warmed up, it became a lot more palatable and enjoyable, but the magic didn’t happen.

I left the wine bottle on the table overnight. When I tried it in the morning, I literally slapped myself on the forehead – this wine is 60% Roussanne, and Roussanne wines are showing much, much better at the room temperature or gently chilled compared to the full-blown “wine from the fridge”. The wine had gunflint on the nose, and boasted powerful, fully textured, plump, and round white stone fruit on the palate. A beautiful, classic, full-bodied Roussanne rendition.

Here you go, my friends – my wine (and cognac) reflections [directly and figurately] on the go. Drink well, whether you travel or not.

How Art The Wine Is?

December 9, 2021 2 comments

<rant>

Wine is Art.

I always say this, and I’m willing to fight anyone who disagrees.

Same as a painting, a classical music piece, a sculpture, an architectural masterpiece, or an elaborate flower garden, well-made wine solicits the emotional response, hence it is an art form. Defining this art, there is one key difference between, let’s say, a painting and a bottle of wine – we only need to look at the painting to trigger an emotion – but we need to drink the wine to make it an ultimate art form.

A few months ago, a friend told me “I have a wine question for you”. He is a wonderful friend, but he typically drinks Bartenura Moscato, so the wine question? Okay, let’s hear it. So the question was about the wine and NFTs. NFT, which stands for Non-Fungible Token is a form of cryptocurrency, typically used to guarantee authenticity and ownership of unique forms of art or objects – this article might help if you want to learn more. So the friend was asking if he should buy NFTs of some obscure wine (there was a choice in the catalog) – and if not this wine, then maybe that wine.

Literally the next day I got a call from another friend who was asking if he should invest a good amount of money in the fund which invests in fine wines. Technically, you pay for the case (or 5, it depends on availability and demand) of unreleased wine (futures). The fund company will take ownership of that case, will store it in the proper conditions, and will report back to you a current market value of your case, so you can sell it when you think it is time – with a very large profit, of course.

It seems that these investments are flying out faster than hot potatoes in the hands of an amateur chef. That same friend called me to complain that because I didn’t give him good advice right away, the wine he was asking about was already sold out and he had to get on the waiting list for the wine of supposedly a lesser pedigree.

During last month I also heard about the same offerings from yet another friend, and then even received a direct ad in the Instagram stories, to invest in wine with a guaranteed incredible return.

Now, my question to you – a collective “you”, anyone who would spend time – is this how it should be? Yes, I get it, it is capitalism, supply and demand, of course, but the wine is made to be drunk, consumed, mesmerized upon, start crying, laughing, grabbing someone excitedly on the shoulder – but not just to be another form of the stock certificate?

Of course, there is wine collecting. There are people with access, who accumulate lots and lots of bottles, many of them very expensive and very limited, but I would assume that even the wine collectors acquire the wine to be consumed and enjoyed – not all of it, but at least some of it? This wine investment fund idea relegates wine simply to the form of another agricultural commodity – corn, wheat, cattle. Commodity trading had been around forever – nobody owns 100 bushels of rice, but anyone can make (or lose) money on it. But rice is not art – rice is simply a necessity, and yes, if you are hungry, it will solicit the emotion, but it will not be the same as when you are truly enjoying a glass of wine.

The latest entrant into the NFT craze – Robert Mondavi winery. Three of the star winemakers produced 1966 magnums of wine called MCMLXVI (that is 1966 in Roman numerals – 1966 is the year when Robert Mondavi winery was founded), Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Sauvignon blends from 2019 vintage. This wine will be packaged into specially designed porcelain bottles by the French porcelain designer Bernardaud, with each bottle having a unique QR code, and sold at $3,500. Now, when you will buy the bottle, you will get an NFT, which will assure your ownership, and there will be a connection between an NFT and that QR code on the bottle. In addition to the bottle of wine, each purchase will somehow include the generative artwork (you look it up – I guess it means a visual object/ painting generated by computer algorithm) by the artist Clay Heaton. Also, the QR code with NFT will serve as protection against counterfeiting – like the porcelain magnum bottle by itself is not enough.

So I wrote all of this, then took a pause and had to ask myself – what is your problem, dude? Everything sounds great in this picture – great winemakers, perfectly artful presentation of the perfect wine, guaranteed authenticity, and even a bonus in the form of the hot piece of art. What is my problem, really?

This wine is not created to be enjoyed as wine. This product is strictly a financial instrument. Star winemakers will attract attention. Unique packaging will attract attention. But then this is strictly sold as a financial instrument. NFTs are typically sold through an auction-like mechanism, so there clearly will be open bidding, with $3,500 being an initial price. There is also an opportunity to resell that piece of digital art, so all in all, this is strictly a money transaction. I wonder if any of these bottles will be ever open, or they will strictly exist for their monetary value.

Yes, wine is business. Yes, I’m naive. Yes, I’m romanticizing wine. Yes, you can call me old and stupid. That’s all fine. But the only way to enjoy wine is by drinking it. I love money as much as anyone else here, but still, if someone is buying wine only for its resale value, they don’t love wine, they only love money. Connecting NFTs to wine only amplifies the conversion of the wine into a financial instrument. And if wine is becoming only an abstract monetary instrument, one day someone will realize that it doesn’t matter what is in the bottle – any plonk will do. And then another day, someone will open that bottle… and… I really have no idea what will happen then. Or what will happen if one day, unhackable blockchain will be hacked, and all the NFTs will disappear – will someone then decide to drink that wine?

Wine is art. To be more precise, the wine in the closed bottle is only a potential art – or just another monetary instrument. Wine becomes art the moment it is poured into your glass. And that is the only reason for wine to exist.

</rant>

Am I missing something? Do NFTs have anything to do with enjoying the wine? Are NFTs really connected to the future of wine? Am I just jealous of the people with unlimited monetary resources? I’m ready to discuss…

Zoom Rhymes With Wine

May 17, 2020 5 comments

Zoom rhymes with wine. Nonsense, you said? Of course, silly, they don’t. Not in a traditional poetic sense for sure. Maybe only in a haiku?

Sun setting down
Zoom glimmers seductively
Pour the wine

Well, if this was the worst thing you ever read, feel free to disavow me. But for those who want to talk, let’s have a conversation about wine and technology? Or maybe just today’s life?

While wine is my passion, it is my hobby. Obsessive? Maybe. But still a hobby. My daytime job is in the computers and technology field, and if you will allow me to be even more precise, it is IP communications technologies, which cover almost everything from the internet to videoconferencing and to your toaster conspiring against you with your microwave (don’t worry, it is early and they still can be stopped). In this technology space, I was lucky to meet Jeff Pulver, who was a pioneer and a visionary, and not only in the space of technology but also in social media.

Before Twitter was even a concept, Jeff came up with a concept of a social breakfast. You see, many of the technologists are socially very conservative, and when those people get together, the hardest thing is to start a conversation. Every attendee of Jeff’s breakfast was given a few stickers to either tag oneself or a person they were talking to with random “identifiers” you would come up with during conversation, such as “wine”, “music”, “VC”, “video” – as you move around the room, those tags were easy conversation starters. If someone has a tag “garden”, you don’t need to think about what to ask that person, you can simply ask about that tag.

The attendees also had to come up with the tagline which would describe them in a short sentence. Mine was “I like wine and technology that works” – again, you don’t need to think hard about your first question when presented with an opener like this.

Believe it or not, but the technology part in my tagline above is more relevant to today’s world than the wine. How so? The company I was working for was in the videoconferencing space. And in those days (the early 2000s), the technology was subpar at the best – typical video conferencing call inflicted a lot of pain and suffering on all the participants, and every 10-15 minutes you could talk without significant quality degradation or a call simply dropping, was almost a reason to celebrate. And all that technology was really expensive and available only to businesses with deep pockets.

The situation is dramatically different today. There is a gazillion of platforms offering video communication capabilities, either streaming (Facebook live, Instagram live, Youtube live, …) or interactive video for two or more people (skype, Facebook messenger, WhatsApp, Google hangouts and then serious commercial ones such as Zoom and Microsoft teams) – and nevertheless, the video was not really a tool in the wine world.

Even in the early days, the wine industry realized the value of social media and the “word of mouth” opportunity it offered to educate wine consumers and promote wine producers, wine brands, and individual wines. As the internet was becoming more accessible and easier to use, at first there were the wine blogs. Twitter quickly became a social media darling of the wine world, offering not only the ability to reach anyone with the twitter handle, no matter how famous those people were, but also becoming an enabler of the group conversations, better known as the twitter chats.

Over the years, I participated in lots of different twitter chats, run under #winechat, #winestudio, #WiningHourChat, and the others. Twitter chats were always fun exercises that were difficult to follow – try to have 10 conversations at once, all with your hands, also trying to taste wine at the same time – not that easy. There were also a few of the video wine presentations, where winemakers would get together and present their wines (Montefalco Sagrantino presentation was one of the most memorable for me), with the audience running the discussion via chat – Snooth also conducted quite a few of those. But through all the years, I attended only one or maybe two tastings at the most which were done in the interactive video format, where all the participants were able to discuss the wines among themselves and talk to the winemakers and presenters – winemaker lunches and dinners were unquestionably much better venues. Until the virus happened.

The appearance of the COVID-19 has put everyone’s world upside down. With all the people stuck in homes, video communication became a lifesaver. Literally. It allowed people to reduce the pain of isolation. It gave us the ability to share our experiences, even if we were drinking different wines – but we were still able to do it together. Many winemakers embraced the opportunity which new world order had offered to meet their customers face to face – the tasting rooms became virtual, but luckily, the wines were not. Remember my tagline – “technology that works”? Zoom is a perfect example of that – it simply works. The level of communication experience which Zoom provides was not yet possible even 5-6 years ago. And today, we can have as many live video conversations as we want – for as long as we want them. I’ve been myself on the few calls which were not expected to last even for an hour, and instead, they lasted for 3 – all of it without a glitch. Yes, color me impressed. very impressed. And do you see now my point that zoom rhymes with wine?

The most interesting question for me if this newly found love between wine and video communications is here to stay. Once the world goes back to normal (yes, it will), will we have the time for 3 hours zoom call on a moment’s notice? I would argue that yes, the video-enabled virtual tasting room will become a newfound convenience – but it will not replace the actual clinking of the glasses around the table.

What do you say? Does zoom rhymes with wine for you? Cheers!

What Do I Need To Know To Enjoy A Glass Of Wine

October 26, 2019 2 comments

Glass and the candleSo you are wondering what do you need to know to enjoy a glass of wine.

This is actually a very simple question. Let me give you a very simple answer.

Nothing.

Nothing at all. You need to know nothing about the wine.

You don’t need to know who made it, where was it made, how was it made, what grapes were used, how much it costs. None of this matters.

The wine in your glass is binary. You either like it or not. If you are not sure if you like it, then ask yourself another simple question: “do I want a second glass, or not?” If you want a second glass, then it goes into the “I like it category”. If you don’t – well, you got my point.

I’ve not been fictitious or sarcastic here. I’m very serious. Wine is food. No, it is not a necessity, it is rather a luxury, it is a food you can live without. But still, wine is food, with about 100 calories in a standard size glass of dry red wine. When you take a bite of steak, your impression is binary – you either like it or not. The same is with wine – when you take a sip, you either like it or not. End of story.

Now, let’s get things straight. I’m not trying to invalidate here the whole wine ecosystem, where millions of people are studying and make their living around the oldest continuously produced beverage in the world. I’m not saying that wine is a simple subject. Depending on one’s life outlook, nothing is simple in this world, and the wine has unlimited levels of complexity (simple fact – at the moment of this writing, there are only 269 (!) Master Sommeliers (highest distinction of wine knowledge) in the world). Nevertheless, for a casual encounter with a glass of red, white, or pink liquid in the tulip-shaped glass, there are only two possible outcomes – “I like it” and “I don’t like it”.

Yesterday during the wine dinner I asked my neighbor at the table if she enjoys the wine we were drinking. “Well, I don’t know enough about wine”, she started, instead of simply answering the simple question – “yes, I do”, or “no, I don’t”. I heard this answer many times, and I find it instantly annoying. There is nothing you need to know to enjoy the wine in your glass. You don’t have to be a chef or a food critic to say if the omelet in front of you is tasty or not. The same is with wine – it either tastes good to you or not.

There is definitely a lot of intimidation around the wine. There are wine magazines that tell you what you should be drinking today. There are wine ratings – “here is an excellent wine for you – it got 95 points from Robert Parker”. You have no idea who Robert Parker is, but you would never admit it, “ahh, of course”. There are knowledgeable friends who tell you “try this – you are going to love this”. There are sommeliers and wine stewards at the restaurants who tell you that this is the best wine for your dinner tonight (nevermind that this is one of the most expensive wines on the list). All these things are part of the intimidation around the wine, and yes, it is very hard to say “hmmm, I don’t like it” if Robert Parker said that he did. But – you really have to learn to trust yourself. Everyone’s palate is different. There are only 4 basic tastes (sweet, sour, salty, bitter – we can skip the umami for this conversation) – but everyone perceives those tastes differently, has different sensitivity to each one of those (if you ever had to reduce salt consumption, you know that after a month or so of such a low-sodium diet, any restaurant dish comes as oversalted). And so what you taste is completely unique to you, and it is only you who is entitled to state “I like it” or “I don’t like it”, without any regard to any professional opinion in the world.

Again, I want to repeat my statement – you don’t need to know anything about wine to know if you enjoy it or not. But – and it is a major, major, supersized but – you might want to know about the wine as this might simply increase your level of enjoyment of that same wine. But even in this case, you don’t need to become an expert to better enjoy thye wine. You can start simple. When you find the wine you like and enjoy, take notice of the producer and the name of the wine (there are many apps today which can help you simplify this process). This can help you next time at the restaurant, trying to select wine from the list – once you see the wine you already tried and liked, this instantly reduces intimidation. Of course, it will also help you in the wine store, so you will get the wine you know you liked.

vinca minor cabernet sauvignon back label

Maybe once you recognize some producers, you might start taking notice of the regions the wine is coming from. You might find, for example, that you are usually enjoying white wines from Germany and red wines from Piedmont. This knowledge can help you further in your quest for the enjoyable wine, as even when you have your favorite producer and wine, you might not be able to always find that specific wine at a restaurant or in the store. In this case, you can use that knowledge to select the wine from the different producers but still from the same region, as this still increases your chances of liking the wine.

You don’t have to stop at the producer and region, and you can continue your wine knowledge acquisition literally forever, as the subject of the wine is endless. Vintages, vineyards, single vineyards, blocks and plots, grapes, blends, terroir, climate conditions, winemakers, oak regimen, age of the vines, visits to the wine regions, and on, and on, and on – all of this knowledge might help you enjoy the wine more. I can even take it further and tell you that all this knowledge might change the perceived taste of wine, as, for example, trying the wine made at the winery you visited can trigger happy memories, and definitely make the wine to taste even better – to you. Very important – this knowledge will only change the way the wine tastes to you. If the friend you are sharing dinner with never visited the winery, he or she can’t necessarily share your excitement and wholeheartedly say that they enjoy the wine if they don’t. And that’s okay. Everyone’s palate is different, and tasting and liking of the wine are strictly individual.

Remember this next time you are at a restaurant. If you know about the wines, don’t intimidate your friends. they don’t have to like what you like. At the same time, if you know nothing about the wine, don’t get intimidated by anyone or anything. “The truth is in the eye of the beholder” – if you don’t enjoy the wine, it is your truth, and it is nothing to be ashamed of or to worry about. Everyone’s palate is different. End of the story.

I hope you learned today everything you need to know to enjoy a glass of wine. Which is, literally, nothing. And nothing should be standing in your way of enjoying the wine in your glass. Cheers!

 

Missing Vino Volo at Newark Airport – Oeno is Just Not It

September 11, 2015 7 comments

Don’t know if you can figure out from the title, but yes, this will be a rant. There were a few rants in this blog before (I even have a dedicated category for that) – and every time I contemplate the same question – “should I do it or not”. The problem with the rant is that while it is often a quick “feel good” solution for the “rantee”, it can theoretically have some consequences for the object of rant. But outside of the letting the steam to blow off from a bad experience, I see the rant as a criticism, and criticism is a good thing – it identifies problems which can be fixed (or not, of course). Okay, let me not making this post a rant about rant – let’s proceed to our subject.

I’m regularly traveling for business for the long time. As previously reported in this blog, the situation with food significantly improved at most of the US airports. And not only with food, but with wine as well – on a multiple occasions I wrote happy posts about Vino Volo stores available in many airports – including the one at Newark Airport in New Jersey (here is the link). At Vino Volo, you can always expect to find an interesting wine flight at a reasonable price, especially considering the airport location, and a tasty and thoughtful bite of food.

Now, as it happened last year, Vino Volo was kicked out of the Terminal C, and replaced by the restaurant called Oeno Wine Bar. Oeno tried to replicate Vino Volo’s model by offering wine flights as well as wine by the glass and by the bottle, and of course, food to go with it. So far so good, right?

First thing as you walk into Oeno is that nobody greets you. Okay, quite common at the airport. Next, you have to find the table, sit yourself, and start navigating the iPad on the stand which crowns every table at the restaurant. The iPad presents all the food and wine, grouped in the number of categories. top menu at Oeno

Now, as you try to dig into the wines, there are a few surprises which one runs into. First of all, the prices – there are 6 wine flights offered, priced either at $36 or $54 – most of the Vino Volo flights were priced under $25, so $54 for the tasting flight, seriously? The prices for the glass of wine range from $10 going into the $40s (not bad for the airport, right? – $40+ for a glass of wine on the go). But – for me, an oenophile who was served by Vino Volo very amicably, the biggest gripe is the full lack of information. Despite the fact that you have in front of you an iPad, an electronic device which allows to have pretty much an unlimited amount of information for each and every item offered, Oeno menu provides literally no relevant information. It seems that the only reason to offer the menus on the iPads is to make it easy to charge the customers in dollars or in frequent flyer currency – points/miles. Nobody cares also to provide a service with that, make sure people actually like what you are offering (yes, I mean “information” by the service).

Let me advance my gripe further. Considering complete lack of information, I decided to at least order something inexpensive, so I went with Jelu Pinot Noir, at $10.50 per glass. I couldn’t figure it out where the wine was from, as no information was available. After tasting something pretty much undrinakble – hot, unbalanced, biting wine – I had to look it up. It appears that this was a Pinot Noir from Argentina, and it also appears the the whole bottle cost as much in retail as I paid for the glass. Had I known that this was a Pinot Noir from Argentina, I would simply avoid ordering that – you can hardly go wrong with Malbec from Argentina at any price level, but when it comes to Pinot Noir, you better know the wine and/or producer.

Smoked salmon Panini

Leaving the wine aside (as I did with my glass), the food was also marginally successful. I ordered a Smoked Salmon Panini. While I understand that Panini is a pressed sandwich, I didn’t expect that smoked salmon panini would be put under a hot press. Ever had hot smoked salmon? This is not the most delicious food in the world, as the heat accentuates the saltiness of the salmon, and really makes it marginally enjoyable. Never mind the price of $14.25 – for that amount of money, you can have 2 or even 3 excellent sandwiches in most of the European airports…

The iPad system at Oeno is really focused on getting money or miles (the points) out of you, at the same time providing as little service as possible, as you  do everything on that iPad (you have to place an order and pay before anything gets to your table). To add insult to the injury, the tip of 20% is added to your payment at the time of the order (for some reason it is called “check-out”, even it is the first thing you have to do to get your food). The only service you get is your food placed in front of you, but nevertheless, you are paying as you are at a high end restaurant with great service.

And the last thing which I found extremely annoying: the push to get you to use your frequent flyer miles. If you travel enough, I’m sure you know that all those “rewards points” don’t come very easily, with the airlines constantly looking for the ways to reduce your frequent flyer benefits. Now, every item on the menu has price both in dollars and in miles. For the glass of Prosecco, you could elect to pay $14.10, or use 2,020 miles. As long as you don’t analyze the numbers, and have millions of frequent flyer miles in your account, you probably don’t care about “just 2000” miles. Now, think about this: if you have no status with United, to earn the same 2000 miles, you have to buy a $400+ ticket (it should be $400 before taxes and fees), as you are only getting 5 miles per dollar on United. If you are short 2,000 miles for your award ticket, you can buy them from United, at a measly price of $70 – but here you are, offered to spend that same 2,000 miles on a glass of bubbly instead of $14. And when you refuse to do so, you are asked to fill out a survey to explain why did you refuse the offer to pay with miles. Don’t know about you, but I find this preposterous.

Okay, let’s end this Friday rant. If you  travel through Newark airport, and especially if you are an oenophile, I have only one recommendation for you – avoid Oeno. Unless someone at Oeno wakes up and makes changes to transform it into really a desirable destination, as Vino Volo was. Until then, take your hard earned money elsewhere, and – Vino Volo, I miss you very much… Cheers!

Oeno Wine Bar
Newark Liberty International Airport
Terminal C
Gates 70-89

Oeno Wine Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Speak Up!

July 31, 2015 21 comments

wine_in_a_glassThis post is not really a rant, even though it can be classified as one. I would rather see it as a plea – not directed at someone particular, but to anyone who enjoys even an occasional glass of wine.

Wine can be intimidating at times. Heck yes, wine is often intimidating. It has an aureole of mystique. It seems to demand the special knowledge to be enjoyed, the years and years of hard study. And quite often, the “exclusivity” notion is enforced by the very people whose job is to help, to make the wine less intimidating, to make sure that “the customer” will simply enjoy the glass of wine.

True – the wine, as any other discipline, has a great depth of technical knowledge. It is not easy to make a good bottle of wine; it is very difficult to make a great bottle of wine. You need to study for many years almost 24×7, learn the exact names of hundreds of small villages in Germany, to become a Master Sommelier (there are only a few hundreds of them in the world). All of it is true. But not necessarily unique – most of what humans do today in so called “work” requires lots of studying and lots of specialized knowledge.

But wine is yet again different. While it requires knowledge to produce and explain it to others, when it comes to its basic purpose – drinking, it is, whether by itself or with the food – it is very simple. Forget all the nuances of the taste. Forget all the fancy descriptors and ratings. When it comes to the content of your glass, it is really all binary – you either like it or not.

Nobody questions their own ability to decide whether they like the burger or not. Or any other food for that matter – in most of the cases, people have no issues declaring “this is good” or “this is bad”. But when it comes to the wine, majority start second-guessing themselves. People often sheepishly say “but I don’t know much anything about the wine”. This proverbial “luck of knowledge” is used as an excused to keep quiet. People are afraid to state their opinion around wine, as they don’t want to appear disrespectful, or even worse, totally ignorant and not worthy. At the same time, when someone takes a sip, they know immediately whether they like the wine or not.

Now, let me get to the “Speak Up” part. No, I’m not advocating that everyone will start proclaiming “this is crap” or “this is nectar” on the very first sip of the wine in the various situations. For example, if you will open a bottle of young red wine, immediately pour it into a glass and take a sip, your first reaction might be “this is too sweet!”. Give this wine 5 minutes to breathe, and your next sip often will be totally different experience, with earthiness, minerality and acidity. As another example, the first taste of the cold white wine might feel extremely acidic, but the wine will mellow out right after. So, no, “speak up” is not about always declaring your opinion right away.

What is important for me is that if you drink wine even on a semi-regular basis, you know what you like and what you don’t. In case when you don’t like the wine, you also know why is that – too acidic, too sweet, too wimpy, too tannic, doesn’t taste well with food. There can be lots of reasons for not liking the wine. And it is all fine – taste is personal, and two people next to the same bottle don’t have to share the same opinion; there is nothing to speak up about here. With one exception: when the wine is spoiled.

There are many possible issues with wine, which affect its taste – these are called “wine faults”, and the end result is what we call a spoiled wine – the wine which tastes bad. This is not the case “I don’t like it”, this is the case “it is spoiled” – and nobody should drink it. Have you ever tasted spoiled milk, when the sweetness of milk is replaced with the off putting smell and sour taste? What you do with the spoiled milk? Anything but drink it, right? There are many potential faults in wine – brettanomyces (often called “brett” for short), volatile acidity, oxidation, heat damage (so called “cooked wine”), cork taint and many others (in case you want to read more, here is Wikipedia link). Some of the faults are less offensive than the others – for instance, brett is associated with barnyard aromas (so called “funk”) in the wine, which some people love (yours truly would be one of them). But most of the faults really kill the taste of wine; spoiled wine doesn’t deliver any pleasure the wine is supposed to bring.

One of most prominent offenders is the cork taint – typically caused by the cork material which was not cleaned properly – and the result of the cork taint is called a corked wine. What gives it away first of all is an aroma of the old, wet, musty basement – you know that smell, I’m sure you do. But this is not the worst part. On the palate, the corked wine is sharp, bitter, and devoid of fruit – the fruit is nowhere to be found in the corked wine. Sometimes the smell might be very minor, but then the sharp palate will give this fault away. And corked wine is something which you are not supposed to drink. Nor you should let anyone to drink that. This is the case when you have to trust yourself – and speak up.

How many of you ever been in the situation when you tasted the wine (or just smelled it) and said to yourself “this is corked”? And then, even when you are 100% convinced it is corked, you just kept quiet – you didn’t want to offend the host, you thought “ahh, may be something is wrong with me”, “but people already had been drinking the wine from this bottle for a while, how it can be corked”? Been there, done that? It’s okay, this blog is truly a non-judgement zone, please share your experiences. But I’m seriously telling you, if I may – I insist – speak up. Trust yourself and speak up.

I’ve done this many times in many different settings. Sometimes, the corked bottle is one and only, and all you can do is just to dump it or put it aside to return to the wine store (please note – most of the reputable wine stores will take the corked wine back and refund your money – they are not losing anything either, as they also will return the wine to the producer). But the best case is when the other bottle of the same wine can be open instead – and it shows all the beautiful aromas and fruit the wine was supposed to have. This is the best learning experience, of course – but even if you didn’t have that experience, you still have to speak up.

You need to understand that by keeping silent, you are not doing anyone any favors. If you keep silent, you drink the wine which tastes bad. You let others drink the wine which tastes bad. You letting down the winemaker as well. In many (most) cases, the corked wine is not even producer’s fault. And if you and others end up drinking bad tasting wine, you might say to yourself “I will never buy this wine again” – and trust me, this is not what the winemaker had in mind when the wine was produced with love and care.

You have to speak up – and you got nothing to lose. If you are wrong, and the wine is not corked but simply need the time to breathe – so be it. But I’m sure that once you experienced the corked wine, you will be able to identify it again, so if you think the wine is corked, there is a very good chance that it actually is. Trust yourself and speak up. When the next bottle is open, and everybody sigh with relief and pleasure, your host will be the first to thank you. And if you will feel happy, leave me a comment too. Cheers!

Vino Volo Experience – Mostly a Rant

December 9, 2014 14 comments

Rant? Vino Volo? Really? There must be something wrong with this picture, right?

Yes, on a number of occasions I confessed my love to the Vino Volo wine sanctuaries at the US airports. This time, I was yet again very happy that the ride to the Newark airport in New Jersey was quick and uneventful, and I had enough time to visit Vino Volo. In case you are not familiar with the Vino Volo concept, please take a look here.

Now, I don’t know how the Vino Volo stores are operating. I would assume that the local stores have some freedom to select the wines, based on their locality and, of course, their clientele. It is quite expected that the Vino Volo’s selection at the Seattle airport will be slated towards Washington wines, and San Francisco location will be California-heavy, and the store in Austin will have a flight or a few of the Texas wines. In the Newark store, there was nothing local – no New Jersey, no New York wines. There were a few of the “international delights” and few of the “value delight” flights – none of them generated any excitement. Then I saw a Sommelier Selection flight – two wines at $25, both wines supposedly high end.

To be entirely honest, first I made the mistake I make quite often when it comes to the wine lists – I don’t pay attention to the small details – as an example, one extra word in the name can take the wine from the first growth to the second label. So below is what I thought was in the flight (yep, I was hoping for the coveted Opus One):

Opus OneWell, there was no Opus One in the flight – instead, it was an Opus One Overture (see, one extra word!):

Overture by Opus OneOkay, fine. You don’t expect me to rant about my own mistake, do you? Of course not. Let’s continue.

The flight arrived, and it looked like this:

Vino Volo Sommelier flight winesJust so you can actually read the “official” description, here is the same – without the glasses:

Vino Volo Sommelier flightOkay, so I tasted the first wine, which was a non-vintage second label from Opus One, supposedly made with the surplus Cabernet Sauvignon grapes which were disqualified from the Opus One production. A bit thin, nice profile with touch of cassis, a bit green but palatable (but with the expectation of a lot more at the price  of $145). While I understand that it is a non-vintage, I would assume that it is a young wine, and if it anything like the other top Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon wines, it should be decanted to show best. Okay, let’s put it aside and let it breath, and let’s try the second wine, shall we?

Barolo from 2010. I don’t know about you, but I don’t consider 4 years old Barolo drinkable, unless it will spend good 3-4 hours in the decanter. I didn’t see a decanter at the bar, so I must assume that it was poured straight from the bottle. But even before that, if you want to really showcase the sommelier-selected wines, why would you put Barolo next to Cabernet Sauvignon? Wouldn’t you go to the Super Tuscan as the very least, showing California versus Italy? Okay, never mind all that, the proof is in the pudding, taste, right? Swirl, sip – there was nothing remotely reminiscent of Barolo in this wine – well, at least within my experience with Barolo and my expectation with “king of wines”. Very limited fruit expression, herbal nose, some tannins, very tart. Had it been decanted for the 3-4 hours, it would probably be a totally different experience – and should the folks, the professionals at Vino Volo known better?

Well, may be it was a root day after all. Or not. But there you have it, my friends – my first unsuccessful experience at Vino Volo. Let’s hope it was the last. Cheers!

P.S.  I have my “formal” tasting notes – but I’m withholding them as I don’t think they will be of any use here.

P.P.S. If anyone had the 2010 Mauro Veglio Barolo and wants to say I have no idea what I’m talking about, please be my guest – your feedback will be greatly appreciated…

And All The Fuss About Wine Reviews…

September 24, 2013 10 comments

wine ratingsFew days ago I read an article by Joe Roberts, talking about wine reviews. The article, called “Does The Wisdom Of The Crowd Provide Better Wine Reviews Than The Experts?“, and the subsequent comments were evolving around the role of the “crowd-sourcing” in the wine reviews from the sites such as Cellar Tracker versus traditional wine critics and wine experts, the value of wine ratings and all the other critical analysis of wine. Instead of commenting in the thread, I decided to express my thoughts in the form of this post.

Warning – this might be long. You might want to arm yourself at least with one glass of wine. Or more…

It is very interesting to observe “are the wine reviews and wine critics relevant” discussions to periodically flare up all over the blogosphere and all of the digital media. Some of those discussions and opinions are quite antagonistic, from “death of Wine Advocate predicted” to “the number of wine bloggers will decrease dramatically” to “blind tasting puts wine experts to shame again”. Some of them are supported by some facts and findings which authors deem indisputable. And some are written just purely for the entertainment or quick publicity purposes.

For all of us obsessed with wine, the subject of wine ratings and wine reviews is near and dear to the heart. The world seems to rotate around those 98s, A and B, 4 stars and all other metrics. Meanwhile, majority of the wine consumers couldn’t care less. Based on the number of studies, people buy wine based on the label, advice of the store associate and the price. By the way, the price factor is funniest of all (should be a subject of a separate post) – when we buy for ourselves, we always want to find $10 wine which will taste like a $100; when we need to bring a present, we ask for the advice to find the best wine at the top of our budget, and then spend a few extra bucks just not to look cheap. In any case, very few consumers concern themselves with the ratings which are abundantly displayed in many stores (interestingly enough, there are quite a few stores nowadays which are doing away with all those rating displays). Yes, the people who buy more expensive wines are interested to know what the experts think about the wine they are about to shell $50, $80, or a $150 for. Of course wine collectors track all those ratings as they are stock tickers (well, they kind of are). But considering the world of wine, those people are an absolute minority (okay, don’t bring up the 80/20 or 90/10 – that is not the subject of the post).

So Joe Roberts argues that Cellar Tracker ratings might replace all the expert opinions simply because they are the crowd sourced and it is proven by many sources, which Joe is citing, that crowd-sourcing is the way to go in today’s world. It is stated that the crowd-sourcing works because it is proven by TripAdvisor, Yelp, Amazon and thousands of other sources soliciting people opinions. Well, may be, but it depends. Let’s look at Yelp, as the food world is probably more related to the wine world than travel or gadget shopping.

Different people review restaurant on Yelp, and for the most of the cases the reader of the review doesn’t know anything about the writer. But if you think about an average restaurant, a lot of aspects of the review are based on the common sense. The understanding of the “good service” is pretty much universal. The understanding of “clean” versus “dirty” is also quite universal. “Run down” is pretty well understood. When the food is served cold, or you have to wait for 30 minutes for a cup of coffee, you don’t have to be an expert to universally recognize it. And if you ordered steak in a restaurant, I have reasonable expectations that you know how good steak tastes like.

No, you can’t take the ratings on Yelp for granted. People get upset, people get unreasonable – true. But this is where crowd-sourcing works the best. If a restaurant on Yelp has four stars out of five, based on the average of a 150, or 300, or better yet, 1000 reviews, you know that your chances of good experience are pretty high. If the restaurant has five stars based on 3 reviews, you know that means nothing in terms of your potential experience. The fact that that restaurants are judged on the multitude of factors, many of which are universal and even independent of the type of restaurant (clean Thai restaurant with good service is not any different from clean steakhouse with good service), gives you a certain level of reliability of the crowd-sourced ratings.

Wine is different. There is no foundation to all those ratings, outside of smell, taste and ability to deliver pleasure. But – “tastes good” is highly individual. If someone only likes to drink California Cabernet, convincing the person that this Sagrantino was a great wine might be difficult. Now, if you look at the crowd-sourced ratings, like Cellar Tracker offers, it means nothing, as based on the rating alone you can’t align your base with the people who wrote the reviews. You don’t know if the person who rated that St. Joseph Syrah at 78 simply doesn’t like barnyard undertones, or the wine is actually bad. You have to read the review to try to figure out what is wrong with the wine, and why the reviewer didn’t like it, may be he was just in a bad mood or had the wrong food with it.

When it comes to the wine critics, the situation is different. Yes, I know, the most famous of them are periodically accused of bias and various forms of dishonesty, but this is not relevant here. As the critics, they are able (and expected) to judge the wine objectively. Also, wine critics typically have their area of expertise, like James Suckling focusing on Italian wines, Steve Heimoff on California or Allen Meadows on Burgundy. I’m not trying to say that if a critic rated the wine at 95, it means that this will be a great wine for you no matter what – but at the same time, that objective persistency, consistency of the ratings and narrow focus of the critic allows you to align the base, and then have a quick opinion, a probability of liking the wine based on the given rating by a known critic. I don’t buy my wines based on the ratings, and I’m not willing to pay $100 more for the bottle of Cabernet only because Parker gave it 96 versus the wine next to it with only a 90 rating – but that rating allows me to establish a frame of reference.

Let’s look at the big picture. We can see an increased interest to wine all over the world. We also see an increased wine production all over the world. People “en mass” are increasingly more comfortable and more knowledgeable about the wine, especially if we are talking about Millenials and younger generations. And that does lead to the reduced role of “The Wine Critic” (Wine Spectator, Wine Advocate, etc). But – the need for the critical information about the wine is increasing, and as people gain more knowledge and learn to trust their own palates, they are willing to take wine advice from the lesser figures than Parker or Suckling, and they are willing to take it from many different sources – blogs, twitter, web sites and other digital media outlets. People are building their own tribes. This is where Cellar Tracker comes to play – but only for the people who are inside, only for the people who uses the service and is able to align the base. My personal “wine experts” tribe consists of many bloggers I started following over the years, one by one. Reading their posts, tasting the wines they are talking about, having a dialog, I was able to build my alignment, little by little, one glass at a time. I know that I can rely on and willing to take Jeff’s (the drunken cyclist) advice for the Pinot Noir, or Oliver’s (the winegetter) for German Rieslings, Julian (VinoInLove) and Stefano (Clicks & Corks) for any of the Italian wine, or Alissa (SAHMmelier) for the wines of Texas. This is not my unique experience – I truly believe this “tribe concept” works for everybody, more and more so.

Are you still with me? Wow, I really have to thank you for sticking along. Let’s round this up. No, the wine world is not going to rotate around Cellar Tracker. Yes, the role of The Wine Critic will decrease, but in the end of the day we will still have more of them. There will be ever increasing number of people who will be willing to share their experiences (and sometimes put it in the form of numbers), and there will be ever increasing number of people willing to take that advice. Crowd-sourcing? Kind of, but very different. May be “Tribe-sourcing” is the word. The world of wine is big, and it is only getting bigger – I think we all can perfectly get along.

Don’t know about you, but I need a glass of wine. Cheers!

Thursday Rant–Wine Blogs

May 9, 2013 Leave a comment

Here is the post from the fellow blogger Jeff @ The Drunken Cyclist, with my comment which was left on Jeff’s blog:

You idea of “themes” is exactly what existed in the wine blogging world for many years – this is what was called Wine Blogging Wednesday, or #WBW, where the theme was set once a month with the “host”, and then all would be writing for that theme and the blogs would be posted and summarize. There used to be even a dedicated web site for that – after running for about 80 months, it is now closed : ( But here is a glimpse for you for what it was: http://drinkwhatyoulike.wordpress.com/tag/wine-blogging-wednesday/
Yours truly even participated in a few of the #WBW events, and it was fun. I don’t think we can do it more often than once a month (speaking strictly for myself), but I will be glad to support “Wine Blogger Challenge” if you want to start that movement. We can have a joint “announcement” from all of the supporting bloggers and we will need to promote it on Twitter, but again – you can count me in. And as a show of the support, I’m going to reblog your post on my blog 🙂
Cheers!

the drunken cyclist

I have nothing against wine blogs–quite the opposite, I technically write one, I guess. I also follow several really great blogs and really admire their authors and are inspired by them daily. The problem I have with them is that as a “unit” there is really not much cohesion and at the same time not much in the way of differing viewpoints.

Both could be certainly due to the subject of our blogs: Wine appreciation is rather personal and certainly contextual. I might like a wine simply due to the fact that it tastes good to me. I might like a wine because it was part of an overall incredible experience for me. Another drinker/taster might be drinking the exact same wine in a completely different (or even a very similar) context and have a different opinion of the wine. When you come right down to it, though…

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