Posts Tagged ‘wine rant’

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!

Thursday Rant–Tasting Fees

April 4, 2013 2 comments

One of my fellow bloggers, TheDrunkenCyclist recently started a series of posts called Thursday Rant. His latest post managed to “hit the chord” as we call it – it is about winery tasting fees getting into totally absurd territories, especially when you are in the places like Napa valley. You should read the post below to see it for yourself – and then take a look at some of my suggestions:

Thursday Rant–Tasting Fees.

There are a few things which you can do to avoid a paying an exorbitant amount of money for the wine tasting, outside of simply not visiting the wineries – but all of them will require planning ahead.

1. Connect with the wineries on Twitter and ask them to make special arrangements for you and your group for the tasting. It doesn’t mean that your tasting will be complementary, but you might have an opportunity to taste some interesting wines.

2. Talk to the people at your favorite wine store – tell them you plan to visit a particular winery. Your wine store is often connected to the winery either directly or through a distributor – the winery might be very accommodating to your needs.


Expectations, Meet Your Nemesis, Reality

December 6, 2012 12 comments

In the words of my blogging friend thedrunkencyclist, yes, I’m a snob. Actually, in general, I think I’m not – but sometimes, especially when it comes to the ruined expectations, I guess that I’m.

Today I received a shipment from Turley Wine Cellars. Until now, Turley was a well known Zinfandel producer ( they also make Petite Sirah and Charbono). Their wines are reasonably priced, and you really should be on the mailing list in order to get them (practically not available in the regular wine stores).

As I’m on the Turley mailing list, about a month ago I received an offer to buy an inaugural release of 2010 Turley Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley, creatively called The Label. I thought that it is definitely worth a try, a brand new wine from a reputable producer.

So the box arrived today. Cut, pull, take out very clever packaging (never saw anything like it), and I grab the bottle. My first reaction – WTF! I don’t know what I was expecting to see, but definitely not what I pulled out of the box. The bottle was very light, absolutely flat on the bottom (bad sign for a quality wine), and with its whole appearance was screaming “Cheap”! Mind you, this is a $40 bottle of wine, and if you will factor in shipping and taxes, it becomes $50 bottle of wine. The closest resemblance – Crane Lake from California, a $3.99 bottle of wine ( nothing against Crane Lake – I was happily drinking it many times). Here it is:

Turley Cabernet

For comparison, here is The Label next to the traditional Turley Zinfandel:

Turley cab and Zin

Note that the foil on top of The Label bottle doesn’t even cover the cork inside! I rest my case…

I’m disappointed and completely flabbergasted. What should possess a reputable company to use that type of bottles? Were they completely out of time, and those bottles were the only thing available? Is this a message to the Cabernet lovers from Zinfandel producer, saying “Cabernet sucks”?

I’m really at loss here. Yes, I know, I shouldn’t judge the book by its cover – I will hopefully give it a try on Friday (need to give the wine a few days to recover from shipping and to avoid the bottle shock) – so once I will do it, I will be definitely glad to tell you what I think about the taste of the wine.

Yes, I’m a snob…


Five Traps of Oenophile

September 10, 2012 17 comments

Boy, did this post took a long time… I don’t even know why – I knew what I wanted to write – but no, it still took forever. Anyway, it is finally out, yay!

If you think about it, oenophiles have not only common traits (here is my take on them) – they also have common traps. Are there actually only five traps there, tripping over and under those who loses their caution? It depends on how you will count them, but I would think that these five are the most common ones. Let’s talk about those traps, and then you can tell me of you ever fell for any of them.

1. $100 is a new $10. How many of you out there started your love of wine with Yellow Tail or Frontera, for $5.99 or so? That wine was great, and the idea that you can buy a bottle of wine for more than $10 was completely foreign. What? $19.99? That must be for special occasions only, I can’t believe people spend that kind of money on the wine. See, I’m very happy here with my Frontera Cabernet.
Little by little this situation changes. Why this $6.99 Bordeaux tastes like you are chewing on the tree branch? This is Bordeaux, right? So it is supposed to be the best wine in the world? As you keep reading books and magazines, talking and listening to other people, and most importantly, trying wines which cost a little more and maybe a little more on top, you start hitting the ”aha” moment from time to time. More wines, more reading, more conversations, more experiences at the wineries and wine tastings, more appreciation for the wine and all the labor and passion which goes into creation of a great bottle of wine, and you start letting yourself to push your limit of ”appropriate and acceptable” a bit higher, and then may be some. Before you know it, what was unfathomable to you ($100 for a bottle of wine? What am I, crazy?) becomes … hmmm, let me think about it. No, I’m not describing a birth process of a wine snob (let me digress for a second – “wine snob” has both good and bad meaning, I’m referring to the bad one here) – I think as casual wine drinker becomes an oenophile, the entire outlook on fairness and rationale of the wine prices is changing, thus eventually leading to $100 becoming a new $10 (or may be even worse than that).

2. No cellar is ever big enough. No matter what size of your cellar is, it eventually becomes full – and you run out of space for the … wait for it… new bottles, right! And this is in the lucky case when you have an actual  cellar (so you can probably squeeze in a little more). When you don’t have a cellar, the boxes start piling up all over the place, which … yeah, creates problems. You start opening the bottles just so you will get space for … new bottles. You wish that your friends will come over, so you can open more bottles and … create space for new bottles. Then some of your collection ends up at, let’s say, Benchmark Wine Company, and you get a lot of space in your cellar, so … you can fill it up again.

3. Buying of the wine becomes an obsession. We all buy things. Food, clothes, gadgets. Don’t know if someone can be obsessed with food (talking about buying, not actually eating) – may be, but let’s skip it. Let’s say someone is obsessed with gadgets. Very nice – so that someone will camp out by the store and wait for the whole night for the doors to open to be among first 10 blissful owners of iPhone 15. Some hundreds of dollars, and your obsession is satisfied for the next two years, until the iPhone 18 will come out.
When it comes to the wine obsession, situation is quite different. With the wine, oenophile is constantly afraid to miss something – miss on a big scale, miss irreparably and then regret. Ahh, 2007 was a great vintage in California, so I have to make sure I have enough 2007 in my cellar, because the time to buy is now. What if I will never see this wine again? 2009 was a great year, and this is a great producer – I have to get at least a few bottles of this wine. And that one. Ohh, and what if tomorrow this wine will disappear from the store? So there are only 200 cases of this wine made, and it has such a high rating, and, ahh – this price is incredible – should I get 3 or 4? Yes, yes, I know – I will get 5 and drink one now, but I will still have 4 left for the future, right? I can go on and on, but I think you got the picture.

4. There is never a right time to open that bottle. When it comes to deciding on which bottle to open, boy, does that creates a tsunami of thoughts? So I only have two of those bottles left… Should I open it today? But I think this wine is still evolving… May be I should wait for another year? But what if it will be past prime next year – that would be such a pity, this should be really great bottle of wine. Okay, okay – I will open it in a month, when Michael will come over – hmmm, but I think he really likes Pinot, and this is a Cab… Okay, no, I can’t decide. Let’s put it back. Do I still have any of that Chianti left which I got last week for $9.99? Yeah, I’m tired of this Chianti, but at least I will not destroy my precious bottle before its time… Again, I think this is pretty clear (tell me you never had an occurrence of this one, go ahead, lie to the world).

5. One becomes susceptible to the charm of clever and trusted wine marketing. What is the big deal, right? That what marketing is for – to make us buy something. Problem is that unless you are obsessed with something, most of the marketing generates “hmmm, this is interesting” reaction. Once we are talking about obsession, the reaction to the clever marketing is “I have to have it”. I can tell you that probably 8 times out of 10, I want to buy the wine described in the e-mails from PJ Wine (here is a link to the sample e-mail for you – judge for yourself). The need to pay for shipping really becomes a sobering factor here. Same story with the e-mails from Benchmark Wine Company – luckily (hope you sense the sarcasm), most of their offerings are priced out of the reach. A lot of e-mails from Wine Til Sold Out lead to the similar “I gotta have it” syndrome – I know people who unsubscribed from WTSO e-mails, just to avoid that permanent temptation.

I think I warned you enough – do you still want to be an oenophile (or a wine snob – in a good sense, of course)? If you are still reading this, there is a good chance that you already are – then I hope I armed you with something useful in a fight for preservation of the family money and free space in your house. If not – I hope I got at least a chuckle out of you. Last, but not least – I want to know what do you think! This is what comments section is for… Cheers!

Wine = Art

July 19, 2012 7 comments

The title of this post is not misleading. I plan to talk about wine as an art form, which is the way I look at it. Why all of a sudden? Couple of articles, both great in its own right (I mentioned both in the Meritage post a week ago), prompted this blog post, despite my claim that I’m not going to enter this debate. I don’t know why is that, but I have a habit of saying “No” where deep inside, as soon as I finish my full and long “no” sentence I already know that, “oh it will be a yes”. Anyway, this blog post is not about me, it is about wine, so let’s get closer to the subject.

In case you didn’t have a chance to read those two articles, they were both on the beaten up (badly beaten up, I have to say) subject of cheap wines versus expensive wines. The first article, published in the Forbes magazine, provided a number of illustrations to the fact that…there are many factors affecting perceived taste of wine – temperature, label, feel of the moment, critics’ opinion, rating and many more (I’m not going to cite a full article here – it is well worth reading if you are into the wine world). I believe that one of the points of the article was to suggest that for the most of us, we can’t distinguish between cheap and expensive wines anyway, so why bother – drink any wine, be happy (I’m oversimplifying, I know).

Then Steve Heimoff took the subject close to his heart and went on to explain that there is a very big difference in taste between $15 and $150 bottles of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, that more expensive wine is always better than the cheap wine and that the the whole premise of Forbes article in Steve’s words is “man bites dog” attempt at a cheap publicity.

Let me take step aside and explain the meaning of the concept “wine = art”. When you are at home, take a look around you. I would make a safe assumption that for absolute majority of people, your home is decorated in one way or the other. You might have pictures and photos on the walls, statues big and small, flowers live and not, little (or big) mementos and many other things which surround our lives with only one purpose – to give us pleasure, set the mood or may be create lasting connections between time and memories. Taking pictures as the simplest example, they can be your kids’ pictures, copies of the works of the famous artists, works of the completely unknown artists or may be they are actual original paintings. Those pictures can be mass produced and acquired at the neighborhood convenience store for $4.99. But they also can be acquired after a long battle at the auction, where you had to put down $4.9 million to beat another guy and get that painting you always dreamed of.

Now, when was the last time you read an article telling you that you are not supposed to buy any works of art more expensive than $19.99, because you are not capable of understanding the difference between $19.99 and $199 pictures? Or when was the last time you read an article telling you that expensive painting is always better than cheap print? I can bet I’m giving you a very taxiing memory-combing exercise which will yield no results.

So my question is – why wine is treated in any different way than any other works of art? Read (or talk) about the wines, read about vineyards and places, read about wine makers, grape growers, oenophiles, wine collectors – what do you get out of that reading or talking? Passion, obsession, emotions, feelings. We eat because we have to, but we drink wine because we want to, because of its ability to resonate with our beings, to create emotional response. This is my premise of “wine = art” statement. I believe that wine is a form of the renewable art, which also has a pretty unique advantage compare to a simple painting, for instance. Whatever you see on the painting will be exactly the same in 10 years or in 50 years. It will create different emotions on a different day, of course – but it will not change in principal. At the same time, even the simplest wine will change in the bottle. For better or worse, but it will change. Last weekend we shared a bottle of 1997 Toasted Head Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah blend (probably $9.99 or less) – believe it or not, but this wine was outstanding – it evolved, it had beautiful fruit, great balance and nice finish. It was memorable, it solicited emotions, it created mental staples for that particular moment. If this is not art, I don’t know what is.

Where am I going with this? I don’t believe cheap versus expensive is a meaningful or useful argument for the wine world. Yes, there are many reasons for the wine to be expensive – best quality grapes with very low yield, state of the art facilities, manual processes, need for aging before release, market demand, reputation and many many other factors define the price and can drive it very high up. But if you will exclude snobbery, arrogance and blissful ignorance, price is simply one of many factors which affect your buying decision – nothing more and nothing less. Yes, $150 bottle will taste different than $15 – but can we say “better”? If someone is a Pinot Grigio drinker (and enjoys it very much), will you be able to prove to him or her that $150 Cabernet Sauvignon is really better that $15? I want to see that happening. When it comes to wine, “better” is a difficult category, as the definition of the best wine is 100% personal – the best wine is the one which tastes best to you. Yes, critics matter, ratings matter – but only as a reference, as food for thought.

Wow, did I bore you to death? I truly hope I didn’t – I think this post was brewing for a very long time, slowly ripening to the point of wanting to get out. These are my true feelings, this is how I see the wine world, and “wine = art” makes it so fascinating for me.

Is this arguable? Of course (comments section is down below and only a click away). I don’t pretend to possess the absolute truth – but “wine = art” makes me open a bottle of wine with hope and excitement. No matter what anyone said about that bottle, how much it costs or what the rating is – I hope you will enjoy it and I hope it will create a special memory, a special moment – just for you. Cheers!

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