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A Glass of Grey


grainy tanks

Anyone who has peeked in on the irregular posts in this insignificant corner of the internet has seen one of my occasional rants about dishonest wine gaining shelf-space, mouth-space, and head-space (see here, here, here, and here, for a few takes). “Dishonest” wine, to me, is:

  1. (Generally) large production. (Not in and of itself a bad thing.)
  2. Largely produced from purchased grapes or juice not grown or stewarded by the “winery. (Again, not a negative in a vacuum.)
  3. Made with all available fruit rather than that selected for quality as a vehicle to use otherwise undesirable fruit. (While this can save a small grower and/or winemaker in a bad vintage, we’re talking mostly large-scale stuff here—see #1 & #2. This is where things start to get dicey.)
  4. Chemically and physically manipulated, sugared, and shaped into a consistently base and, ostensibly “inoffensive” product “vintage” to “vintage”. (Here we meet processed wine-product which is evocative of wine but not, at its heart, wine anymore.)
  5. Driven by labeling and other marketing designed to deceive the consumer into believing they are buying a product no different from an honest wine: an agricultural product made by a farmer and craftsperson as a labor of passion for the land, fruit, and quality. (“Dishonesty” achieved!)

Are you lovin’ it, yet? Sounds like fast-food, right? For all intents and purposes, it is. Lab designed and factory made to meet the lowest common denominators of taste (in this case, fruity but not specifically so, silky textured, low acid, and slightly sweet to keep you coming back for more), and marketed as a lifestyle choice. The only thing that separates these wines from fast food is alcohol and the related TTB regulations that assure that the wine need not be labeled with ingredients or standardized FDA nutritional labeling above a minimum alcohol threshold. This assures that shades of grey and lies of omission are commonplace.

This angers me. Deeply. And I am not alone. So, many of us in the industry who care about wine, wineries, vineyards, the land, farmers, families, and honesty continually preach to our choirs—those who listen to us already share much of the same ideology— the message rarely making it to the people who most need to hear it most.

Monday, respected and internationally-read New York Times wine writer, Eric Asmiov, vocally joined the fight with a well-intentioned, well-reasoned, and well-written blog post reaction to the polarizing writer of a popular but (admittedly, from only the excerpts I have read) sophomoric drunken adventure memoir I refuse to give further attention. The best thing he does in it is characterize the above types of “wines” as “bad wines“. Sure, I can hope that Asimov’s tremendous reach will bring the gospel to more people. But, the reality is that he’ll largely only reach the choir like the rest of us.

See, the universal perception of Asimov is of a stodgy, close-minded oenophile (as he defines it)—just like me and most winelovers who write about their passion. The other writer is just fun-loving and out for a good time—what’s not to like about that? Asimov explain it pretty well, but I will add that good people are ultimately getting hurt in this misunderstanding of wine. Small, family winemakers who farm their land and passionately bottle what they can to make a living are compromised greatly, sometimes to the point of shuttering, by the perception that a lifestyle brand filled with a wine facsimile is the same as what they pour their entire lives and souls into.

But you already know that. You are the choir.



Haven’t opened a cellar wine in a while and simply felt the urge this evening. Went into this one with reasonably high expectations given how remarkably well Montiverde’s 1998 Vigneto Cipressone Chinati Classico showed a few months back.

Appearance: black-cored brick with terra cotta edges

Aroma: faint black cherry, tomato leaf, anise, and saddle leather

Palate: opens fruit-light and dominated by incredibly lively acidity, baking spices and leather. But, after an hour-plus, evolves into light black cherry liqueur; and overt tanginess

Finish: clove/leather sueded tannins

Certainly still alive and not over-the-hill, but a bit off-balance. Acid shows plenty of life but overwhelms the understated fruit. Overall, pleasant but a good bit of fruit shy of a success. Paired well with lentil loaf.


First vlog on one of the events I attend to find wonderful wines seeking representation in the Maryland/Washington D. C. market. Please forgive any quirks or mistakes—I am exhausted.


drinktuition screenshot

I have finally gotten my act together and made a semi-proper website for my business. Just nuts & bolts, really, but I like the simplicity, color-scheme, and the images. Hopefully, clients will find something of use here. Eventually, I’d like to integrate this blog, vlog with live tastings and educational bits, and connect a password-protected area for clients with access to marketing and POS materials, etc..

Anyway, it’s another baby-step in fool…er, believing in my vision for my business, my happiness, and my future.


Clockwise from top-left: appointment tasting with a supplier, multiple floors of hungry wineries, regional tasting seminar

 

Monday morning I take a flight from Baltimore to Chicago for the World Wine Meetings at the Embassy Suites Downtown/Magnificent Mile. This marks my second trip to this event.

Much was learned in my first trip. More or less an exploratory adventure under the auspices of my fledgling consultancy and a small local importer/distributor, last year’s visit was largely me flying blind. An exhausting itinerary of tasting appointments, educational seminars, and glad-handing had me in a daze for most of the three days. I met several wonderful international producers who are un- or under-represented in the US as well as a few quick visits with some old friends whose wines I adore.

Once I had the chance to sort through all my notes, I made some cursory connections between some of the producers and the wholesaler on whose behalf I attended. Our little tasting panel enjoyed some real gems and, hopefully, some of these wines will find near-future homes in the MD/DC market.

I can’t imagine the toll on the suppliers who have to meet with dozens of us a day repeating the same Q&A and mining potential customers for an inkling of hope that they may create a working relationship. They have my utmost respect and sympathy.

This year, I am better prepared for the event and with a couple more wholesalers interests in play. A more resolute purpose should make navigating the nearly 300 producers and 30 scheduled appointments over the three-day event less chaotic for me and provide more time to process as I experience. I plan to blog throughout, so keep your eyes open if, for whatever reason, this aspect of the business interests you at all.


trouble-brewing-walmart

This is a reaction to this article originally reported by the Akron Beacon Journal and expounded upon best (so far) by Food & Wine here.

The premise of the suit is that WalMart willfully deceived customers into believing that their private-label beer brand, Trouble Brewing (get it?!?), actually brewed by Genesee is a true “craft beer” brand justifying a higher price point than non-craft beers. The shock here is not that WalMart took this circuitous route around forthrightness but, rather, that it wasn’t presumed to be the case from everyone from the start. I believe that there is a huge measure of caveat emptor in play here.

Keep in mind, that private label beer, wine, and spirits have been made for Costco, 7-11, Total Wine, Walgreen’s, Trader Joe’s, and many huge or widespread domestic retailers selling any alcohol throughout the US. This is nothing new. There is a measure of subverting the truth with nearly all of them, generally lies of omission. Where is the line drawn for true deception, though?

If I were a craft beer drinker in Boise Idaho shopping the beer aisle at the Overland Road WalMart Supercenter the first thing that would come to my mind when seeing Trouble Brewing (made in 2,285 miles away in Rochester, NY) is economy of scale—that in order to feed WalMart’s massive empire, this beer can not likely be a true “craft beer” made in a small brewery run by a couple of bushy-bearded beer-lovers chasing a dream. I have accepted these products in in practice and, to some degree, in theory because the waters have been muddy for a long time now. “Craft beer styles” (read: non-American adjunct lagers) are produced by several large, otherwise uninteresting breweries—from SABMiller to Sam Adams—to under the guise of being truly “craft”. It is largely a semantic argument at that scale. These Trouble Brewing beers are, at this stage in the game, virtually no different from the relatively high-production stuff that their sister brands, Pyramid and Magic Hat, foist upon the public from neither a quality nor truth in marketing perspective. These beers are simply a product of economy of scale to feed the vast WalMart supply chain and, I am sure, everything about them speaks to that, from the sophomoric packaging and marketing to the reportedly uninspired flavor profiles.

Make no mistake, this suit was not brought forth by innocent consumers who were shocked into action when they discovered they were duped. Craft beer drinkers are largely one of the most discerning, self-informed, and vigilant consumer segments in the world and this suit was brought forth by a craft beer consumer bent on enforcing transparency. As anyone who has ever read this blog will attest, I am absolutely for fighting for transparency in marketing, but I don’t genuinely believe that the wool was really being pulled over anyone’s eyes in this instance.

The core consumer that may toss these beers into their cart along with small appliances, housewares, toys, diapers, cookies, and cleaning supplies is probably not largely the core craft consumer up-in-arms over this. Most consumers outside the craft beer enthusiast market likely don’t care if it’s really a “craft beer”, only that it provides a favorable experience for the price. The argument in the suit that Walmart inflated the prices for the beers to put them in line with other craft beers as a deceptive practice is spurious. Honestly, many large-scale “genuine” craft beers have inflated pricing. All that matters is what the market will bear. If consumers feel they are getting good QPR from this stuff, what does it matter how much profit WalMart makes on it? Profit margin is their business.

To the larger part of the claim—the deception of craft provenance —WalMart may be trying to emulate craft beer, but nowhere on the packaging do they directly claim “craft” or its similars in any way.  The brewery is listed as Trouble Brewing with the same Rochester, NY address as many of Genesee’s other contract brewed products. This is all pretty easy to discern if you are a consumer who cares about that stuff. And that brings me back to my point that the vast majority of people inclined to even consider buying this stuff do not care about provenance as long as they don’t find out that it was made by poor children with a heavy metal-laden water source next to an electronic parts reclamation farm.

The clues of provenance, and scale, and, ultimately, honesty are all there in front of us with these beers and many other products that we just don’t care enough to be cognizant of and reactive to. No one can deceive you unless you are open and available to the deceit.

None of this is to suggest that I have grown less vigilant in my own pursuit of transparency in marketing. I strongly believe that there is a pervasive problem in marketing within an industry where the only regulations of import have to do with taxes and very little of substance to do with consumer protection. But this is another instance where we do not seem to take enough personal responsibility for our consuming habits. It is incumbent upon us to engage ourselves a bit more in our buying habits if we care about this stuff. Once we have made that commitment, the mere subterfuge becomes white noise and we can zero-in on the genuine deceit. Otherwise, all of the after-the-fact griping and class-action suits hold no water when real hard-core deception that actually hurts people comes along.


Gold juice.

My goal was to dress up a meal of diner-style open-faced roast turkey breast sandwich with mashed potatoes and gravy. That’s easy. Pairing is trickier than it seems because you want to avoid overt fruitiness and neutralize the saltiness of the dish while provding enough body richness to stand up to the full, earthy flavors. Fair roll of the dice, here.

  • Aroma: deep golden hay
  • Nose: beeswax, Bosc pear, lemon, delicate apricot
  • Taste: muted apricot and lemon pulp coated with (not-sweet) honey essence
  • Mouthfeel: viscous with a bit of mineral prickle cutting through a delicate waxiness
This is a classic Saint-Péray blend of of 50% Marsanne/50% Roussanne and all the requisite flavors and textures are here. On it’s own, many consumers might find this a bit too subtle fruit-wise and that is Marsanne doing its thing, providing the prevalent beeswax muting Roussanne’s fruity components. Paired against some salty food, though, the fruit pops beautifully while the wine retains its richness.
This is a lovely wine made from underrecognized varieties from an uner-the-radar Rhône region. Can be found in Maryland for $25-$30.

 

Hardy’s 2nd Label

It’s winter, so it’s time for rich brown spirits. Not that winter is a legit excuse for me—whiskey, añejo tequila, aged rum, and brandy et al. need no excuse for year-round consumption as far as I’m concerned. Anyway, I had grown somewhat weary of the Bourbons, ryes, and Scotches I had been drinking of late [though my hankering for some specific top-notch Irish whiskies will be sated shorty—review(s) to come] and thought I’d go in the direction of tried-and-true, great value brandy. 

Scanning the shelves for high QPR, straight drinkable and broadly mixable brandy, I chose a dry but intensely flavored entry-level Cognac. Maison Rouge is Hardy Cognac’s second label and flat-out represents some of the best values on the market.

  • Appearance: deep, varigated copper/mahogany
  • Nose: leather, sweet cigar wrap, cinnamon, Bosc pear
  • Palate: orange pekoe tea, candied dates, honey, cinnamon, and nutmeg
  • Finish: lingering sweet honey and spice sliding into orange zest, boozy but with a viscosity that quells the heat
Really, you can’t do much better for less than $25, this has been a go-to for me for a few years now as an intro to Cognac for customers or as an everyday bar stock for me. With most anything else at this price you would likely have to settle for an almost syrupy-sweet brandy from elsewhere, but this is legit Cognac. Simple satisfaction with a seriousness married with drinkability hard to find at this price. Pretty much a must-buy.

Feeling Autumnal.

 

I don’t believe I have done a whisky review here, so as the seasons change this just seems right. 

I taste a lot of whisky. It’s kinda my thing. Sure, I taste hundreds of wines every year, but whisky is second on the list. It is the one spirit category that intrigues me most and that, because of its ridiculous popularity of late, I have the opportunity to taste often. I tasted this with a rep one day and thought it a good value.

Canadian whisky is typically a category that does not inspire much interest (there are a few exceptions with Alberta Rye Dark Barrel, Forty Creek, Caribou Crossing, to name a handful of brilliant products that are not Canuck drams under the guise of US craft whiskies). Typically, I look to Canadians as whiskies of low impact on the palate and the wallet. Collingwood’s entry-level product is no different, though it has a bit more going on than those on the bottom shelf.

 

Appearance: copper-amber

Nose: caramel, rose, cinnamon

Palate: candied dates, caramel, cinnamon, maple taffy, wheat-heavy grassy grain

Mouthfeel: watery, unsubstantial

Finish: thins out fast and the low alcohol becomes readily evident with a charry astringency

 

A bit sweeter and more complex than Canadian Club or Crown Royal, but with a similar thinness expected of a blended whiskey. It is saved primarily by its sweetness which gives a superficial impression of character that just isn’t there under the surface. The added caramel color should fool no one on the palate as this is undeniably weak in richness and structure. The toasted maple staves show as just that on the palate, too—charry, sweet, and out of balance with the body-weight of the whiskey. The alcohol is definitely present but, fortunately, only as heat—not in that off-putting ethanol-y way. The 21 year-old expession shows richness and cohesiveness that this can’t even sniff (if you can find it, spend the scratch for it). Look, for under $30, this isn’t bad at all—I would just be inclined to relegate it to mixing.


 

Entry-level Cab Franc from François Plouzeau

 

It’s a rainy, early-Autumn day and I want to unwind with a bottle, damn’ it! After spending far too long cruising the aisles of a local shop, hemming-and-hawing (to myself, in my addled noggin)’ I finally settled on this.

I didn’t know what to expect, really. Loire Cabernet Franc seemed like a good idea—warming without being heavy or too brooding when at it’s best—but also a crap-shoot as it can be nigh undrinkable when executed poorly. However, it should be noted by all who read this, I trust Roy Cloud of Vintage ’59 Imports not to let me down.

 

Biodynamically-produced 100% Cabernet Franc from limestone soils in Touraine. No oak, as far as I can tell. Should find this for less than $25.

Appearance: medium plummy garnet

Nose: underripe blackberry, mineral-tinged pepperiness, a bit of alcohol

Palate: riper and lusher black cherry and blackberry on front-palate than expected but keen balsamic acidity cuts through from mid-to-back carrying on through the finish; roasted tarragon, maybe

Mouthfeel: pretty satiny on the front-end but the acidity brightens it up nicely

Finish: loooong and carried by a fruitful cherry and lime zest acidity with pleasant bitter herbs and anise on the very end showing soft tannins

 

This is perfect! Exactly what I wanted and better than expected. Juicy, mouthwatering, more complex than expected and never green or astringent. Thanks, again, Roy!

 

 

 

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