Tag Archive: wine


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.


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.


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.

Black Falcon (Falco subniger)

One resolute bird.

Earlier this week, the Atlanta Falcons made a curious and rare decision to listen and respond to its fan-base (press release). Upon the opening of its new stadium, the NFL franchise will charge far more fair and reasonable prices for its concessions.

Long irksome for sports fans, the cost of concessions has reached a point wherein it can cost more for a beer than a seat on a given night. Increasingly, only those named Walton, Hearst, and DuPont are able to enjoy a family outing to the ballpark complete with sustenance through the often four-hour events. To be fair, concessions are luxuries—not truly necessary to the enjoyment of the game—but they are, and should be, part of the experience (and can be the key to maintaining a positive experience/sanity for those with children). But, at what point is it reasonable for a team or venue to dictate the terms of bankruptcy for a family to enjoy the ostentatious luxury of some dogs and sodas?

Atlanta Falcons CEO, Rich McKay, no longer believes those terms are reasonable at all. Why? Because research consistently showed that concession prices, quality, and wait times ranked as the worst of all fan experiences. This is across all leagues, teams, and venues.  The Falcons, who just completed a new stadium, had the opportunity to right that wrong and lead the charge on new paradigm.

What does any of this have to do with the wine/beer/spirits industry? Well…in short, everything. Recognizing and reacting to broken practices is key to any business’s health, particularly when relating directly to customers. The lessons from the Falcon’s decision are powerful. What McKay and his team realized is that doing things the old way just because that is “how it has always been done” is not a sufficient excuse for poor customer relations. Sure, there’s lots of money to be made on jacked-up soft pretzel prices, but is it worth the cost of a positive overall fan experience?

Alcohol beverage retailer—are you buying a 10-case QD deal on National Brand × Red Blend and still selling it at full markup? That’s fine, but you must give your customers enough credit that they likely know what the competitive price should be. Trust me, your customers may be loyal as a matter of convenience but they shop around.

The Falcons identified this need to treat their customers as knowledgeable consumers and not simply as cash machines. They realized that there was a long-term cost associated with overcharging their customers in the concession lines and that is that they would likely eat and drink at tailgates before the game and hold off on the second beer or soft pretzel inside the stadium opting instead to save the money and get a proper meal after the game. In the short-term, under the old model, they may make better margin but they will have significantly lower volume.

The difference for you is that you do not have the captive audience that a sports franchise has. If a ticket-holder wants a drink or food during the game, they have to pay the whatever the concessionaire charges. If a customer walks into your store and doesn’t like the prices they see on the products they like to buy, they can walk out and go somewhere else. The Falcons still made the decision to cut their concession prices even though they have a captive audience because the trade-off of lower volume over time coupled with constantly disgruntled fans was not worth the extra margin on the short-term. You need to think the same way.

Respect your customers. Listen to them. Find ways to appease them—be willing to cut prices on what should be high-turn products, trial run customer requests at less than standard mark-up to be competitive with the market at-large, etc., and be fair and reasonable in finding alternatives to your customers when it simply doesn’t make good business sense to do exactly what they want. You are in this business for the long-haul anyway—the short-term margin losses will be made up over time with greater volume and happy customers.

Remember: there are always ways to make up the difference in margin. You can never make up the difference in lost customers.


The Final Round

The Final Round


I spent all day yesterday with friends and colleagues tasting and judging Maryland wines. This is the fifth year I have been a judge in this competition and each year provides new insight into the direction Maryland wines are headed. After years of dominance by white wines in the competition, the last few years showed the current success and tremendous potential of red wines. This year, whites seemed to dominate again. There was no clear evidence to me that this was due to vintage conditions across the board, rather, some redirection by winemakers toward working with new or more historically successful varieties.
With red and white varieties sharing the stage on more equal footing in the enormous final rounds of gold medalists in this and prior year’s competitions bodes quite well for the future of wine quality on the whole in our state. Congratulations to all Maryland winemakers for their efforts to release the best possible wines.


That’s how you spend a day off.

 

 

Origin: Barossa, Australia

Composition: 66% Syrah/19% Grenache/8% Mourvèdre/7%Viognier

Appearance: ruby-violet with a black core and slightly bricked edges

Nose: eucalyptus, brambly blackberry, licorice

Palate: ripe mixed berries, tobacco, espresso bean, menthol

Mouthfeel: medium-full bodied with mouth-filling richness up-front, overall silkiness, wee mid-palate acid, and chalky tannins

Knew I was grilling a sirloin steak and wanted a wine built to handle it. Stopped by my old shop and found this bottling that I brought in a couple of years ago and pegged it as just right (also, at a price I was willing to spend $40–sorry St. Joseph, top-shelf Argentine blends, and vintage Rioja Reserva).

Twisted the screw-cap, set to grilling, and waited. About an hour later, sirloin topped with blue Stilton; grilled radicchio; and grill-sautéed green peppers, onions, and baby bella mushrooms were on the table next to a deep, dark glass of this Aussie classic.

Taut upon release and hiding under Stelvin closure, this wine has really come around. The nose and palate showed an almost Port-like something that had me a touch worried in conjunction with the slight bricking, but it turned out to be just the stewy fruit common of Barossa. The crush of ripe berry fruit was kept in check by a delicate mid-palate acid and the cooling menthol edge on the finish. At a stated 15% alcohol, this could have easily been boozy, but was quite well-balanced and surprisingly light and drinkable.

The pairing was on the money, too. The balance was apparent in not dominating the (admittedly, strong) flavors on my plate. The fruit and acid played beautifully off the fattiness and char of the steak and intense flavor of the Stilton. The radicchio and mixed veggies brought out fruit sweetness in the wine.

Next thing I knew, the wife and I had killed the bottle as we cleared our plates. No palate fatigue. No fullness after a glass. No concern about paying the price of over-indulgence. Just pure satisfaction.

Fine Wine?


A portion of my comments from a forum question about what constitutes “fine wine” on LinkedIn. This pretty much sums up my general philosophy on wine appreciation and belongs here as much as anywhere.

Fine wine doesn’t try to cowtow to our basest desires–it is what it is without compromise and doesn’t really care if you like it. A fine wine knows it is not for everyone but that it is for someone. It understands that its place is nestled on a retail shelf or wine list amongst myriad other products that exist under the same conditions just waiting for someone to chose it, love it, and cherish the memory of it long after it’s gone.

What is “fine wine” to you?

20130719-185519.jpg

All fine–all prices and styles


Hidden deep within the dramatic landscape of Roussillon, there is a power dismissed as rumour.

 

View from “The Disco Bus”. The last “real” thing I can confirm.

Layers of subterfuge and encryption prohibit a true understanding of the goings-on within what appears to be a simple garage facility from its unassuming front door. 

…and others may happen here


Some of the things that are said to happen happen here..

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are things said and done within Vingrau in the heart of Roussillon that I heard, and saw, and tasted that deny tradition, deflect rational thought, and defy all I have learned.

 

Confusing the senses.


 

There are things that may or may not be occurring in Vingrau that, like the elephant in the room, are undeniable but about which one does not speak.

 

Subterfuge of a mad scientist.

There was a man — a bright and genial, but shadowy, man — who spoke in clear and concise language of methods and intents. He told us of truths while casually diverting attention from facts.

 

Renaud Chastagnol (unconfirmed).

There are things happening in Vingrau…I felt them…there are things I can not comprehend, but I know them to be true. 

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