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Category Archives: Spirits

Gary Shansby and the dilemma of wine education

Gary Shansby tells the story with an almost wistful air. A good friend of his, who is smart and wealthy, will only drink Grey Goose vodka. Gary, who owns Partida Tequila, offered to buy his friend a Partida. No thanks, says the friend. I only drink Grey Goose. Can I buy you another kind of vodka? asks Gary. No thanks, says the friend. I only drink Grey Goose.

Why do you only drink Grey Goose? asks Gary. Because it's the best, says his friend. How do you know that? asks Gary. Have you tried any other vodka? No, says the friend. Have you tried my tequila? No, says the friend. Then how do you know that you don't want to try anything else? Because I don't, says the friend. I just know.

Shansby finishes the story and I laugh. He has outlined, neatly, the dilemma facing those of us who do wine education. Yes, this story is about tequila and spirits, and I usually don't do much of that here. But Shansby is also a wine drinker who knows how the business works, and Partida makes some damn fine tequila. I was especially impressed with the blanco (about $45, sample), which had almost nothing to do with the cheap, poorly made tequila that one sees around Dallas.

Besides, the principle is the same, whether we're talking about tequila or pinot noir. It's not enough that wine is confusing. We also have to fight the prejudices that consumers pick up, many of which are fostered on consumers by the companies that sell wine.

"There are so many great wines all over the world — from Chile, from parts of the U.S. — that it's just so confusing to the consumer," says Shansby. "But that also means that they are so many great wines to try at so many attractive prices."

In fact, he says, those attractive prices are going to be around for a while. The recession is the main reason (and he expects its effects to be with us for a long while), which is something we've discussed here many times before. Producers are stuck with unsold wine, with more wine in the production pipeline, so they are cutting prices to move it. Shansby says it won't be unusual to see discounts of 20 to 40 percent. So why not take a chance and experiment? Why not try a wine from a different region than your usual? Why not try a different varietal?

Just don't, says Shansby, let your prejudices make your decisions for you. And who can argue with that.

Tuesday tidbits 29

• Texas wine competition:  One of the Wine Curmudgeon's favorite events to judge is the Lone Star International, held each year at about this time. It includes not only Texas wines, but entries from around the world. I can't judge it this year (I'm in Houston on another assignment), but I will check with a couple of pals to find out what tasted good and what won.

• Heavy metal wine: Just in case wine from the Rolling Stones isn't enough, how about this? Queensryche frontman Geoff Tate is going to make a red wine from Washington state, called Insania. Sigh. What's next? Fleetwood Mac white zinfandel?

• In a recession? Those of us wondering if we're officially in a recession need look no further than this news release, for a Brazilian rum called Leblon Cachaca. The release isn't on the web site, so I'll quote: "What's the cocktail of the 2008 recession? Many are pointing to the Caipirinha, the Brazilian national cocktail made with Cachaca, Brazil's national spirit. After all, who knows how to muddle through an economic crisis better than the Brazilians?" Glad we have that settled.

Where does flavored vodka fit into the mix?

The Wine Curmudgeon doesn’t do a lot of spirits writing, and when I do, it’s mostly whisky (or whiskey, depending on your point of view).

Which made this story, which I wrote for the Fort Worth newspaper, so fascinating. Flavored vodkas, which barely existed a decade ago, are huge, hundreds of million dollar labels. Flavored vodkas may have accounted for $1 out of every $6 spent on spirits in the U.S. in 2006.

Why the growth? Spirits companies want a slice of the key 21- to 35-year-old female demographic, and that group loves flavored vodka. After all, you can’t make a Dutch Chocolate martini with bourbon, but you can with chocolate flavored vodka.

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