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Category Archives: Wine advice

Ask the WC 5: Getting drunk, restaurant wine, wine reviews

wineadvice

wine advice getting drunkBecause the customers always write, and the Wine Curmudgeon always has the answers in this periodic feature. Ask me a wine-related question by clicking here.

Hey Wine Guy:
I would think alcohol is alcohol is alcohol, and a buzz is a buzz is a buzz. However, I seem to experience what I will call a “lighter” buzz from wine, which dissipates more quickly than a buzz from other alcoholic drinks. Do you think that’s possible? Have you heard it before? Have you experienced it?
Sober as much as possible

Dear Sober:
The difference is food. Yes, one drink — whether spirits, beer, or wine — should affect everyone the same way (allowing for size and gender), but we don’t drink spirits, beer, and wine the same way. Cocktails are bar drinks. Beer is a TV drink. Wine, though, is a meal drink, so we drink it more slowly and the food we’re eating helps absorb the alcohol in a way bar nuts and nacho-flavored Doritos don’t. It’s the difference between a bottle of wine over a couple of hours with dinner as opposed to four beers during the first quarter of a football game. That’s something that those of us who judge wine competitions understand. Even with spitting, we can get as light-headed on a morning’s worth of wine as with four or five shots in a bar, because the object is to drink, not to enjoy ourselves.

Dear Curmie:
Why do restaurants, even chain restaurants, go through all the show about opening a bottle of wine, like letting me sniff the cork and presenting the bottle. It’s not like these are any great wines, and it’s not like the waitstaff knows what it’s doing.
Annoyed and confused

Dear Annoyed:
It’s all part of the flim flammery that is too much restaurant wine service, and especially in restaurants that sell wine because they have to and not because they want to. A fine dining restaurant does the presentation because that’s the best way to serve an expensive bottle of wine. They’ll show it, for instance, to make sure that’s what you ordered, because they don’t want to find out they’ve brought the wrong bottle (which happens more often than you’d think). They’ll let you taste the wine first because older wines do go off, no matter how expensive or well made. In other restaurants, though, they do it because they’re trying to give you value for the $8 bottle of wine that they’re charging $25 for, and that’s the only way they know how. Recently, a waiter started to do the presentation for a $10 bottle of New Zealand sauvignon blanc with a screwcap, and I told him not to bother. He thanked me, because doing it embarrassed him. And this was at a Dallas restaurant that actually cares about wine.

Wine Curmudgeon:
How do you decide to review the wines that you review? Is there a plan? Or do you just wing it? I doubt someone pays you to review their wines, do they?
Curious and curiouser

Dear Curious:
No, no one pays me to review their wines, though it has been suggested by some who want a good review. I alternate red and white wines for the wine of the week, throwing in sparkling or rose when it seems like a good idea. Otherwise, the only rules are that the wine has to fit the concept of the blog — affordable and generally available (where availability is the bane of my existence as a wine writer). The latter means it might be in a grocery store; at the very least, you should be able to find it if you live in a city with quality independent wine shops. Also, save for the monthly mini-reviews, I usually don’t write about bad wine. There’s too much good wine to waste time on that.

When cheap wine tastes cheap

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cheap wine tastes cheapThe quality of cheap wine is better than ever, but that doesn’t mean that all cheap wine is worth drinking. Or, as the erudite Lew Perdue has noted: “Crappy wine holds back the wine market far more than any other factor.”

So how can you tell when cheap wine tastes cheap?

• Quality is not about style. Sweet wines should taste sweet; that’s their style, and whether they’re poorly made has nothing to do with whether they’re sweet. Dry wines that taste sweet are poorly made, no matter how many cases they sell. The Wine Curmudgeon doesn’t like alcoholic, over-the-top zinfandels, but that’s a style preference, not a reflection of quality.

• Bitterness, off-flavors, and green or unripe fruit, in both red and white wine. This is not nearly as common as it used to be, and is rarely seen in California anymore. But it still happens with imported wine.

• Missing tannins in red wine. The winemaker uses technology to remove tannins to make the wine “smooth,” because a focus group said smooth was a desirable quality without actually defining it. In this, tannins and tannic acid are perhaps the most misunderstood part of cheap wine. Quality red wine, at any price, needs tannic acid for structure and balance, and when the tannins are right you may not even notice them. But it’s usually too expensive or too much trouble to deal with tannins properly in $10 wine, which is why so much of it is astringent. So the winemaker takes the tannins out, and you get a flabby, boring wine.

• Fake oak. Again, this is not a style preference, but a winemaking decision, sometimes used to cover up poor quality grapes. If your chardonnay smells like Adams Best vanilla, then the oak is there because something else isn’t. Also, be wary of red wines that promise chocolate cherry flavors, also an oak trick. If producers could make $10 wine with those flavors, why would anyone need to buy $100 wine?

• Sweetness for sweetness’ sake. The best sweet wines have something to balance the sweetness, in the way that iced tea with lemon and sugar is balanced. They’re not supposed to taste like Coke. What made this $7 Sara Bee moscato so enjoyable was not that it was sweet, but that it had a little orange fruit and some bubbles to complement the sweetness. Sweet wine that is just sweet is as about as cynical as winemaking gets.

Image courtesy of Cheap Wine Records, using a Creative Commons license

The problem with restaurant wine service

wineadvice

restaurant wine serviceThe Wine Curmudgeon can rant and rave all he wants, but restaurant wine service remains one of the biggest problems facing wine drinkers. It’s just not the overpriced wine, but the rude staff and the lack of training. Which is why it’s time to get help from those well-known arbiters of wine etiquette, The Muppets.  Because if a waiter acts like this to Kermit and Miss Piggy, it’s no surprise that too many restaurant wine types are treating the rest of us the way they do.

The video is courtesy of sarahleeab via YouTube. And yes, this is from the first Muppet movie in 1979, which demonstrates that the advance of wine culture in the U.S. has not changed enough. Though regional wine has come a long way since then — right, Idaho?

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