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Category Archives: Wine advice

Cheap wine for dinner

Toward the end of last month's $3 wine epic, I got very tired of cheap wine. Or at least it seemed that way. And the Wine Curmudgeon was embarrassed. How could one of the world's foremost advocates of cheap wine be tired of it?

Which led to some serious reflection. Had I finally reached the cheap wine equivalent of the marathon runner's wall, when he or she has gone as far as they can and can run no more? And, if true, what did that mean for the future — especially with the Cheap Wine Book on the way? Or was something else going on, something that I didn't understand, caught up as I was in trying to evaluate wine most of my colleagues don't think needs evaluating?

Fortunately, the latter turned out to be the case. The problem wasn't that the wine was cheap; rather, it's that it wasn't very interesting — especially after five consecutive nights of the same thing. It might have taken longer to get bored if the wines had been $100 white Burgundy, but boredom would have come eventually.

Which made me wonder: Is that yet another reason why Americans drink so little wine (per capta consumpton has remained more or less the same for 30 years)? Do we stick to the same wine, even when we're bored with it, because it's too difficult to find something else?

Do those millions of women of a certain age buy the same undistinguished pinot grigio year after year because it's easier than buying something else, even if they want something else? Do those millions of Millenniuals buy syruped-up malbec because the alternative is spending money on wine they don't understand, even if they're tired of malbec? Can it be that the devil that we know is easier than negotiating the wine purchasing process and its indecipherable labels, intimidating retailers, and unintelligible winespeak?

Which led me back to the only wine rule I have left after 20-some years of doing this: Drink what you want, but be willing to try something else. Yes, that can be terrifying — who wants to spend good money on something you may not like, even if it's only $10? But the alternative is getting bored, and there is too much wonderful wine in the world to let that happen. So take a chance. Don't let the wine business do to you what it has done to everyone else. You have nothing to lose but boring wine.

The myth of wine and food pairings

The ancient Greeks, who didn’t understand gravity or the Bell curve, attributed the mysteries of the universe to the gods, and it served them well. Need a victory in battle? Pray to Zeus. Not sure about the future? Visit Apollo’s oracle at Delphi.

Wine and food pairings are wine’s version of Greek mythology. It’s the solution to all of the wine industry’s problems, even though – like Apollo’s oracle – pairings don’t mean all that much to the vast majority of wine drinkers.

This is not to say that wine and food pairings are legitimate, because certain food tastes better with certain wine, and there is scientific evidence to support that. What it does mean is that, for most consumers, they aren’t important. You can see more about this here. And here.

This has made such an impression on me that I’ve pretty much given up on wine and food pairings (though I’ll still suggest them). The cheap wine book goes into detail, but what it comes down to is this: If I tell people it’s OK to drink what they want, then why I am telling them what to drink it with? All I ask is that wine drinkers be open to the concept of pairings and give them a try. If they don’t like them, that’s fine, too. As my brother says, “I like big red wine. Why can’t I drink it when I want?”

Nevertheless, many in the wine business see wine and food pairings as the key to increasing wine consumption in the U.S. (this being one of the most important exceptions). This approach shows up regularly in studies and white papers, and most recently in what was an otherwise outstanding effort to help the industry figure out how to get Hispanics to drink more wine.

But the report, issued by Rabobank, has this line: “What support will be given for pairing wine with Hispanic food?" Forget the practicalities – what exactly is Hispanic food, given that Hispanics come from dozens of countries and they even eat non-Hispanic food? More importantly, it also ignores the point that most consumers don’t care about pairings and that pairings are especially intimidating to new wine drinkers. So how will that help lure Hispanics into wine?

Sometimes I wonder if anyone is really paying attention when they write these things.

The Five Day, $3 Wine Challenge: The results

The good news is that the five $3 wines that I drank with dinner last week were mostly OK, and the horror stories that I heard proved to be – for me, anyway – unfounded.

Which is also the bad news. Most wine, even $10 wine, is going to taste reasonably consistent from vintage to vintage. Yes, these wines were OK – and a couple were more than that – but that’s no guarantee they’ll taste that way again if I do this again next year. And, unfortunately, none of them made me jump in the air and fall back down with excitement, ready to re-do the $10 Hall of Fame. Dull is probably a better adjective.

More details on the challenge, as well as my analysis and a few suggestions for the retailers who sell these wines are after the jump:

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