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Category Archives: Wine advice

Once more about wine clubs: Wine Insiders

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wine clubsThe Wine Curmudgeon’s antipathy toward most non-winery wine clubs is well-known; too many of them sell mysterious wine for too high prices, and the wines are picked by “experts” who are rarely identified. And none of this takes into account the clubs’ shipping charges.

Nevertheless, I am always checking to see what’s new, which is what any good reporter should do. Hence my recent order from a company called Wine Insiders, which claims that it approves only five out of every 100 bottles that its experts sample and offers a double satisfaction guarantee (whatever that is).

The come-on? Six bottles of wine, advertised through an insert in one of those mailed to the house coupon things, for 40 percent off the $14.99 price plus 1-cent shipping. Sends like a hell of a deal, even though I don’t know what I’m getting save that the wines are “Delicious reds and refreshing whites.” I know, I know. I’m trying to keep an open mind, too, since the first rule of wine writing is not to make any judgments until you taste the wine. But that $14.99 sounds like grocery store pricing, where the club/member price is $12.99, the sale price is $10.99, and the six-bottle price is $8.99.

Which is why I’ll write more after I taste. Still, this reminds me of the record clubs that were so popular when I was kid. You got tapes (or vinyl, even, if you’re an old white guy) for pennies, the catch being what was called negative option billing, which made you liable even if you didn’t order the music after the first shipment. And the music after the first shipment came with higher than retail prices and expensive shipping costs. As one clever reporter wrote: “Record clubs may have introduced several generations of America’s youth to the concept of collection agencies. …”

Wine Insiders doesn’t do negative option billing (though some wine clubs do, or something similar where you have to buy a certain amount of wine). Still, the concept is eerily familiar, with the very cheap introductory offer and then what seem to be very high prices for the wines you can buy after the first time, like a $25 cava and a $23 rose. The former is from a producer who does a similar $15 cava, while the latter is apparently made by the same Provencal winemaker that does this $9 rose.

But always an open mind, and I would like nothing better to be wrong. Because then I got six great wines for $36, and those are Wine Curmudgeon prices.

For more on wine clubs:
Wine clubs: Are they worth the effort?
Wine through the mail: The do’s and don’ts of direct shipping
“Our panel of experts”

 

A toast to Joe Maddon and the Chicago Cubs

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joe maddonDear Joe:

OK, so I was wrong. The Cubs — my beloved, wretched, soul-crushing Cubs, who make existential angst seem like a pleasant spring day — made it to the National League playoffs this year. It doesn’t even matter that they clinched a wild card spot when they lost. Or that it will probably be the second wild card spot. Who am I, after more than a century of futility, to be picky?

So, as promised, I owe you a bottle of nice wine. I realize, in our first communication, that I wasn’t clear about the process, and that it seemed I would only pay up if the Cubs won the World Series. That’s mostly because I didn’t expect the Cubs to make the playoffs this year, not with this lineup — a bullpen about an arm and a half short, bald spots in the lineup in centerfield and at shortstop, and too many young, inexperienced players who should have frazzled as the season progressed.

But you did it. Somehow, you managed this team — where one of the shortstops could neither catch nor hit, and more than once reminded me of Roy Smalley Sr. — to the playoffs. I am speechless at that feat, and anyone who knows me will tell you that that happens about as often as the Cubs make the playoffs. Apparently, you are as gifted a manager as the sportswriters say you are, and that your work this season in juggling lineups, caressing egos, offering encouragement, and providing the occasional firm hand was what the Cubs needed. Even more impressive is that you knew they needed it, something only the best managers know. And who usually work for the hated St. Louis Cardinals.

So, which wine? I’d like to hold off on the white Burgundy and the Corton I mentioned before unless the Cubs win the World Series. Otherwise, you tell me. I tasted some terrific Texas wine over the weekend when I was in Lubbock for a story, and there are some interesting California wines you might not know that would work. And we couldn’t go wrong with an Oregon pinot noir, either. But no Champagne, in case you’re wondering.

So, if you get a minute between preparing for the playoffs, let me know. Otherwise, I can wait until the season ends. Which, hopefully, won’t be for another six weeks or so, and I will need to buy the Corton..

Yours in 107 years of Cubs futility (but maybe not much longer),
The Wine Curmudgeon

El Centro wine class: A new semester

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el centro wine class“I’m being more adventurous in my wine drinking, Mr. Siegel,” a former El Centro student told me a couple of weeks ago. I was practically giddy; she had started the class convinced she preferred sweet wine, but has taken to heart the only advice about wine that really matters, despite the volumes of foolishness we must endure: Drink what you like, but be willing to try different kinds of wine. Which, I must confess, I repeated a time or two during the semester.

So far, this semester’s class looks like it might be more of the same. This is not necessarily because the Wine Curmudgeon is a brilliant teacher, but because my students are eager, inquisitive, and ready to throw off their wine business-imposed chains. One student, when we were discussing terroir, understood the controversy perfectly. “If you’re a Big Wine company,” I asked them, “and you have a choice between making distinctive, terroir-driven wines and making wines that taste the same regardless of where they’re from, but which you think will sell better, what would you do?” “Make wines that taste the same,” she said. “Isn’t it about making money?”

Take that, Winestream Media. They can see through your pretense. The other impressive thing? That these students are willing to taste wine when we don’t do it in class. This has traditionally been a problem when I teach a wine class. When 20-somethings go out, they don’t want to do homework, even if it involves drinking wine. But after three weeks, this class is drinking when they go out and when they’re at home. And then we’re talking about whether the wines they buy are a value, something else that practically makes me giddy.

I’ll write more about the class later in the semester, but I want to add this now: The difference between talking about wine with young people who don’t know everything, but aren’t bothered by it, and talking about wine with people my age, including the infamous old white guys, is the difference between a $10 Hall of Fame wine and grocery store plonk. And everyone knows which I prefer.

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