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Category Archives: Wine advice

Five things not to say about wine this holiday season

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There but for the grace of of the wine gods. …

The holidays are fraught with peril for wine drinkers, and especially for anyone who is intimidated by all the wine drinking going on. Which, truth to tell, is more of us than most of us care to admit. Or, as one 20-something woman asked me during a Cheap Wine book signing (shamless plug alert!), “Is it OK if I bring this $5 wine to a party? Will people make fun of me?”

Hence this guide, because we don’t want to embarrass any of our fellow wine drinkers. Because there but for the grace of the wine gods. …

1. “I can’t believe you’re drinking sweet wine.” Some of the best wine in the world is sweet — rieslings, whether from Germany, New York or elsewhere, and dessert wines, including the $550 French Chateau d’Yquem. Yes, pink moscato or red raspberry is not highly rated by the Winestream Media, but who are they to judge? After all, don’t they believe in the magical gateway wine?

2. “I used to buy that, and then I learned more about wine.” This actually happened to me. A guy I knew saw I was buying an ordinary French red, and said I should buy his French red. Which I did, and it was a waste of money — more expensive and not any better. I learned an important lesson that day about wine and peer pressure. Which is to ignore it.

3. “I just bought a bunch of 92-point wines, and they were only $30 each — such a deal.” Any wine that costs more than $15, given the foolishness of points, should score 92 points. At least. In fact, given the rampant score inflation that has apparently going on over the past couple of years, anyone who spends $30 a bottle for a 92-point wine shouldn’t be bragging about it. They should be consulting the $10 Hall of Fame.

4. “Texas wine? Haven’t they given up on that yet?” You can substitute your local wine region here, but the sentiment is the same. Despite all of the progress we have made, too many wine drinkers, wine critics, and wine snobs still insist they know best about regional wine because they didn’t enjoy the glass they had when Jimmy Carter was president.

5. “The last time I was in Napa, I had the most amazing wine. … ” Wine travel snobbery is among the worst, implying that the only amazing wines can be found by people rich or lucky enough to go where the wine is made. This is obviously not true; the Wine Curmudgeon has found some amazing wines digging around the closeout bin at his local Italian wine specialist. Which is 10 minutes from my house with free parking.

Julia Child and wine, both local and cheap

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Julia Child is rightfully credited with making American cooking more than steak, baked potatoes, and a dinner salad of iceberg lettuce, rubber tomatoes, and bottled French salad dressing. What’s often overlooked is her role in helping us figure out this wine thing, and especially her advocacy for American wine, which was pretty much unknown 50 years ago.

Child was passionate about wine, and it’s worth watching the grainy black and white episodes of the original “French Chef” public television show to see just how passionate. In the second episode, aired in 1963, she prepares her classic Boeuf Bourguignon, and it includes a very intelligent discussion about wine to serve with the stew. You can see it at 25:58 of the linked item; she recommends mountain red, a California jug wine made with zinfandel, and explains why it’s not necessary to buy an expensive bottle of red Burgundy. No wonder, as Jacques Pepin once told me, “what you saw with Julia was what you got.”

Child did a wine and cheese episode in 1970, and the array of bottles — six French wines with their American counterparts — must have been as confusing as molecular biology to most of her audience.  That’s because dessert wines were the best-selling wine in the U.S. until 1967 (part of the discussion in Chapter II of the Cheap Wine book), and the first U.S. wine boom was still five years off.

Some of the best wine advice ever written is in “The French Chef Cookbook,” published in 1968. Rose goes with anything, says Child, and she does not have kind words for retailers who offer less than helpful advice. There are also wine and food pairing suggestions, still relevant today, and she explains why there’s nothing wrong with cheap wine for everyday meals. My favorite part, though, is this: “The simplest way to start in on this pleasant hobby is to buy wines, start sampling, discussing, keeping notes, reading about wines, thinking about them, and enjoying them.”

Sounds like a great plan, no?

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.

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