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Winebits 275: James Tidwell, Amazon, national chains

Appreciating wine: James Tidwell, who works for the Four Seasons in suburban Dallas, is not only one of the most knowledgeable people in the wine business, but one of the nicest. So I'm particularly happy to note this interview with James, where he talks about what it's like to taste some of the world's great wines: "I knew food and wine went well together, but this transcended all conceptions of how they can be paired. It really has influenced my understanding of what can be done with food and wine."

Making the Amazon model work: A rare look at how and what Amazon is doing with its wine marketplace, courtesy of Wines & Vines magazine. Peter Faricy, the executive in charge of the wine marketplace, wouldn't discuss sales or how many wineries are participating, but did note that the Internet giant is "super pleased with the reception so far.” More importantly, he said, Amazon is working as fast as possible to add other states to the current lineup — 15 plus the District of Columbia, while ensuring complete compliance with the various local liquor regulations. It charges wineries 15 percent of the sales price to be part of the marketplace, but is waiving some fees.

Want to be a national chain? Then offer better service, says the man in charge of Total Wine & More, whiich is agressively expanding across the U.S. “If we can have the best people, we win. You’re not going to find those people in Walmart or anywhere else,” said president and co-owner David Trone. This is, of course, easier said than done, and I've heard it about a zillion times in the two-plus decades I've written about business. I once spent 40 minutes in a Dallas Total Wine without an employee even looking at me, and the one employee I watched wait on another customer didn't seem all that interested. But maybe that's a small sample size.

 

 

James Tidwell earns Beard semifinal nod

And it’s well deserved, too. Tidwell is the sommelier, beverage manager and overall wine guru for the Four Seasons in suburban Dallas, and is a semifinalist for the James Beard award for outstanding restaurant wine service for his work at the Four Seasons’ Cafe on the Green. Best yet, James believes in Texas wine, and has always done his best to promote it, both at the Four Seasons and in his role as co-founder of TexSom, the Texas Sommelier Association.

The final nominees will be announced on March 21, and the winner will be announced May 9. The Beards are the food and wine business’ equivalent of the Academy Awards, and they include a glitzy awards ceremony. If James is a finalist, will he wear a tux? If so, I’ll run a picture on the blog.

The semifinal list has some big names on it, but the other one that impressed me is Glenn Bardgett, who runs the wine program at Annie Gunn’s in suburban St. Louis. Glenn is also a huge advocate of regional wine, and he is helping us with our DrinkLocalWine.com conference in St. Louis in April, which is focusing on Missouri wine.

James Tidwell on the dilemma of wine availability

James Tidwell of the Four Seasons in suburban Dallas is one of the top sommeliers in the country, the co-founder of the TexSom sommelier wine education group, and a wine blogger. As such, his view of of the wine world is a little different from the Wine Curmudgeon's — call it more top down than bottom up. James buys wines from distributors to sell in his restaurant, which means he has more wines to choose from and which is not quite the same thing as desperately searching a retailer to find something interesting for dinner.

Or, as James told me the other day, "People used to tell me they couldn't find good wine to drink, and I thought they were crazy."

But not any more. James is on The Dallas Morning News Wine Panel, which recommends affordable wines that are generally available. (Sounds familiar, doesn't it?) And he has discovered that finding affordable wines that are generally available is not easy. (Sounds familiar, too, doesn't it?) The panel may taste a wine it likes, but it can't use the wine it isn't sold in two retailers in the Dallas area.

"Every retailer seems to have the same 300 wines," he says. "No wonder consumers end up drinking the same grocery store-style wines over and over."

Which is the point of this story. If one of the most knowledgeable wine people in the country is frustrated by the conundrum that is wine availability, then don't feel badly if you're frustrated by it, too.

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