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Tag Archives: terroir

Winebits 289: Terroir, three-tier, Wine.com

Another view of terroir? Terroir, a French term that has no exact meaning in English, is something wine geeks love to argue about – does it exist or not? Those of us who believe in terroir believe it lends a sense of place to the best wine, regardless of price. Anti-terroir advocates (yes, just like matter and anti-matter) say we’re a bunch of old farts and that wine should be made to taste the best it can, regardless of terroir. The eminent Paul Lukacs offers a third view – that, despite some truth, it’s mostly a myth perpetuated by French marketers in the first third of the 20th century. That should give us something to discuss the next time Paul and I judge together.

Another victory for the distributors: It’s depressing, but someone has to keep track of this stuff. The Illinois legislature, no doubt acting at the behest of some of its biggest campaign contributors, has passed a law that strengthens the state’s three-tier system. Three-tier are the alcohol regulations left over from Prohibition that prohibit consumers from buying wine almost anywhere but traditional retailers. The legislature passed the law because Anheuser-Busch bought a stake in its biggest Chicago-area distributor. The beer giant will now have to sell its share of the distributor. How silly is this? Like Ford being told by the Michigan legislature that it can’t own one of its parts suppliers.

For sale or not? The cyber-ether has been buzzing the past week or so with rumors that Wine.com, the largest Internet wine retailer and a friend of the blog, is for sale. Wine.com’s boss has denied the rumors, saying the reports exaggerate the company’s financial woes. Supposedly, Wine.com’s private equity backer was unhappy with its performance and wanted out. Regular visitors here know the uphill battle legal Internet retailers face, thanks to three-tier, and Wine.com is no exception. It has to become a local retailer in many states in which it does business to comply with state laws, a costly and time-consuming effort. If its financial backers are unhappy, the question is not that they are, but why they expected anything else given the regulatory environment.

The Beard Awards and regional wine

James_beard_foundation_awardsThe Wine Curmudgeon has always had a middle of the country perspective when it comes to the Beard Awards, the food business' version of the Academy Awards. That is, the winners always seem to be from either coast, and especially from the East Coast, and especially from New York City. Right, Sharon Hage?

So it's not surprising that restaurants that usually win a Beard award, wine or otherwise, have very little do with wine that doesn't come from an established region. That logic, if depressing, is understandable. Beard award-winning restaurants cater to people who want big wines that get big scores. Or, as a top-name chef who has a Beard on his resume told me, "my customers expect the Wine Spectator top 100 on my wine list. I lose business if those wines aren't there."

So when a restaurant with regional wine wins a Beard award, I'm practically typeless. Seriously. It has taken me longer to write this four-paragraph post than others that were twice as long.

But there it is: Terroir, a wine bar in Manhattan, winning for best wine professional this year — and Terroir serves New York wine at each of its three locations. Some of it is even featured on the epic wine list. Thank you, Paul Grieco (who won the award). It's a pleasure to find someone who understands that wine is not about what we're told to drink, but about finding something we like — regardless of where it is from.

My lunch with Randall, part I

My lunch with Randall, part IThis is the first of a two-part series detailing my recent chat with Bonny Doon winemaker Randall Grahm. Part II — a look at some of Bonny Doon’s wines — is here.

The last thing Randall Grahm looks like is the California winemaker that he is. Instead, he looks more like the one-time liberal arts major at the University of California that he was.

That contradiction goes a long way toward explaining why Grahm is one of the Wine Curmudgeon’s favorite winemakers, and why his Bonny Doon wines are some of the most interesting made in California. Grahm understands that not only is the wine business about making enough money to stay in business, but about making wine that people want to drink — and not necessarily wine that they’re told to drink, More, after the jump.

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