Tag Archives: wine advice

Get out of your wine rut

wine rut

“I’m so tired of merlot, but what else is there to drink?”

The only rule of wine that counts — really, the only rule there should be — is to drink what you want, but to be willing to try different kinds of wine. How else will you find out what you like unless you taste something you’ve never tasted before?

Needless to say, given the foolishness that passes for so much wine advice, that’s easier said than done. Is it any wonder that so many wine drinkers give up, confused by toasty and oaky and cigar box aromas? Or that craft beer, because beer is so much easier to understand, could be bigger than the entire California wine business by the end of next year?

Which was the reason for “Get out of your wine rut!“, which I wrote for the Bottom Line Personal newsletter. Regular visitors here might recognize some of the wines I recommend, but the point of the article is about more than the wines. It’s about trying something different because there are thousands of wonderful cheap wines that you might like, if you’ll only give them the chance. Among the suggestions:

• Chenin blanc instead of chardonnay, if you’re looking for something lighter and more fruity. As noted here many times, dry chenin blanc deserves much more attention than it gets.

• Red Rhone blends instead of merlot. These French blends, like the legendary Little James Basket Press, can have more interesting fruit flavors but still offer the merlot softness that many of us like.

• Albarino, the Spanish white, instead of sauvignon blanc. Albarino should be the next big thing, instead of something as old and tired and as hard to find as gruner veltliner, because it offers quality at very affordable prices and is on more store shelves than you’d think.

Once more about wine clubs: Wine Insiders


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”


El Centro wine class: A new semester


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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