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Tag Archives: wine education

Wine Curmudgeon will return to El Centro, and not just for wine

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el centro wineMissed the Wine Curmudgeon’s El Centro wine class this semester? Never fear — you can take it in the fall, as well as a beer and spirits class next spring. Call me the adjunct instructor for the beverage program in the college’s well-respected Food & Hospitality Institute.

Not bad for someone who got a C in advanced reporting in college (a grade I’m still eager to dispute 30 years later, because I damned well did B work).

I wasn’t sure I’d be back after finishing this semester, given how strange the ways of academia are to someone who has worked for himself almost continually since 1991. For instance, I’m still not sure what went on at one faculty meeting, other than everyone kept using the word rubric. But Steve DeShazo, the institute’s director, and Swee-Hua Goh, my faculty team leader, apparently figured I did something right. Plus, most culinary schools these days are moving to a full beverage program, and they saw their school needed to as well.

For which I am grateful. Teaching the class was huge fun, and my students were a treat. I say this not just because they gave me the benefit of the doubt when I went off on one of my rants about wine scores or terroir, but because they wanted to learn about wine. Two students, who came into the class not having tasted much wine and not liking what they had tasted, figured out enough to know why they didn’t like it, and even found some they did. What more can a teacher ask for?

I’ll post more about registering for the 2015-16 fall and spring semesters this summer; the wine class is RSTO 1319. Until then, know that you can take both classes as continuing education students — $177 for 15 or 16 weekly classes, which includes tastings most weeks. As someone who has always preached value, that’s about as good as value gets.

Winebits 379: Big Wine, diet soda, regional wine

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big wineBig and getting bigger: Wine sales in the U.S. were mostly flat last year, which makes the growth in E&J Gallo’s various brands. including Barefoot, all that much more impressive, reports Shanken News Daily. Total U.S. wine sales were 321.8 million cases in 2014, and 17 million of those were Barefoot — more than five percent of the total. Given the thousands of wine brands in the world, that one brand, and especially one that isn’t sold in many wine shops, accounts for that much wine is difficult to imagine. It speaks to Big Wine’s ability to put product on store shelves and to market it onces its there. It also illustrates the divide in the wine business between what we’re told we’re supposed to drink and what most of us do drink.

Is diet soda dead? Which matters to wine drinkers because the sales of diet Coke, Pepsi, and so forth appear to have started an irreversible slide, down 20 percent from their all-time high in 2009. The reasons are many, reports the Washington Post, but center on health, including the artificial nature of diet soda. So where will diet soda drinkers go next? It’s not soft drinks, which are also declining in sales, again for health reasons. The Wine Curmudgeon could offer wine as an alternative, pointing to the growth of Barefoot and what are considered wine’s heart health benefits. But that would mean the wine business is interested in attracting non-wine drinkers through education and outreach, something that we know isn’t true. Ah, missed opportunities.

The next Napa Valley: During my many years working with regional wine, the one thing that has always made me crazy is hearing someone from a U.S. region talk about how they wanted Texas or Colorado or Virginia (or wherever) to become the next Napa Valley. To which I always asked: Why do you need to do that? Why can’t you be the best Texas or Colorado or Virginia (or wherever)? Turns out I’m not the only who feels that way. Rob McMillan at Silicon Valley Bank writes that he sees the same thing all the time, and with California wine regions. “Do you really want to be like Napa?” he asks. The post is a little technical for consumers, but the point is well made. If you can’t make world-class cabernet sauvignon, why would you even think of being like Napa, let alone build a region behind that goal?

Four things college students taught me about wine

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wine educationFour things college students, including my El Centro viticulture and enology class and two University of North Texas classes, taught me about wine this semester. Call it Wine Education for Curmudgeons 101:

• Regional wine matters to people who didn’t help start a regional wine group. I don’t know why this always surprises me, but it does. Maybe because when I mention it to too many adults, they look at me as if I want them to drink castor oil? But when I talk about regional and Texas wine to students, they understand the idea of local wine and its relationship to local food, and they’re more than happy to try it. Enjoy it and buy it, even.

• The emperor isn’t wearing any clothes, and he doesn’t look too good naked. We did a Napa and Sonoma tasting in my El Centro class, five wines that cost at least $40 (that I brought from samples in the wine closet). The students were not impressed, noting how commercial they tasted, how overpriced they were, and how they expected a lot more for what the wines cost. Even more surprising: They came to these conclusions on their own, without any help from me. All I do in a tasting is pour the wines, talk about who made them, and ask the students what the wines taste like. We don’t even discuss price until the end.

• The world does not revolve around cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, and merlot. As someone who never met a grape, no matter how odd, that he didn’t want to try, this always makes me feel better about the future of wine in the U.S. People my age, faced with a grape they don’t recognize, tend to glaze over. The North Texas students, on the other hand, were fascinated with a dry riesling.

• People like wine I don’t like. I know this is true, but it always helps to see it in action. We did a Washington state grocery store merlot, full of fake oak, gobs of sweet fruit, and winemaking sleight of hand at North Texas. When I asked who liked it, as I always do, almost everyone did. Which reinforces the most important (and only) rule about wine: If you like it, it’s a good wine, and it doesn’t matter what wine writers, even the one teaching the class, think. Just be willing to try different kinds of wine to see if there is something else you might like.

Slider photo courtesy of Leta Durrett

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