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Tag Archives: wine education

Easy ways to learn more about wine

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Yes, she's drinking white wine, but why not try a red?

Wine drinkers are creatures of habit. We tend to drink the same wines and shop in the same places for those wines. Which, frankly, doesn't do much to expand our wine horizons.

This is an especial problem for beginning wine drinkers, whose lack of experience is compounded by the intimidation factor — wine can be a scary place for newcomers, who are overwhelmed with labels, names, terms, and the like.

Hence this post, part of my New Year's resolution to write more items for people just getting started with wine. And a big tip of the Wine Curmudgeon's fedora to Dave McIntyre, who has written about some of this and jarred me into action.

After the jump, four easy things anyone can do to boost their wine savvy:

Winebits 211: New Jersey wine, really expensive wine, wine education

Near the center of the universe: There have been a spate of recent articles, not only in the Winestream Media, but in many big-time consumer publications about New Jersey wine. One of the most recent came from the Wall Street Journal (behind the paywall) which revealed that the Garden State is enjoying a wine renaissance. As a long-time and ardent supporter of regional wine, I'll take the good news anywhere I can get it. But it does seem odd that media like the Journal are suddenly discovering New Jersey wine, which has been around for more than a decade. This can be traced to what some media critics call the center of the universe theory — nothing exists until it has been identified and validated by the most important news outlets in the country. And where are the most important news outlets in the country? In New York City, just a short ride down the New Jersey Turnpike from New Jersy wine country.

Wine prices plummet: Not, of course, for wine we actually drink, but wine the wise guys use to make money — on the Live-ex wine exchange, a stock market for wine. Really. As silly as that sounds. Prices of the 100 top-traded wines fell by an average of 22 1/2 percent between June and December last year – the steepest fall since the beginning of the recession, reports Drinks Business magazine. The reason for the decline, apparently, is a slump in the Chinese market. The link is well worth clicking on, if only because the story is so bizarre. I've been writing about both business and wine for more than 20 years, and I can barely make sense of it. How anyone makes money trading wine is beyond me — ignoring the fact that the point of great wine drinking it.

Too much knowledge? Kris Chislett at Blog Your Wine asks a question that I've asked many times here: Why does the wine business do such a lousy job of wine education? "Sure, I can wax poetically with the best of ‘em about the meso-climates within this one tiny vineyard parcel within the sub-region of a greater region, which has a sandy loam soil and maritime climate. I just don’t think that’s what most people, even the more wine-savvy, can relate to. … I want to help people learn, and I just don’t think that can be achieved by boring them to death with what for the most part is useless wine trivia." Can't argue with that, can we?

Gary Shansby and the dilemma of wine education

Gary Shansby tells the story with an almost wistful air. A good friend of his, who is smart and wealthy, will only drink Grey Goose vodka. Gary, who owns Partida Tequila, offered to buy his friend a Partida. No thanks, says the friend. I only drink Grey Goose. Can I buy you another kind of vodka? asks Gary. No thanks, says the friend. I only drink Grey Goose.

Why do you only drink Grey Goose? asks Gary. Because it's the best, says his friend. How do you know that? asks Gary. Have you tried any other vodka? No, says the friend. Have you tried my tequila? No, says the friend. Then how do you know that you don't want to try anything else? Because I don't, says the friend. I just know.

Shansby finishes the story and I laugh. He has outlined, neatly, the dilemma facing those of us who do wine education. Yes, this story is about tequila and spirits, and I usually don't do much of that here. But Shansby is also a wine drinker who knows how the business works, and Partida makes some damn fine tequila. I was especially impressed with the blanco (about $45, sample), which had almost nothing to do with the cheap, poorly made tequila that one sees around Dallas.

Besides, the principle is the same, whether we're talking about tequila or pinot noir. It's not enough that wine is confusing. We also have to fight the prejudices that consumers pick up, many of which are fostered on consumers by the companies that sell wine.

"There are so many great wines all over the world — from Chile, from parts of the U.S. — that it's just so confusing to the consumer," says Shansby. "But that also means that they are so many great wines to try at so many attractive prices."

In fact, he says, those attractive prices are going to be around for a while. The recession is the main reason (and he expects its effects to be with us for a long while), which is something we've discussed here many times before. Producers are stuck with unsold wine, with more wine in the production pipeline, so they are cutting prices to move it. Shansby says it won't be unusual to see discounts of 20 to 40 percent. So why not take a chance and experiment? Why not try a wine from a different region than your usual? Why not try a different varietal?

Just don't, says Shansby, let your prejudices make your decisions for you. And who can argue with that.

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