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Tag Archives: wine rants

Wine education: Four things you don’t need to know about wine

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wine educationBut that the wine business, through its allies in the Winestream Media, harps on ad nauseum. That’s because it makes them feel important to write about this stuff, even though no one else cares and it has nothing do with wine education. Hence, four things that you don’t need to know about wine:

Wine fraud. This is an issue that affects almost no one who drinks wine; who is going to counterfeit Cupcake Red Velvet, Barefoot moscato, or any of the hundreds of other wines that dominate sales in the U.S.?  Nevertheless, wine fraud been blasting around the Internet for years, and especially if it’s in China. There seem to be couple of stories about it every day, bemoaning the fact that a very rich person has been cheated or that a world famous French winery has been besmirched by Chinese counterfeits. In fact, counterfeit wine probably accounts for less than one percent of all the wine made in the world each year. But you’d never know that by reading the Winestream Media.

Bordeaux futures. This is the process in which very rich people buy very expensive French wine at a discount, even though they haven’t tasted it and won’t take delivery for a couple of years. In other words, about as far removed from buying wine at the grocery store as possible. Each week, I see at least a dozen stories about the futures process, which again affects fewer than one percent of the people who buy wine in the U.S.

The next big thing. These stories make the Wine Curmudgeon the craziest, since they focus on an obscure grape, usually produced in small quantities in a lesser known part the world. And they always quote a Manhattan sommelier about how this wine will sweep the country, taking for granted that if someone in Manhattan says it is true, it must be, and ignoring three-tier and how little of the wine is actually for sale in the U.S. Hence, Georgian wine (and not the state in the southern U.S.) Note to Winestream Media: The next big thing is sweet red wine, and it has been here for two years.

Wine writing. Every week, someone will write a long, garment-rending piece about how terrible wine writing is and how it was so much better in the old days. Or someone will write a long, snarky piece about how much better wine writing is today than it was in the old days. Or, and this is my favorite, someone — usually the same couple of older white guys — will do both in the same story. Wine drinkers don’t care about wine writing, which is why I stopped writing about it a couple of years ago. Writing about wine writing is just one more kind of cyber porn, and not nearly as interesting as the rest.

None of this is wine education. That would include practical advice about wine pricing, how to buy wine, and why three-tier matters to the ordinary wine drinker. But who gets famous writing about that?

More about wine things you need to know:
Five things that make me crazy when I buy wine
Five things the wine business can do to help consumers figure out wine
Finding the next big wine region

The revolution in wine terms

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wine termsWho knew wine terms had become more than they were? Certainly not the Wine Curmudgeon, who has been using words like sweet and dry and fruity for more than 20 years. But, apparently, I am not au courant, as a post at VinePair, describing “20 wine words most drinkers don’t know” reminded me.

My first question? Why, if these terms are so important and wine drinkers need to know them, how is it that most don’t? That would be like most food eaters not knowing what hot and cold means. “Hmmm, this soup is hurting my mouth. Is there a term to describe that?”

Second, one of the terms was hedonistic: “Robert Parker‘s favorite word. Wines that just blow you away. Parker likes hedonistic, but you can just say the wine is damn amazing.” Note to Adam Teeter at VinePair, who wrote the post and, save for an occasional lapse into cuteness, seems to know his business. Most wine drinkers don’t know who Robert Parker is and don’t care, so why do they need to know his favorite wine term? Plus, in 30-some years as a professional writer, wine and otherwise, I have never used hedonistic to describe anything. And I have had a fairly successful career.

Third, wine terms should be objective, like sweet and dry and fruity, and hedonistic (as well as ponderous, also on the list) isn’t. Parker may think those wines are damn amazing, but many of us don’t. We find them overblown and unenjoyable. What’s the point of using a term that tells someone they’re supposed to like something that they may not like?

Again, this is not to criticize Teeter, who is probably trying to help, but to point out yet again how most post-modern wine writing has little to do with the average consumer. It’s as if they’re writing a movie review that discusses camera angles and editing techniques instead of the plot, and then getting angry when someone asks them what the movie is about.

And what’s worse is that they call those of us — who want to write intelligently and clearly, who want to educate wine drinkers and not preach to them — a variety of not very nice names. I’m not going to link to them, because it’s not worth the aggravation and the Internet sniping that will ensue. But two prominent California wine writers have recently questioned whether people like me are competent to write about wine. Our sin? That we try to make it less intimidating and confusing, when real wine writers know wine is supposed to be intimidating and confusing. Otherwise, one of them wrote, what’s the point of learning about it?

How wonderfully self-absorbed and insensitive to the world around them they must be. Does this mean that we can’t enjoy wine unless we enjoy it exactly as they want us to? Nuts to that, and pass me some of that $10 Gascon white I like so much — the one that’s fruity.

Image courtesy of Westword.com, using a Creative Commons license

Texas wine at the crossroads, one year later

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Texas wineAnd, apparently, not much has changed with Texas wine a year after I wrote: “Has Texas wine reached a plateau, where quality isn’t going to get any better given the state’s resources and climate? Or is something else going on?”

That was my conclusion after a couple of days tasting wine and moderating a Texas wine panel in the Hill Country last week. The day before I left, a Texas winemaker (who has told me I’m an idiot) took to the Internet to criticize almost everyone else who disagreed with him. During my visit, a winery owner told me I knew nothing about wine, Texas wine, and the ugni blanc grape, my Gascon favorite that is starting to be grown in Texas. And the wine during those couple of days? Mostly, and sadly, ordinary. At worst, it brought back memories of the bad old days in the late 1990s.

What’s going on? Why is this happening? Much of it has to do with the state’s wine success over the past decade — more wineries, better quality, and increased recognition here and elsewhere as part of the local wine movement. There are more wineries making better wine than ever before, using the grapes best-suited for the state’s terroir, and it’s easier to buy quality Texas wine than it has ever been — even grocery stores sell it.

But that success has led to other, less welcome, developments: First, people getting into the wine business not because they particularly care about wine, but because it’s a successful business and they don’t understand that wine is more than a business. Second, as the Texas wine business has changed, not everyone has changed with it, and many of those people are bitter and angry about the changes.

U.S. Hwy. 290 in the Hill Country had a couple of wineries when I started writing about Texas wine some 20 years ago. There are more than a dozen today, and applications for almost two dozen more. Ignoring for the moment whether there is enough business to support that many, we can’t ignore that there aren’t enough grapes. As Houston wine writer Ron Saikowski pointed out during the seminar at Boot Ranch, there are about 8,000 acres of grapes in Texas. We need 40,000 acres to meet the demand, which means we use all the grapes grown here, regardless of quality, and make up the difference with imports, mostly from California and Washington state, and also of varying quality. The irony? As Texas wine becomes more successful, and we get more wineries, the grape shortage becomes more acute.

Which is not to say there isn’t good news. The new vintage of Becker’s Provencal rose ($17, sample, 12%) may be the best ever, and it’s usually one of the best roses in the state (and which says something about how professional wineries can make quality wine). Consumers are more knowledgeable, and so are the people who follow Texas wine. The writers on the panel — Saikowski, John Griffin of SavorSA, and Austin’s Matt McGinnis — know their stuff, and are more than capable of tracking the changes in the business and holding producers accountable. And they’re far from the only ones, also much different from the early days when there were just a couple of us.

Because, frankly, this version of Texas wine has worn me out, and it’s why I’m not judging the Lone Star competition this year. I’ve done it every year but one since they invited me 10 years ago, but I don’t see the point this time. Too many Texas producers don’t want honest criticism; they want gold medals and parades in the street, because they know how much better they are than everyone else. That’s not the way I do business, and anyone who is honest with themselves shouldn’t, either.

 

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