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Tag Archives: wine rants

“Our panel of experts:” Irony and non-winery wine clubs

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wine club expertsThird-party wine clubs — those that aren’t part of wineries — have always made the Wine Curmudgeon smile. How about the the website that rates wine clubs, and that also rates the wine clubs that the site operates? Or the wine club that offers “first-class” cabernet sauvignon from Spain, a concept that makes as much sense as coming here to find cult wine recommendations from Napa Valley.

Typically, most third-party wine clubs don’t tell you the wines you’re going to get or how they pick the wines you’re going to get. They trade on the group’s name, but are otherwise separate; hence a  newspaper wine club is a marketing tool that has nothing to do with the newspaper’s wine reporting. Mostly, there’s flowery language — “small-batch wines of real flair and value,” which means absolutely nothing when you try to parse it — and lots of promises about how good the wines are. Plus tasting notes, because all wine needs tasting notes, doesn’t it?

Which makes me wonder: Most of us wouldn’t buy shoes this way, sight unseen and trusting to someone else’s judgement. So why would we buy wine this way?

My newest smile is Global Wine Company, which runs the New York Times and Washington Post wine clubs plus those for retailer Williams-Sonoma, More and Food & Wine magazines, and celebrity chef Michael Mina. Check out the people who run the company — accountants and bankers, and a woman who helped make the PowerBar famous. There is no mention of the “panel of experts” who pick the wines, and about the only wine-related information I could find was this: “GWC handles all global wine sourcing, state compliance, and customer fulfillment, which enable partners to expand their brands into wine and drive recurring revenue.”

Mmmm, drive recurring revenue. How yummy does that sound?

Enough with the wine and food pairings already, because you’re not helping the cause

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wine and food pairings

Since you don’t have any cheese, I assume you don’t have any wine pairings either?

The Wine Curmudgeon’s thoughts about pairing wine and food have evolved significantly over the past decade. I still think pairings are important, but if you don’t like big red wine, what’s the point of telling you to drink big red wine with certain food? All I ask is that you’re open-minded enough to consider pairings and don’t dismiss them as more wine foolishness.

Having said that, it’s not easy for wine drinkers — and even the most experienced among us — to keep an open mind. That’s because the wine business insists on overwhelming us with pairings that are at best impractical and at worst silly. How can we be expected to take pairings seriously when so many suggestions have so little relevance to what we really eat?

For example (all taken from fact sheets and back labels):

 • A $10 Chilean pinot noir with paella. This is not to denigrate the Spanish classic (though I’ve never been able to master it), but to note that most of us will never taste paella. So why would anyone suggest it as a pairing, and especially for an every day wine?

 • A high-end Napa Valley sauvignon blanc with “any fresh well-made cuisine.” Because, of course, the alternative is so appealing: Pairing a wine with any stale, poorly-made cuisine.

 • A $10 Argentine cabernet sauvignon with “of course, our traditional Argentine asado.” I do this for a living, and I had to look up asado (which is lots of beef grilled outdoors over a wood fire). So how is anyone else supposed to know what it is?

The best way to do this? Keep it simple, like Gallo did with its 50th anniversary $7 Hearty Burgundy: chili. Which would work, by the way. Or even, as Rodney Strong does, leave them out, since no suggestions are better than silly ones.

More on wine and food pairings:
The myth of of wine and food pairings
Pairing wine with fast food
Wine and food pairings: Do they matter?

Cash makes a much better bribe than wine

Winebits 321: NeoDry edition

Cash makes a much better bribe than wineThe Wine Curmudgeon, who spent part of his newspaper career writing politics and grew up in Chicago, thought he knew a few things about corruption. How could anyone not learn from Illinois Secretary of State Paul Powell, who died and left $800,000 in cash stuffed in shoe boxes? Or the Mirage Tavern, a sting set up by the Chicago Sun-Times to find out if Chicago’s code inspectors were as crooked as everyone thought? Which, not surprisingly, they were. Or that four of the state’s past seven governors have done time?

As newspaper columnist Mike Royko wrote: “This town was built by great men who demanded that drunkards and harlots be arrested, while charging them rent until the cops came.”

But none of this prepared me for news that politicians and related lifeforms have been caught taking wine in exchange for influence and favors. For one thing, this violates the cardinal rule of bribe taking — don’t leave a paper trail. Cash in an envelope, please, and not wine bottles that can be found by some eager young media type digging through the garbage or a fed poring over a stack of distributor invoices. For another, those Chicago politicians didn’t know wine from water polo. They were shot and beer guys, and it was the real estate developers who gave them the envelopes who drank the wine. And we know about real estate developers.

Nevertheless, an Australian state premier (similar to a governor) was forced to resign after accepting a bottle of Grange, the country’s best wine, worth US$2,800 — after sending the fixer who gave him the bottle a hand-written thank you note. You think Powell ever said thank you, let alone sent a note? Of course not. He just found another shoe box.

A Chinese general, meanwhile, was caught with what the news reports called crates of his country’s Moutai wine (which is closer to a spirit, actually, made with sorghum and not grapes). Given that aged Moutai can go for thousands of dollars a case, the general was no piker, and had also amassed an illicit fortune in real estate. But that didn’t make him Chicago smart — what would the cops think he was doing with all that booze? Shoe boxes, general, shoe boxes. What cop is going to look inside a shoe box?

The lesson here? If you want to bribe someone, use cash. Wine is economically and politically inefficient. How can you be sure someone who takes a payoff in wine is going to stay bought, and not demand a bottle with a higher score? Which is just the kind of thing a politician who wants to be bribed with wine would do.

A tip o’ the Wine Curmudgeon’s fedora to the late Louie Canelakes, a fellow Chicagoan, who was the inspiration for this post.

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