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The Summer of Wine’s Discontent (or "What Wine Can Learn From Beer")

Vinted on September 22, 2008 binned in best of, commentary, learning wine

The wine world probably won’t miss the Summer of `08.

That’s because the Summer of `08 seems like wine’s Season of Discontent.

Personally, I’ve never been so happy to see the Autumn (even taking into account that the Fall is my favorite time of year… colorful leaves… dark beers… heavier wines… and football… sweet, sweet football…).

Anyway, it was last week, with Autumn and football in full swing, when I realized that the wine biz has a lot to learn from its “little” cousin, beer. You know, the one that wine likes to look down on and winsomely tolerate from time to time at family reunions, all the while not seeming to realize that its cousin lives in a bigger house, makes more money, and has more friends. Yes, that cousin. Wine – I’m talking to YOU.

Last week, I had the pleasure of hosting fellow blogger The Beer Wench, touring nearby beer stalwart Victory Brewing Company with her. Dude loves beer (in fact, I used to brew it), and he is tight with Victory: it’s my favorite beer location, and I am friends with Victory’s events coordinator, and Dude’s band is playing Victory’s outdoor Fall Fest celebration this year. So we were able to score a private tour of the beer-making magic for The Beer Wench.

About halfway through said tour (when I was rolling hops in my fingers, forever imprinting it’s aromatic fingerprint into my brain), I realized something very important (to me, anyway): I’ve yet to meet anyone involved in beer – whether it be media, distribution, crafting, or enjoying – who was snobbish to the point of being exclusionary. Nobody. Zippo. Nada. It just doesn’t happen. All seem to be welcome in the land of beer. Sure, they have their favorites, and the occasional “low on taste high on commercial budget” examples that they love to hate (Bud Light, anyone?). But you’re never, ever turned away at the door of fine beer. Never.

The mantra of the beer lovers?

Everyone else is also a potential beer lover – they just don’t know it yet!

I wish that I could say the same held true for the world of fine wine…


The sad truth is that there is snobbery in the wine world, and some parts of the industry might actually bank on that snobbery to make their take-home pay.

Too many budding wine aficionados are scared off by “experts” or turned away by the snobbish who view fine wine as some sort of elitist entitlement, to whom holding wine at arm’s length from newbies is some sort of perverse badge of wine honor. By actively deterring new potential wine lovers, the only thing that the ‘elite’ are doing for fine wine is driving its future of appreciation into the dirt. I’m NOT talking about the Robert Parkers of the world. I’m talking about those who think they’re Robert Parkers, but lack the experience, renown, know-how, clout, and funding, yet somehow feel as though wine ‘belongs’ to them.

This has nothing to do with print wine media. It has to do with individuals (no matter if they’re in the wine industry or not) who are perpetuating a myth that you need to earn your place to love wine. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Wine loves you already. it wants you to be its friend. Wine doesn’t like the snobs, either!

In my view, it would help the wine world if most of those in it took a long, hard look at the world of beer and instead of turning their noses at it, embrace its sense of helpfulness and down to earth charm.

Hey! Wine world! You need to help yourself to a glass of “Get Over Yourself” Ale. Vintage: Now. Region: You.

In general (not just for wine), people are looking more and more to social networking and customized recommendations. Some wine distributors, wine mags, wineries, and a whole lotta bloggers “get” this, and are doing their best to help those consumers, newbies, and enthusiastic learners. And they’re probably enjoying a cold brewski while they’re doing it (and if not, they should, because whether hey realize it or not, they’re taking a cue from the beer industry).

Arguably, there are now more helpful resources to help the wine neophyte than there have at any other time in history. The tide is changing. And it’s coming for the wine world, whether it’s ready or not.

Cheers!
(images: old-photos.blogspot.com, 1WineDude.com)

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An Open Letter to (Busty) California Winemakers

Vinted on September 19, 2008 binned in best of, California wine, commentary

To Whom It May Concern:

I’ve just polished off another 1/2 of a bottle of your tasty, 14.5% abv wines… in fact, I’m pretty sure that even though it said 14.5% on the elegant bottle, it was probably closer to 15.2%. Anyway, I hope you’ll forgive me if I stray off topic or get a little emotional. I’m sure you’ll understand…

I’m a wine lover. And I love California wines – in fact, they’re the first wines that made me stand up and say “WOW! I think I’m in love with wine!” If it wasn’t for CA wines, I would never have started my own personal and fulfilling journey into the wondrous world of wine.

So let’s just establish right now that I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for CA wine. I even love a good fruit bomb every now and then, which I’d argue is one of the fingerprints of CA wine that makes it so unique on the world stage, and capable of being so damn good.

We’ve had a good run, you and me… BUT… things just aren’t what they used to be…


Your wines… they’re just starting to… well, I’ll be honest, they’re starting to seem a little boorish sometimes. And I have to admit, I’ve been finding myself attracted to other wine regions. Southern France, New Zealand, Chile…

I didn’t expect this to happen. I thought we were happy together. But then things started to change. I understand that you need to ‘chase scores sometimes in order to command high bottle prices for your wines. After all, how else can you afford to keep up with those expensive winemaking techniques… I know how difficult it is to upkeep pricey machinery, to hand-sort grapes, and let’s not talk about the extravagant prices of new oak barrels these days!

I appreciate what you’re up against, too; those Old World wine regions have hundreds of years going for them, and they can take a long range view of their wines. You have it tougher – sometimes, if you don’t create a big, busty fruit bomb, you can’t get your name out there quickly enough to be successful – and your competition sure isn’t waiting around.

But it’s all gone overboard now. I mean, do you have to obsess about Robert Parker’s ratings all the time??!? I like the guy, but there are other palate preferences out there. Good ones, too.

I love that you’re busty with all of that alcohol and ripe fruit. It turns me on. But you used to be busty and elegant. Now… well… I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves…

I’m not sure things can ever go back to being how they were.

But I’m willing to try if you are.

So please… for both of us… think twice before you go for that much alcohol. I’m not sure that any unfortified wine has enough fruit, acidity, and tenderness to balance against > 15% abv. Think about that, for you, for me. For us, and what we used to have together…

Love,
-Dude

(images: flikr.com – eduardolive, unknown)

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Self Portrait

Vinted on August 29, 2008 binned in best of


 

 

Back to My Roots: 3 Wine Lessons from a Magnum Opus (WBW #48)


This ultra-exciting edition of Tales of the Purple Monkey has Plumboo and I once again taking part in the Wine Blogging Wednesday blog carnival! Because it’s an anniversary edition of WBW, it’s being hosted this month by cool-guy and WBW founder Lenn Thompson at Lenndevours.

I say “ultra-exciting” edition because Lenn’s theme has Plumboo and I going back to our “wine roots” (read Lenn’s post for more details). Well, back to my wine roots anyway – Plumboo is a plush toy with a plastic squeek for a head, so I’m not sure he’s got any roots worth getting into.

Going back to my roots is ultra-exciting for me, because it gives me a chance to explore why I got into wine in the first place. And it has to do with a wine that everyone loves to hate (oooohhhh… drama!).

I’m talking about that over-the-top, over-priced, and oft-overlooked Oakville stalwart, Opus One.

Go on. Make fun of me.

You know that you want to. You snob!

Love it or hate it, Opus One is the wine that made me serious about vino. Before I get into that, let’s get a little background for those of you unfamiliar with the big O.O. …


Opus One is a joint venture international premium wine venture between Napa legend Robert Mondavi and Bordeaux legend Baron Philippe Rothschild. The aim: produce and ultra-premium Bordeaux style wine, made with the best fruit that Napa had to offer.

This style of international collaborative winemaking is fairly common now, but when founded in the late `70s, Opus One was pioneering stuff. It also made Napa Valley wine more serious – after all, a First Growth was now involved. Oh, MY!

O.O. (located on the main drag in Napa) is a modern temple to high-end winemaking. Touring the O.O. facility literally changed how I look at wine. I’ve spent a lot of time working for major CPG companies, so I’m no stranger to touring manufacturing facilities – and what I saw at O.O. floored me.

Here was a winery that was combining high-quality ingredients (arguably the best fruit that Oakville / Napa has on offer), old school techniques and know-how, ultra-modern equipment, and expensive “by hand” techniques to make a premium product. I could immediately draw parallels to the manufacturing practices of premium chocolate brands like Ethel M.

So why does everyone love to hate this wine?

Well, for one thing, it’s totally over-the-top. There is usually very little that is subtle about this wine. It also takes years to develop, and often comes across as astringent and tough when it’s opened too early. It’s also very expensive – usually $150-$200 per bottle.

Are you paying for the snooty chic factor? You bet. But you’re also paying for the result of really, really expensive production techniques, such as hand-sorting the best fruit for the final blend.

And here’s the thing – you’re also paying for a really, really good wine.

I’ve been drinking through my small cache of 1998 Opus One for a few years now. I picked up a few bottles of the 1998 O.O. because `98 was supposed to be a ‘bad’ year for wine in Napa. Despite that, Opus made a wine that I thought (to the best of my then burgeoning wine geek ability at the time) had some ageing potential. It turns out I was right.

The `98 O.O. is drinking beautifully right now (see my mini reviews here and here). Is it as complex as as First Growth Bordeaux? Not really. But halfway through a glass of that explosive fruit, you won’t give a sh*t about that.

O.O. is oft-maligned because it’s priced like a Bordeaux, so people expect it to act like a Bordeaux.But this is not Old World, sporting a monocle and a tux sophistication, people. It’s California used-to-be-a-hippy and now owns an Internet company, sporting a pony-tail and mock turtleneck sophistication. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

What did Opus One wine teach me?

  1. Not every wine is worth it’s price to everybody.
  2. Never overlook a wine just because it gets bad press – make your own judgments.
  3. Trust your wine instincts (and your own personal palate).

Many years on, these lessons still serve me well, and I pass them on when I teach others about wine. Or to anyone within earshot when I’m tipsy and waxing wine philosophical.

Those lessons are deep-rooted into my wine soul. Just like one of those fabulous Oakville vines…

Cheers!

(images: 1winedude.com, czaplamusic.com)

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