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Why Huge Wine Lists Suck

Vinted on January 26, 2009 binned in best of, commentary, learning wine

With the recent review I penned for WCDish.com, I’ve had restaurant wine lists on the brain lately.

Which means that this post will likely be ill-timed, given the dearth of restaurant-goers in an economy that is wading knee-deep in layoff announcements. Oh well – timing was never one of my strong suits.

Anyway, as a semi-educated wine geek, I fully appreciate that I might approach a restaurant wine list in a slightly different way than the average diner, in that I might have a deeper knowledge of what the foreign word mean, or what the wine is supposed to taste like from region XYZ.

Which is not to say that I think I’m smarter than the average restaurant-goer; quite the contrary, as I can tell you that 90% of them will be able to calculate an appropriate tip faster than I can (I like words – math… not so much). It just means that I’m probably geekier about wine than the average restaurant-goer.

But… at the restaurant table, while I may have more trouble with tip calculation due to my mathematically-challenged brain, my wine list perusal goal is no different than the average restaurant goer’s: find a good bottle of wine at a decent price that will go well with dinner.
Which is why I think that huge-ass restaurant wine lists suck.

Tyler over at Dr. Vino recently posted an article about a Tampa restaurant (Bern’s) that might be of interest to those who will be traveling to Tampa to watch the STEELERS trounce the Cardinals in Superbowl XLIII. Bern’s boasts 6,800 selections and more than 500,000 bottles. I don’t even want to see that wine list.

For me, dozens of pages detailing hundreds of choices of wine amounts to two things:

  1. A brief curiosity as I look up something geeky say softly, to no one in particular, “Wow. They have a bottle of 1925 Chateau Légendaire Maison Pompeux that costs more than my car…” (this might have appeal to boring wine snobs, but if that’s your clientelle then I am probably not coming back to your restaurant anytme soon)…
  2. …that quickly becomes a big distraction. If I am at a dinner with a group of like-minded wine geeks, then by all means bring on the wine cellar curiosities. Chances are that I’m not, however, and a huge wine list distracts from the dinner conversation and enjoyment that I should be having while I try to reason with the weighty tome of vino choices.

And the wine geeks out there will appreciate that it’s always you that has to pick the wine – and the larger the wine list, the faster it will get tossed your way by the other dinner guests.

Here’s an example:

A few years ago Mrs. Dudette and I took a trip to Vegas (baby, Vegas) and caught up with some old college friends of mine. We decided to grab dinner at Aureole, the restaurant with over 800 bottles of wine, which are stored in a glass tower and retrieved by babes on hoists.

The wine list is a tablet PC with a touch screen, with which you can browse and search the wine offerings. Sounds like a time saver, but it turned into exactly the same type of curiosity / distraction. While trying to settle on one of the 800+ bottles, I spent too much time looking at the bottles of 1925 Chateau Légendaire Maison Pompeux* that cost more than my car, and not enough time enjoying the conversation with my friends.

And after all, what’s better – oohing and ahhing over a list of stuff you can’t afford to drink, or drinking something good and sharing it with friends?

In my book, there’s no contest.

Kind of like there’s no contest in the upcoming Superbowl…

Go STEELERS!
(images: picasa/chung, m-kerho.net)

* – Not a real producer. At least, not that I’m aware of, anyway…

The State of Wine in America (or "A terrible amount of luxury and unease")

Vinted on January 21, 2009 binned in commentary

Frequent 1WineDude.com readers, as well as anyone who has conversed even momentarily with me on twitter, will know that I’m a Pittsburgh Steelers fan.

Fans of the Dallas Cowboys, New England Patriots, and Baltimore Ravens may want to skip this post entirely, with all speed and probably extreme prejudice.

Are they gone? Good, let’s get started!

Okay, I want to talk to you about the current state of wine in the modern world. I figured that I could work the U.S. presidential inauguration of our 44th President, the Steelers entrance into Super Bowl XLIII, and, of course, Wine. And tie it all together.

C’mon, it’ll be fun. I hope…

Anyway, it’s natural that, as we in the good ol’ U.S. of A. celebrate the (long overdue) 44th consecutive peaceful transition of executive power from one affluent male to another affluent male, that we consider the ‘state of things’ – not just of the country, but for anything that we hold dear.

Like wine, for example!

Ok, so that transition was a little abrupt…

…and speaking of abrupt transitions and startling segues…

Being a Steelers fan, I’m finding the state of American Football particularly rewarding at the moment. So it’s surprising (to me, at least) that I was able to control my blinding exuberance to notice a reference to Alice Munro in a recent, eloquently written Post-Gazette article by Gene Collier. Collier’s article describes the unique and conflicting emotions that engulf the Steelers faithful when they host the AFC Championship game at home – a game that, until this past Sunday, they showed an ability to lose like no other team (emphasis added by me):

…modern Championship Sundays in Pittsburgh deliver a seismic coupling of pride and wariness, something realist short story master Alice Munro might call “a terrible amount of luxury and unease.”

So, to recap.: that’s 44th Presidential innaguration to The Steelers to The AFC Championship to the Post-Gazette to Alice Munro. All caught up? Good. “A terrible amount of luxury and unease” – a beautiful phrase, and one that uniquely captures my feelings about the current state of wine, at least in America.

To be a wine enthusiast in the U.S. is to be someone that lives with the joy of having thousands of wine brands sold in a market that continually drives up quality at all levels, while simultaneously not being able to enjoy those wines depending on what state you live in.

It makes me so terribly uneasy that I’m ending sentences with prepositions!

On one hand, the quality and selection of American wine has never been better. There has never been a time quite like this in the history of America, when it comes to Presidents, and when it comes to wine. In terms of quality and selection, this stage of American wine development trumps all others in history.

On the other hand, the unfairness, dishonesty, and bile of the state wine distribution monopolies has never been greater. To protect the revenue streams afforded to them via their monopoly position on the distribution of alcohol, many states are screwing the wine consumer – high prices, limited selection, curtailing your rights, and handicapping the free market (which screws other distributors, wineries, and you).


So, to bring us all up to speed here: that’s 44th Presidential inauguration to The Steelers to The AFC Championship to the Post-Gazette to Alice Munro to the State of the American wine market to unconstitutional wine shipping laws.

Anyway…

How does the future look to me?

If you’re talking U.S. executive world relations, or American Football, the future looks pretty damn good. In the words of Steelers coach Mike Tomlin: “Barack is selling hope. And I’m buying.

If you’re talking the future for the American wine consumer, the jury is still out.

Cheers!
(images: amazon.com)

Wine and Health (or "Here We Go Again")

Vinted on January 19, 2009 binned in commentary, wine health, wine news

Here we go again.

The topic of wine & health is no stranger to the (virtual) pages of 1WineDude.com. Basically, I like to keep on the topic, mostly because it provides such great fodder for ridicule.

Ok, that’s harsh. Let’s not call it ridicule. Let’s call it poking fun. That sounds better, doesn’t it? Ok, now that we have that cleared up…

According to ScienceDaily.com, a recent announcement by a joint team from Oxford and Norway – at least, I think it’s joint Oxford / Norway team; it’s listed in the article as “The team from Oxford’s Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics and Norway”, which I assume is a joint effort as it would be strange to have a Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics and Norway (nothing against Norway, of course; after all, they brought us the… uhm…. err… let me get back to you on that…) – dang… lost my train of thought there…

Oh, yeah, I remember now – The joint team (as in, the collaboration between Oxford and Norway, not a team researching ganja) announced study findings that showed that chocolate, tea, and, of course, wine enhance cognitive performance.

Now, before you go out and get amped up on Starbuck’s, blitzed on your favorite vino and buy stock in Ethel’s chocolate, you need to know a few things.

First, the study is based on data from about 2,000 participants in their 70s. You might not be in this demographic.

Secondly, while the team suspects that polyphenols (in the form of flavonoids) are the source of the enhanced cognitive ability for the mature audience in the study, the researchers caution that “more research would be needed to prove that it was flavonoids, rather than some other aspect of the foods studied, that made the difference.” In other words, the negative health impacts of imbibing too much caffiene, alcohol, and sugar/fat probably far outweigh the benefits of the flavonoids; moderate consumption, as always, is best.

Finally, Ethel’s is privately owned – so you won’t be buying any stock (sorry).

Cheers!
(images: creativelydifferentblinds.com)

Looking Back on 2008: Days of Wine and (Sometimes Dead Black) Roses

Vinted on January 5, 2009 binned in commentary

As we begin 2009, and start the time-honored tradition of incorrectly dating the first few bank checks of the new year, I find that I sense a bit of a rant coming on.

And this coming just after I wrote about relying on gratitude and attention (a.k.a. mindfulness) to help you truly appreciate wine as an expression of art (both the wine itself, and your enjoyment of it, for what is a wine without someone to enjoy it but so much unfulfilled artistic potential?).

Shame on me.

But it will end with love. I promise.

I think there is another component to enjoying wine that needs to be added to those I outlined in the post linked above, and that component is Gumption.

You will need grit, spunk, guts, and determination to get past the detractors, nay-sayers, and general sourpusses that you may encounter along the way on your journey to wine appreciation. Don’t kid yourself – they are out there, and they must have some stake in keeping the average Dude and Dudette from appreciating fine wine, because they take any and every opportunity they can to screw it up for you. They do this either by telling you that your opinion doesn’t count, is naively misguided, or isn’t worth a hill ‘o beans because it doesn’t conform to some arbitrary standards that they have set forth themsleves.

You really need to ignore these people. They are like an illness that infects your wine appreciation, and if left to fester can kill it outright. The kicker is that the world of wine is so full of wonderful, generous, and pleasurable people that it would be a shame to let a few bad apples spoil the bunch, as they say.

I mention this because I lived through it in 2008. Well over six months later, so-called pundits are still talking about the Rockaway non-incident (more on this – both background and aftermath – can be heard on WineBizRadio.com). The only thing I can offer at this point is this:

For those of us who are wine writers (and I include any serious wine bloggers in that company), we need to remember something – We write about wine. It’s not that important, and neither are we.

No, really. I’m serious.

It’s just wine, people - it is NOT saving someone from a burning building, curing a wasting disease, or landing a crippled airplane. We so need to get over ourselves…

Why on earth am I drumming this topic up again? It’s just to show that whenever you put yourself out there, take a risk, or try something new, you will run the risk of people (usually the ones who haven’t done anything themselves) putting you down.

The wine world is no exception. Happily, for every detractor in the wine world, there are at least 10 great people who will help you, share their knowledge with you, and cheer you on.

How do I know this?

I’ve spent the better part of 2008 trying to expand as much as possible my knowledge of wine, be it through winery visits, reviews and sampling of fine wines, seeking wine certifications, or just hanging out with great writers, contacts who have become real friends, or talking to movers & shakers in the wine world. In a word, it’s been amazing.

So many great things have happened for me since I opened up my own personal world to the world of wine that it would be literally impossible for me to recap them in one blog post. My world is exponentially larger and more full of joy for having hit the wine road with almost reckless abandon. You don’t need to bring a thing with you on this journey – plenty of people are willing and waiting to help you along your way.

I simply cannot imagine my life without my wife, my daughter, my music, and now my contacts in the world of wine. If that’s not a testament to all of the wonderful people out there working in wine today, then I don’t know what is.

And for that, I will always be deeply grateful for 2008 – warts and all!

Cheers!
(images: sunsetgun.typepad.com, dailyphotobutcherfortheworld.blogspot.com, polyvore.com)

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