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Wine Cellar Management: Why It’s Not Worth It

Vinted on December 15, 2008 binned in commentary

Well, not worth it to me, anyway.

But before we get into the concept of wine cellar management and its possible relative worth to you, we need to talk about the related but different topics of Wine Storage and Tasting Notes.

These are not the same things as managing your wine cellar.

Wine Storage: K.I.S.S. (Keep is Simple, Suckah!)

Most of us aren’t planning on aging classified growth Bordeaux for 15 to 20 years. We’ve got wine that we plan on drinking in the next week, month, or year or two. This doesn’t require a long, drawn-out treatise and list of rules for storing all of those new bottles of vino you’ll hopefully be getting as holiday gifts.

Just follow a few simple tenants and you (and your wine) should be golden:

  • Minimize exposure to light, heat, and vibration (get the wine off the top of the fridge, STAT!), and don’t store the wine in direct sunlight.
  • Try to find the place in your home that has the least year-round temperature variation (you want the temperature to increase/decrease gradually, not spike up or down).
  • Avoid areas that are too cold (under 50 degrees F) or too hot (over 70 F).
  • Go for an area that allows you to store the wine on its side to keep the cork moist.

Tasting Notes: You need to take then. Yes, even you.

  • If you want to up your Wine IQ, you have to take tasting notes. Tasting notes are essential to help you understand what you like (and, just as importantly, what you don’t like) in wine.
  • You can make this as complex or as simple as you like, but I’d advise starting easy – easy as in Pen & Paper version 1.0. A small and portable notebook and a trusty pen are all you really need for this to get started.

As your budding wine collection grows, you will be tempted by all manner of progressively more sophisticated and complex offerings for both your wine storage and your tasting notes. Now we get into the strange and expensive world of Wine Cellar Management…

I don’t manage my wine cellar. In fact, it could be argued that my cellar manages me sometimes. OK, most of the time. Anyway, here are the reasons why I don’t actively manage my wine cellar:

  1. I’m cheap.

    Hey, the economy is in the crapper – who’s got massive spare change set aside for an annexed basement room with mahogany wine racks, custom humidity controls, and designer lighting? Not me, baby. Custom wine cellars are massively expensive, and you probably don’t need one anyway.

    My cellar has cheap IKEA wine racks to hold the bottles that aren’t still in their shipping boxes. In fact, one of my racks is leaning precariously ever more to the right, and I’ve yet to fix it. Wine cellar management solutions are also getting more and more expensive, especially the software versions – this is in part because in order for these to be useful, they need to pull from large databases of wine entries.

    The point here is to ask yourself this: Do you spend any real quality time in the area where you store your wine? I don’t – so I’d much rather put my money into the wine itself, not into its storage or management.

  2. Many collectors and experts don’t manage their cellars, either.

    I offer by way of example RUSH front man Geddy Lee, who not only plays kick-ass bass and is still writing rocking tunes well into his 50s, but also has a massive underground cellar (he’s partial to Burgundy and cru Beaujolais), housing thousands of wine bottles in his Toronto home. What method does Geddy, as an avid collector, use to track his wine?

    His brain.

If you feel compelled to track your wine purchases and tasting notes using some sort of managed system, I recommend going for one of the free solutions available on the web. This approach has the benefit of keeping a history of you wine adventures, and allows you to interact with dozens or even hundreds of other wine lovers who might be trying some of the same wines as you.

  • If you get your wine from many sources, then it’s hard to beat CellarTracker.com- it’s free, and has over 65 thousand users who have logged nearly 11 million bottles of wine.

  • If you source your wine primarily from one of the many great on-line wine clubs (check out the sidebar on the right for links to a few of these), then I’d recommend using their websites to track your tastings and stored wine bottles. Most of the on-line wine club websites have this option, along with social-networking features to let you share your tasting notes and comments with other club members.

I wish you many hassle-free hours of not really managing your cellar, but better managing and increasing your enjoyment of wine. And, of course, many more KISS and RUSH references!

Cheers!
(images: epicurious.blogs.com, kissonline.com, musicintheabstract.org)


Holiday Hangover Cures: What Works… and What Doesn’t!

Vinted on December 12, 2008 binned in best of, commentary, holidays
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Save a Prayer for The Morning After on 12seconds.tv
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It’s that time of year again.

The time of year when websites far & wide gather together in solidarity to take part in the time-honored tradition of posting Holiday Hangover cures.

And not a moment too soon.

If you’re like me, the stress of the holidays, combined with the outpouring of good emotion when getting together with loved ones and friends during the season, invariably leads to some drinking.

Rather than contribute to the cornucopia of hangover advice that will inundate your throbbing skulls this holiday season, I thought that I’d run through some examples of the sage advice and let you know what works – and what doesn’t work – for the Dude’s hangovers. This is based solely on my own experience, and is not intended as a warranty of any kind, expressed or implied. Your mileage, as they say, my vary…

Let us take a list from the self-help site Lifehackery.com, from their post 9 Ways to Deal With a Hangover. For the purpose of making my post more humorous, I’ve combined and condensed the list into 7 methods, and added my own two to start. So we’re back to nine hangover-related items, just not the same nine as on Lifehackery.com though all nine from Lifehackery.com are actually included. Got it? No? Crap. Oh well, let’s get started anyway.

9 Methods for Dealing with a Hangover – What Works, and What FAILS

  1. Abstinence

    I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but there is really and truly only one surefire way to prevent a hangover, and that is to Abstain from drinking alcohol, or at least to drink in moderation. If you’re like me, this may start out as a well-intentioned option during the holidays, but the road to Hangover Hell is paved with the puke of the well-intentioned holiday party-goer…

    Dude’s experience: RECOMMENDED (but unlikely).

  2. Hydration

    Most hangover symptoms are caused by dehydration. So, logically, drinking oodles of water to hydrate yourself when drinking alcohol will, in theory, help to prevent your hangover. This is really only effective when combined with a) relatively moderate consumption (of the booze, not the water) and b) maintaining adequate mental capacity to remember to drink oodles of water while you’re drinking your oodles of wine. Whoops!

    Dude’s experience: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

  3. Sports Drinks & Fruit

    Fast-forward to the dreaded morning after your revelry. The theory behind these suggestions is that they a) help to hydrate you more quickly than water alone, and b) contain Vitamin C, both of which may help to decrease the length and amplitude of your hangover pain curve.

    The problem is that they also typically contain a relatively high acidic content – good luck keeping that down when you’re nursing a fragile hangover stomach.

    Dude’s experience: NOT RECOMMENDED

  4. Sleep/Puke

    Sure, sleep will help, and it has the added benefit of delaying a possible awkward meetup with the person that hooked up with the previous evening. You’re just not likely to get enough of it. Personally, I find it very, very difficult to sleep once the alcohol starts to leave my system (note: additional alcohol intake to promote further sleep is NOT recommended here).

    You might feel better when you yak, but when I toss the cookies, it lays me out and I’m useless for the next 30 hours or so. Not everyone feels better when they puke – some people actually feel worse.

    Dude’s experience: USE CAUTION

  5. Swim / Cold Shower Hmm… uhmmm…. riiiiight. I suppose that hypothermic shock would make you forget about your hangover for awhile. This so-called advice feels more like the prank of sick and twisted miscreant. Bottom line is that if someone recommended this “remedy” to me, and I was insane enough to actually try it, once I recovered I would hunt that person down and kick the living crap out of them.

    Dude’s experience: NFW. EPIC, EPIC FAIL!

  6. Sweat / Urinate

    People, this works. First, you need to ensure that you get water into your lame hungover self pronto after waking up. More water will help you flush out the nasty stuff in your system (like ethanol!) that is fueling your hangover. Additionally, moderate exercise (don’t overdo it there, Hercules!) can help get you moving, get your blood flowing, and get your sweat carrying off some of that nasty stuff as well. Just don’t forget the water!

    Dude’s experience: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

  7. Hot & Spicy Food

    You need to be careful with this one, but I’ve found that it does, indeed, help to mitigate the effects of a hangover. Hot food – in terms of temperature and spice, will promote sweating, which will help to flush out your system. Go for a hot & spicy soup for bonus points, since that combo will also help to rehydrate you.

    Dude’s experience: RECOMMENDED (just not first thing the monring!)

  8. Baking Soda

    Apparently, mixing Baking Soda with water and drinking it is purported to help ease a hangover. I’ve got no idea if the science behind this is sound – or even if there is any science behind it. I just know that baking soda seems like something I would NOT want to be tasting when I’m nauseous.

    Dude’s experience: UNTESTED (but NOT recommended)

  9. Magnesium

    Magnesium is a migraine treatment, and therefore consuming foods high in magnesium might help to mitigate your hangover headache (assuming you’re not too nauseous to eat, that is). Veggies, nuts, and some teas are good sources. I haven’t tried this one myself, but I like veggies, nuts, and tea so I’m going to go ahead and recommend it – at least it’s good for your diet if not your hangover!

    Dude’s experience: RECOMMENDED

Here’s wishing you a happy (and hangover free) holiday time!

Cheers!
(images: 1WineDude.com, joemonster.org, sororitysecrets.com)

Ditch Your Wine Tasting "Training Wheels" (The Trouble With Wine Ratings, Part 3)

Vinted on November 19, 2008 binned in commentary, wine review

“Scores are like your training wheels – hopefully you take them off at some point.” – Joel Peterson

I’ve never been a big fan of wine ratings or wine scoring systems. Mostly because I don’t know anyone who speaks in ratings. Even sports fans (who, justifiably, love numbers, rankings, and comparisons) don’t really speak in ratings.

Man, the Steelers offensive line was totally an 87 in last night’s game…

Preposterous.

I also find it odd that wine rating talk generates so much passion when it is discussed. As cases in point, I offer two recent examples:

  1. Wine Enthusiast editor Steve Heimoff’s critique of Mutineer magazine’s critique of wine ratings (and Mutineer editor Alan Kropf’s response).
  2. A thread on the excellent wine social networking website OpenWineConsortium.org, titled “What are the faults with the 100 point [wine rating] system” which, as of this writing, has eleven pages of responses.

I shudder to think of the cross-talk that might ensue on the web in response to the granddaddy of wine rating lists, Wine Spectators’ Top 10 Wines of the year (only five of which I’ve actually sampled…).

Me, I’ve changed my tune slightly on wine ratings since I wrote two articles about the trouble with wine ratings (Part 1 and Part 2). That’s because I’ve come to realize something very important when it comes to wine ratings…

There is no trouble with wine ratings.

Think about it – there is no harm at all in rating a wine. In fact, wine ratings have played an integral part in wine criticism, which itself has played an integral part in furthering wine into the incredibly exciting state that it’s in today. There are over 7,000 wine brands available to U.S. wine consumers – somebody has to help consumers make sense of it all. As former wine writer and Ravenswood founder Joel Peterson told me recently over lunch (much more to come on that, by the way, in an upcoming post): “If we didn’t have wine critics, we’d have to invent them!”

The trouble comes in how the ratings are used.

A rating system makes an assumption that there is an absolute,” said Joel. “We know that there are no absolutes. It’s a more measure of like than of absolute quality.”

To back up his observation, Joel told me a story about a tasting experiment that he performed with a group of experienced wine tasters: he took all of the Zinfandels that he could find that scored 90+ points in the big wine mags, and had them taste the wines blind. The result: all of the wines scored between 85 and 96 points.

Joel then took all of the 90+ scoring wines from that tasting and had them taste those wines again at a later time. The result: the wines scored between 85 and 96 points!

Scoring is relative, and it’s naturally tailored to the taster’s palate. The trouble is, people put too much faith in scores without reading the fine print.

Joel’s take: “Robert Parker was really the change-over point. A wine critic can make make or break a wine in the same way that a music critic can make or break a live music performance. Scores are like your training wheels – hopefully you take them off at some point.”

Would you ride down the street proudly on your shiny Schwinn bicycle with banana seat, handlebar horn, and red sparkle paint job with training wheels still attached? All the while bragging to your friends about how you only ride bikes with training wheels on them?

Well, that’s pretty much what you’re doing if you decide to only buy wines from the Wine Spectator top 100 list, or if you insist that a sommelier only show you wines rating 94 points or above when dining at a restaurant.

Where you goin’, training-wheel boy??

Far better, I think, to discover your own palate.

And then ditch those training wheels.

Cheers!
(images: allposters.com, ehow.com)

Some thoughts on Californian Wine (from Across the Pond – Guest Post)

Vinted on October 29, 2008 binned in California wine, commentary, guest posts


Following is a guest post from Andrew Barrow, the brains behind the venerable (and excellent) wine & food site Spittoon.biz in the U.K. While we North American wine bloggers were toiling (aka drinking) away and working hard this week at the first NA Wine Bloggers Conference in Sonoma, I asked Andrew to provide a different perspective on the California wine scene than what we typically experience (good or bad) here in NA. Check out Andrew’s thoughts bellow – it’s a much different, and enlightening, scene than you might be used to here in NA – and check out his excellent writing (and superb photography) at Spittoon.biz. Cheers!

As I write I’m sipping a glass of Californian red – a Robert Mondavi Woodbridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 to be precise…

It’s fairly typical of the type of Californian wine readily available in the UK. Following the 1WineDude’s request for some foreign thoughts on Californian wine, the Woodbrige is ‘research’. A day or so ago, more research, with a bottle of Zinfandel – the only interesting Californian red available in the UK’s largest high street chain of off-licences.

Both wines display a certain richness, demonstrate varietal characters and are both very drinkable on their own.

“I look at many blogs – most are American – they talk of making hit wines, of boutique vineyards, limited edition bottlings and so on – names that get the writer (and their readers) excited and lustful. The same names mean nothing to me. The wine just do not make it across to the UK.”

I don’t know what the sales figures are on these wines but they will certainly be eclipsed by the likes of Gallo White Zinfandel, Chenin Blanc etc. There is no escaping these critic-derided wines. They sell at basic prices by the case load. The vast majority of Gallo drinkers wouldn’t know and wouldn’t care where they come from. How ever much we deride them, they are the bedrock of California wine in the UK – both in terms of style and in sales. Drinkers of these are highly unlikely to trade up to the Mondavi or the Zinfandel.

I look at many blogs – most are American – they talk of making hit wines, of boutique vineyards, limited edition bottlings and so on – names that get the writer (and their readers) excited and lustful. The same names mean nothing to me. The wine just do not make it across to the UK.

We are blessed with a multitude of specialist wine merchants in the UK – many are holding their own against the supermarkets and the high street chains. Only a couple though offer a decent range from California. And don’t even begin to look for Arizona or Long Island, although a smattering of wines from Oregon and Washington have found their way to these little islands. But those specialists are offering the wines at eye-wateringly high prices. You have to ask why would anyone bother – the range of wines readily available from across Europe, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa often provide much better value for money [in the U.K.].

“[The CA wines available in the U.K. lack] texture and perhaps a little complexity that similarly priced wines from say the South of France or Italy, so readily available here, provide in spades.

With my evening meal I switched to the Mondavi Woodbridge Chardonnay 2006. This retails at about £7.50 [roughly $12 USD]; the average price of a bottle of wine is half this. The wine is lightly oaked, again highly drinkable but lacks texture and perhaps a little complexity that similarly priced wines from say the South of France or Italy, so readily available here, provide in spades.

And that about sums it up really – you CAN get various Californian wines in the UK but they come at a price that doesn’t often stack up well against similar wines from elsewhere. And those Gallo wines, at the cheap end of the scale, must be enjoyed by someone. You can’t really be saying they are brought solely on price can you?

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