Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Prognostications old, prognostications new... (A look back at 2013 and a peak at 2014)

A little over a year ago, I wrote an article outlining my five predictions for 2013. Today, I want to briefly examine those statements and make a few new guesses for 2014.

My first prediction came on the heels of Robert Parker, Jr. taking on foreign investors and yielding editorial control of the Wine Advocate to Lisa Perrotti-Brown, MW. Going against popular belief at the time, I said that the Wine Advocate would expand and increase its popularity. Well, I didn't quite nail this, but the publication did not shrivel up and die like many other people thought it would. Many wine aficionados still wait with anticipation for the release of each issue. Wine prices still jump when Parker (or his other reviewers) throw high numbers at already expensive wines. I still think Robert Parker and his henchmen will remain pertinent (but not dominant) in the American wine industry, but will look to expand to Asian markets as they rapidly grow.

My first prediction may have been a push, my second prediction was both spot on and a bust. I thought that regional wine, and especially Colorado, would see more coverage in the major publications (Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator). Wine Advocate maintained the status quo on ignoring wine from the other 47 states despite having a reviewer living in Colorado (Jeb Dunnuck) who is eager and willing to taste and review Colorado wine. Dunnuck had personally told me that he wanted to get CO reviews into the Wine Advocate, but "the powers that be" have squashed that idea.

The Wine Spectator actually took a step forward before jumping three steps back. In 2013 alone (prior to a policy change), Wine Spectator reviewed more than 115 Colorado wines, doubling the number of Colorado wines reviewed by the magazine the previous 20 years combined! Moreover, both James Moleworth and Harvey Steiman had written relatively positive blog posts about Colorado wine (read more on my take here). But unfortunately, the gains regional wine saw in 2013 looks to have all but evaporated going into 2014. An assistant tasting coordinator at Wine Spectator informed several Colorado wineries that Wine Spectator will "not [be] tasting any wines from Colorado at the moment. Furthermore, we have a new policy which requires all importers and wineries to send the info sheet with samples listed that they would like to submit and then they wait for our approval." For this, they were bestowed Curmudgie by local and cheap wine proponent, Jeff Siegel. Unfortunately, I don't think regional wine will gain much traction with the large wine publications in 2014.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Dr. Harry Oldman has a Surprise Holiday Interview...

Dr. Harry Oldman generously unwraps a spectacular interview for us on this Boxing Day.

Kyle, as an old white man with a beard, I felt that it was only appropriate that I give you and your readers a present this year, but I couldn't quite figure out what would be a good gift. Then it dawned on me! I'm friends with a moderately notorious wine critic and we talk fairly often about wine and life in general. He was kind enough to answer the kind of tough questions no one has ever had the balls to ask him. I felt like Katie Couric! He didn't know that I was going to publish the interview, and I don’t want to name names because I don’t have his permission, so I'll just refer to him as SHhh (as in I'll never tell!). You can guess, but I'll never reveal my source!

HARRY: Hey, buddy! Thanks for agreeing to answer some questions. I know how much you hate answering questions, so this really means a lot to me!

SHhh: No problem, anything for you Harry. I actually love to answer questions, almost as much as asking questions! I write for the consumer, first, foremost and always. So when my readers engage with me, I make it a point to always respond. I learn so much from my readers! Blogs and bulletin boards are supposed to be back-and-forths, right? I mean, we live in this new age of participatory journalism. It is not uncommon for me to comment on other blogs, too!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Drink It In (a review of the wine guide to Western Colorado)

I've been without Internet at CWP World Headquarters for the last 10 or so days, so I haven't been able to update the blog. By now, I'm sure everyone is already finished with their holiday shopping and has no need for a suggestion on another wine book to purchase for the wine lover in your life. Plus, there are lots of other book suggestions by every other wine writer out there (Eric Asimov, W. Blake Gray and Dave McIntyre fun the gamut).

But what the hell, I'm going to offer one recommendation that you will not find on any other list of wine books. I know you'll be shocked to hear that it is a book about Colorado wine. Two other books on the emerging industry have been published in the past two years, but neither of those offer the information, usefulness and aesthetics of the most recent addition. Granted, I haven't thoroughly read or reviewed either of those two, but I have skimmed through them enough to know that they don't intrigue me. Both of the other books were self-published and written by people unfamiliar with the wine industry, and it shows. They are filled with black and white text and not much more. One is nothing more than a colorless brochure; it is just a list of wineries and contact information with space for the reader to take tasting notes. The other seems to offer a bit more depth and information, but the first paged I opened to contained a factual error (claiming that Chateauneuf du Pape is known for its syrahs) and the author (who for some reason uses a pen name) argued with me about the federal labeling requirements for listing an appellation. That doesn't do a lot to convince me that the book is worth my time.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Kind of a big deal... (Colorado wins fifth Jefferson Cup)

For the fifth year in a row, a Colorado wine earned a Jefferson Cup. The Jefferson Cup Invitational competition honors the best of the best among wineries from all of America’s wine regions. Each year Doug Frost, one of only four people on the planet to hold both the Master Sommelier and Master of Wine credentials, invites wines from across America to enter; the 2013 competition included wines from twenty-two states, whereas most other wine competitions are dominated by entries from California. Jefferson Cups were awarded to wines made from both Vitis vinifera grapes (a European species responsible for most famous wines such as Chardonnay and Cabernet) and non-vinifera varieties, which flourish in the more extreme climates in the center portion of the U.S. I am hopeful that the frontenac and vignoles (non-vinifera hybrids) vines in my backyard survive the record cold temperatures we're experiencing along the Front Range of Colorado!

This year, six Colorado wineries earned a total of 20 medals from the fourteenth annual competition. Bookcliff Vineyards took home their third Jefferson Cup for their 2011 Cabernet Franc Reserve and repeated the honor they earned the previous year with their 2010 Ensemble. Bookcliff’s 2012 Petit Verdot was also a Jefferson Cup Nominee. You can read my interview with Bookcliff owner and winemaker John Garlich from two years ago, here. Other Colorado wineries that were invited and garnered awards in 2013 were Anemoi Wines, Boulder Creek Winery, Canyon Wind Cellars, Grande River Vineyards and The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey. Colorado's past Jefferson Cup winning wines include Boulder Creek Winery's VIP Reserve (2010), Bookcliff Vineyard's 2009 Petite Sirah (2010), Canyon Wind Cellar's 2009 Petit Verdot (2011), and Bookcliff Vineyard's 2010 Ensemble (2012).

In total, twenty-five prestigious Jefferson Cups were awarded to seven white wines, ten red wines, one rosé, three sparklers and four dessert wines from eight different states. The competition had representation of the best of what every quality wine producing region in the country is offering right now, including representation from California, Michigan, New York, Oregon, Texas, Virginia and Washington. States that won Jefferson Cups included California, Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, New York and Virginia.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Hooked on a Feelin' ... (1800 words on authenticity and Matthiasson wines)

Authenticity is one of the words buzzing its way around the tiny little realm that we call the wine industry. The term even made its way into a Huffington Post story yesterday about common food terms that have lost all meaning. In our little world, one camp (producers, consumers and writers) clamors for authentic wines, while the other (more producers, consumers and writers) bemoans the abstract idea of a wine's authenticity. The whole argument over "authenticity," as it concerns wine, is really over the definition of what is "authentic."

Well, I'll dip my toes into the water on this subject. Authentic wines are wines of undisputed origin and wines (and producers) worthy of trust. Authentic wines can be made in small quantities by an individual or, albeit more difficult, in an industrial setting by a team of enologists in a lab. Authentic wines can be single-vineyard, single-clone wines or blends of unlikely varieties. To me, the idea of an authentic wine is tied to the relationship between the consumer and the producer. This is where trust in the origin of the wine comes into play. I find it easier to have a connection with people, but as my buddy Joe Roberts so eloquently put it (I'm sensing a Pulitzer...) consumers can have a "relationship with a f*cking bag of candy." Proponents of authentic wines want to feel connected to a wine's origin, whether that be the soil, the grower or the producer. They want to know everything they possibly can about how, and perhaps more importantly why, a wine was created.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Oldman on questions...

Harry Oldman chimes in with his nonsensical babble once more:

As a man with more wine experience than most, I have developed a keen eye for what really matters in this intoxicating industry. I've met more winemakers than I can count and it doesn't matter that I had to repeat Algebra three times in middle school because Arithmetic is the only type of mathematics that matters in wine. 97 points more more than 96 points. Easy as pie. But not that pi. That doesn't mean a 97-pt wine is better than a 96-pt wine, because we all know that comparing wines is like an MMA fight between a kung fu panda and a jujitsu jackass. For one, they both are from different continents. But both are distinctly mammalian. Donkey meat is rubbery and full of ferality. Panda is rare, succulent and full of fresh acidity. It's a question of taste and not fact. Or maybe the other way around. Now where was I?

Monday, November 25, 2013

Giving thanks to local wine

Thanksgiving Day dates back to the early 1600's (most assign the Pilgrims' feast in 1621 as the first, but prior Thanksgiving feast have been recorded) in the United States. The feast that now is the official kick-off of the winter holiday season (or a halftime show for an annoyingly few) actually began as a celebration of the year's harvest. For many Americans it now is an excuse to stuff our faces, watch football and drink wine. So it is almost like every Sunday except we gather with family and have leftovers for a month afterwards.

Many of you reading this have already planned the wines the you will serve with or bring to the feast. Most likely you have chosen or will choose a pinot noir or a riesling, as those are probably the two most suggested wine pairings. The Thanksgiving Day meal is probably one of the most diverse collection of foods to have ever graced millions of tables at the same time. There really isn't one magical wine the goes perfectly with turkey, green beans, potatoes and cranberries. Cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, zinfandel and ribolla gialla would all work equally as well. In fact, almost any wine makes sense at the Thanksgiving Day table. Instead of trying to match the wine with the food, I would like to suggest an alternative (I'm sure many other people are suggesting this as well...).

As the day is meant to give thanks for the successful harvest (originally from local sources...), I suggest that we all attempt to give thanks that all 50 states have local wine industries. The American wine industry is as diverse (and delicious) as ever. We all know that California produces a bounty of wonderful wines year in and year out. So do France, Germany, Italy and Spain. But (for you non-Californians) so do your local producers. Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio and Virginia are leading the pack of the New American wine. Iowa, Louisiana and Wisconsin all make wine, too (and I have tried wine from each of those three!). No matter what state in which you reside, you will be able to find a producer working his or her butt off to try to make a local wine. Seek one out to try with your turkey.

I will have local wine on my table this Thursday. Please do those local farmers a favor and give them thanks by gracing your table with something local. It would mean the world to them, even if it is a once-a-year occasion for every American to recognize that they exist, that they're working hard and that their product means something to you. Let's all give thanks to local wines this year!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Spell the damn grape correctly!

Dear wineries (consumers, retailers, writers I'm not directly talking to you, but pay attention because you make the same error), please don't rely on spell check. Spell check only works when a word is misspelled and not when the wrong word is used. Please proofread everything that you write for customers and the media alike. I know my writing is not always perfect, but I try to make sure it is as close as can be. Spelling and grammar errors annoy me because spelling is important. When I used to give map quizzes in my geography classes, students would complain when I marked them wrong for spelling places incorrectly. Colarada is not Colorado. Wineries make all sorts of spelling errors, but one in particular is going to cause my eyes to be permanently stuck in the back of my head!

Petit verdot. The cultivar is petit verdot, not petite verdot. I know, I know, it is easily confused with petite sirah. However, the petit(e)s are not the same. You would embarrassed to put cabaret sauvignon on you tech sheets, even though it might be a very fun place to visit (calling Jean-Charles...).

I see this error all the time. From producers who don't know their franc from their sauvignon to some of the biggest names (and most expensive wines) in the U.S. I don't care if you are a one-(wo)man show or have an entire marketing/PR team behind you, spell the damn grape correctly! You write about the attention you pay in the vineyard and the care you provide the fermenting juice, but when you make this simple spelling error I get the feeling you really don't care or don't get it. I know one little letter isn't a big deal, but that's the difference between Obama and Osama.

An easy way to remember how to spell petit verdot and petite sirah is that they both have two E's. Petit verdot has one in each word and petite sirah has them both in the first. It's as easy as that.

Thank you for your time reading my stupid rant and you can now go back to ignoring me (if you weren't still doing so...).

Monday, November 11, 2013

Dr. Oldman on how he saved Wine Spectator

Last month's guest post from Harry Oldman was such a success I've invited him back to share some more thoughts. He thought that with this week's countdown of the Wine Spectator's Top 100 wines of 2013 it would be appropriate to share with us the story of how he saved the publication.

It has been an exhilarating journey to watch the growth of wine criticism in the USofA. I have written about wine for various publications since the mid-1970s; you'll often find my tasting reports and "bully pulpit" editorial comments about wine on the online forums. But back in the day when I wrote on real paper, I was friends with Bob Morrisey (yup, I followed Wine Spectator from the very start). Bob was trying to figure out how make Americans care about wine and how to get them to pay him for caring. He found a young writer with the nose of a cherub and a deft palate. He was in negotiations with this gentleman to start a nationwide retail outlet to be called on  Laube's Hobby Shop. The store was based on the idea of selling wine paraphernalia with strong values, and honoring Bacchus in a manner consistent with capitalistic principles.

Friday, November 1, 2013


After reading Dr. Oldman's guest post a few weeks ago, another friend of mine wrote me and demanded to contribute to the blog, too. I had to ask her to remind me who she was again, and then it hit me. Her name is Remi Burmí. How could I forget her, with her bright red, Buddy Holly glasses and Converse low tops. She's a few years older than I. She's a self-taught wine expert whose dad was an award-winning science fiction author (I think his last novel even won gold at the California State Fair). Her mom was a sex therapist from Mendocino. She writes a biennial wine column for Examiner.com (or at least that's what she claims). Her writing makes me think of Eric Asimov and Jon Bonné co-publishing an online magazine using a nom de guerre.

Any way, she said that with all the Baby Boomers and Millennials writing past each other in the wine blogosphere she felt like she was part of a forgotten generation. She said, for some reason, that my blog was the hispster-est place to speak out for these forgotten beer wine consumers. Oh, and to even make it more hipster, she wanted the post to go live after 5:00 EDT on a Friday because no one will read it over the weekend and people will still be talking about the non-cabernet Parker perfect wine and the imminent wine shortage. Oh and it's a poem... (Oh Lorde, save yourself and just stop reading right now!)

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Throwing up a roadblock for certain cars... (Why Wine Spectator's change in policy is bad for the industry)

The Wine Spectator has never been a big proponent of regional American wines. This is not news. In the past few years, New York wines started to get more coverage, but that was due more to the hard work of the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance and its former executive director Morgen McLaughlin than an inherit interest from the Wine Spectator. The occasion review of wines from Arizona, Colorado or Virginia would appear at times in the past few years as well. But for the most part, coverage of wine from the other 46 states was virtually non-existent.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Sommelier Journal suspends publication

The world of writing has lost one of the best outlets for current, interesting and useful information pertaining to wine. Minutes ago, Sommelier Journal announced that it has "suspended publication." Perhaps the magazine is not completely dead as David Vogels, former editor and publisher of Sommelier Journal, said in the letter sent to its contributors (which includes yours truly), that his team is "currently negotiating with a group that hopes to purchase the title and resume publishing the magazine at some point within the next year." Subscribers will have the remainder of their subscriptions fulfilled by Wine & Spirits Magazine.

I contributed four articles (see other articles) and had several more scheduled for 2014, so this news comes as a shock and a disappointment to me personally. Though the magazine's intended audience was industry professionals, I thought many of the stories and profiles were great for general consumers and knowledgeable enthusiasts. Sommelier Journal wasn't beholden to advertisers (perhaps why it struggled economically) and that showed with its diverse stories on all things wine, spirits and beer. No region or wine was too small, unknown or unheralded to warrant attention. I think that openness is what made Sommelier Journal one of the better wine publications for learning something new rather than hearing the same thing repeated annually.

I can only hope that it is sold and rebooted, and I think the industry will be a better place if that were to happen. I can only speculate that Wine & Spirits is involved (based on the fact that they are honoring remaining SJ subscriptions and that Vogels recommends contacting Josh Greene at Wine & Spirits or Neil Beckett at The World of Fine Wine for pitching stories that were promised to SJ), but do not know for sure. If they are, it would be interesting to see how Sommelier Journal would fit into a roster of wine publications a la M. Shanken Publications. Again, that is only speculation.

The main matter of concern with the loss of Sommelier Journal is that it decreases the number of voices. One of the best parts of the wine writing world today is the shear number of diverse opinions, voices and opportunities for spreading information. Fewer paying, print publications is a bad thing for writers and readers. Sommelier Journal recently tried to take the leap digitally and expand services online, but apparently the the lack of advertisers and the small subscription base was not large enough to support the operation. Perhaps this was the reason that Wine Advocate (which did not accept paid advertisements) took on investors. Wine Enthusiast and Wine Spectator both must obviously make a fair profit from their advertisements. I'm not claiming that Sommelier Journal was as large or as influential as those major publications, but it was no less important and that is something to be sad about.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Wine Curmudgeon's Guide to Cheap Wine

Just like becoming an expert in wine–you learn by drinking it, the best you can afford–you learn about great food by finding the best there is, whether simply or luxurious. The you savor it, analyze it, and discuss it with your companions, and you compare it with other experiences. - Julia Child

This quote by the chef that brought French cuisine to America in the 1960s and 1970s perhaps perfectly sums up a book by a man trying to bring cheap wine to the world of wine writing. Jeff Siegel, aka The Wine Curmudgeon, doesn't need to bring cheap wine to Americans because, outside the sphere of connoisseurship to which you and I belong, cheap wine is what regular Americans drink. The average amount spent on a bottle of wine in the United States is somewhere around $6-$7 per bottle. Wine doesn't have to be luxurious, expensive or from a famous region to complement a meal, a date or just an evening by oneself. It is through these, often, simple wines that Americans experience, savor and learn about fermented grape juice.

The Wine Curmudgeon's Guide to Cheap Wine offers a look into the world of cheap wine, a world often ignored by those of us that write about wine, and why cheap wine matters. The book started as a Kickstarter project and is a natural extension of Jeff's wine blog, The Wine Curmudgeon. Jeff is a true consumer advocate. He doesn't care about offending wineries, receiving samples or making a name for himself. He doesn't concern himself with assigning points to wine or telling his readers what they should like. He truly cares about suggesting wines that consumers should spend their hard-earned money on and reaffirms them to trust their own palates. He knows his wine and is a fan of well-known and expensive wines (if what's in the bottle is high quality). But Jeff's passion is cheap wine. Wine that doesn't cost an arm and a leg, but over delivers on the quality front.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Why wine reviewers should be more like book reviewers

Yesterday, Tom Wark wrote about the differences between wine and book reviewers. The article was insightful, but I took exception to his basic premise that "it doesn’t take much time to produce a wine review." It doesn't take much time to produce a review of anything. I can look at a car for 30 seconds and estimate how fast it is, what kind of fuel efficiency you should expect and tell you if I like its lines. But how much time a critic takes to conduct a review is related to the thoroughness of the assessment. Thirty seconds with a car does nothing to explore the comfort or practicality of the automobile. A thorough assessment is not a guarantee of a quality assessment, but it does make an thoughtful review more likely.

It is an industry standard that wine reviewers spend 5-10 minutes (at most) swirling, sniffing, sipping and spitting wine in a sterile (not in the medical sense) setting. Yes, most good critics will also visit the regions and meet with the producers they critique to develop a context for the wines they assess. Yet, the official reviews come from relatively short periods of time spent with the actual wine and in the presence of dozens of other wines also being assessed. The resulting wine reviews are meant to assist consumers with their purchase decisions. I am not ardently against tasting notes and despite my disdain for the 100-pt system I understand its purpose and relative usefulness.

The thing that irks me about the standard system for wine reviews and pointed out by Tom Wark, is that there is no need for a wine critic to spend more than 10 minutes with a wine. Most consumers I know do not spend only 10 minutes with wine swirling, sniffing, sipping, spitting and repeating. They consume the wine. Often with food and rarely in the presence of other wines. There may be no need to spend more than 60 seconds with a wine, but there is a benefit to the consumer when a critic gives a wine the attention its users give it. As I commented on Tom's blog, [t]asting a wine with food can be important. Tasting wine at different points in its lifetime can be important. Spending 2 minutes with 20 wines is like reading the prologue of 20 books and stating definitively what happens in the last chapter of each and proclaiming which book is the most well-written!

Yes, an experienced book reviewer can probably give a good estimate of what's a book about by looking at the author's name, the publisher and reading the prologue or first chapter. That is exactly what wine critics do. Some do it quite well, but none are perfect. I understand this process because I often do the same thing. For those of you (if any) who have read my blog from its inception will know that wine reviews have become increasingly missing from my posts. Sure, I still write about specific wines, and sometimes I tasted them in the way I am critiquing here. But most of the few reviews I post are of wines I drink at home, over the course of a few hours, with and without food. That's how most wine consumers drink.

I really like Tom's suggestion of the long-form wine review. I know that is not going to happen with the major wine publications because they depend on volume. More reviews equals more points. More points equates to more readers. More readers means more revenue. But perhaps alternative critics might be able to utilize Tom's suggestion. In fact, more writers/bloggers are adding in the story of the vintner or the land in lieu of lists of aromas and flavors that you may or may not be able to detect in a wine.  Two of my favorite writers doing this are Alder Yarrow, of Vinography, and RH Drexel, of Loam Baby. They both tell the story of wine differently, but each does so with enthusiasm and interesting writing. They add value to their writing when they spend more than 60 seconds with a wine or winemaker (despite Alder also having a tendency for many short reviews from mass tastings...).

Wine reviewers should spend more time with wines they are reviewing just like book reviewers spend hours, if not days, with the books they review. They should aim to be more than just reviewers, but actual writers. Just as with a book, not all the subtleties of a wine are noticeable at first. Consumers could benefit from the greater insight and context of a wine gained from more thorough assessments. Wine reviews don't need to be longer, but they should be!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Guest post from my extern

I've turned this post over to my friend and psuedo-mentor, Harry Oldman.

Dr. Oldman has been in the wine business for decades. He used to be a computational physicist at a national laboratory in New Mexico, involved in computational fluid dynamics of wine. But after getting sidetracked on a trip to California by Randall Grahm, he has never been the same.

He shares his thoughts and opinions on wine and wine writing on various online wine boards, but I of course don't listen to what he has to say (you know, with me being a Millennial and all).

Since 1WineDude and The Hosemaster of WineTM have occasionally handed their blogs over to their interns, I figured I’d open my blog to this extern. Plus, this will allow me to put in extra hours on social media and get my beauty rest all at the same time.

So, with out any further ado, here is Dr. Oldman:

Monday, October 7, 2013

Regional Wine Week, version 2013...

Yesterday marked the beginning of the 2013 edition of Regional Wine Week. This sixth annual event was started by DrinkLocalWine.com, a non-profit organization dedicated to "wines from lesser known areas — not because we don’t like California, Oregon or Washington wines, but they get plenty of coverage in the major wine magazines." Regional Wine Week is a chance for writers, bloggers or just regular consumers to share their thoughts and experiences on regional wine with the world. Accompanying Regional Wine Week this year is a photo contest. You can participate in the contest by sharing a picture, or three, on DLW's Facebook page. It can be a photo from a visit to one of your favorite local wineries or a bottle of regional wine you recently enjoyed with a good meal. Just take a picture, describe it in less than 100 words, and post it to their Facebook wall for all of their friends to see, like, share, and comment on. Include the hash-tag #DrinkLocalWine with each entry so everyone can easily find your post.

I'd also ask you to do two things for Regional Wine Week. First, share a bottle of wine from one of your favorite local wineries with someone that might not be familiar with it, or even familiar with that region. Recommendations from friends can be very powerful. It doesn't take a positive critical review from Wine Advocate or Wine Spectator to make a wine worth drinking. In fact, those reviews might be harder to come by for regional wineries as Wine Spectator recently changed its policy on sample submissions and will no longer accept wines without prior approval from the tasting department. This means wines that aren't widely available across the country (i.e., small, family-owned regional wineries) won't as easily get in front of James Molesworth to be reviewed. This may not seem like a big deal, but it is another impediment for regional wineries to join the mainstream wine industry. If you have a local wine that you think your friends might enjoy, they'd probably take your recommendation over Molesworth's anyway.

My second request is to try a new wine from a local winery or from a region which you may have not yet tasted. There are always new wineries starting up, so finding a new winery might not be as difficult as you think. However, finding the wine might be. Today's no-name winery could be tomorrow's Screaming Eagle. Go to your local wine shop and ask for something local. If they don't carry any, suggest that should and tell them you'll be back to buy some when they do. Or better yet, look up wineries near you. You might be surprised to see a winery just down the street. Go in and visit them in person. Small wineries love to meet their local customers. Also, don't be afraid to try a unusual variety or blend. Many wineries not bordering the Pacific Ocean make different wines than you'd find in traditional wine country. If the wine is good, let them know by buying a few bottles. If the wine isn't so good, let them know as well. Be nice about it, but constructive criticism is the only way some wineries will be pushed to improve their product. Too often people do not let winemakers know when their wine isn't up to par. Also, never feel obligated to buy a bottle of wine that you don't like.

If enough people do these two little things (share a bottle with a friend and try a new wine or winery) it can make a real difference to regional wine as a whole. All 50 states have wineries and half of the country's wineries are located in a place other than California. These wineries just need a little encourage and support to make a name for themselves. And that is what Regional Wine Week is all about.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Using social media to get laid.... or something like that!

People who use social media to make sales are like people who go to bars to get laid. It's a crude picture, but you probably aren't going to have a great experience. You may, but basically in both cases actually starting a relationship is what it's about. What social media is about is starting relationships, long-term ideally, with consumers who are actually going to listen to you and you're going to listen to them. - Robert Joseph during "The role of social media and traditional communication" at Savour Australia 2013.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The most interesting, imaginative and intelligent wine publication...

There are lots of wine publications floating around, both in paper and digital formats. Decanter, Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast and Wine Advocate are probably considered the most influential and most dominant wine glossies aimed at consumers. Though they all contain articles about people, places and various lifestyle topics, their raison d'être is reviewing wine and distilling the wine down to a numerical shorthand (all now use the 100-point system) that supposedly corresponds to quality. The editors may claim that the score is secondary to the actual review, but those periodicals are most cited by consumers and retailers in connection with just the ratings, often times with the actual arbiter of the score detached from his or her decree.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Did any wine writer actually read the PNAS TCA article?

So, the buzz in the wine writing world the past few days has been the "surprising new research" that suggested 2, 4, 6-trichloroanisole (TCA) doesn't actually smell like anything, let alone musty. The authors of the acclaimed study suggested that their data show TCA actually suppresses odors. Is that really new news? If you actually read the article (I conducted the arduous Google search for you...), you might come to a different conclusion than some of the people writing about the article.

I can't be the only person that knows low levels of TCA will kill a wine’s aroma and flavor. In fact, I know I'm not as Ray Isle wrote the last eleven words of the previous sentence over four years ago in Food & Wine. Yet, over the last couple days, Steve Heimoff, Wine Spectator and Decanter all wrote about the research seemingly without actually reading the paper.

If you read the article with a critical eye (I know, that's a pain to do sometimes...) you will see two things that should make you question all the lazy pundits. First, the study was conducted on newts (Cynops pyrrhogaster), not humans (Homo sapiens). They clearly stated, "functional olfactory receptor genes is different between amphibians and mammals, so we cannot rule out the expression of receptors with very high TCA sensitivity in humans." Hmmm. That changes the conclusion a bit. Human olfactory receptors could interact with TCA differently than those of newts! Additionally, the authors stated that, "we cannot assume that we surveyed all possible olfactory receptors in the newt." Might there be other olfactory receptors that transduct musty odors? Humans have around 400 functional genes coding for olfactory receptors. The picture just got a bit more complicated...

[note: the following paragraph was re-added after my original post was published to better reflect the full content of the PNAS study]

The authors did in fact conduct an experiment on on human perception of TCA (and TBA) in wine. They investigated the concentration levels at which "the reduction of original odor and the extrinsic musty smell from TCA were discriminated." So, in fact, the authors were able to show that humans do sense musty odors in wine caused by TCA and TBA. The levels varied person to person and the musty odor was recognizable in red wine at a lower concentration than white wine. So why the media blitz about an article that basically supports what we all knew about TCA? I know PNAS isn't hoping to increase its advertising levels! [end revision]

I don't have any answers to the question of why olfactory receptor cells removed from a decapitated newt did not trigger a musty odor, but I think the idea that this research is somehow earth-shattering is a bit hyperbolic. It is interesting to know how TCA (and don't forget the often neglected 2,4,6-tribromoanisole, or TBA) interacts with neurons, but to borrow something I saw in a tweet from my chemical engineering buddy Tom Mansell

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The beauty of, and problem with, the wine industry today...

Last week, I attended the first-ever portfolio tasting for Synergy Fine Wines. 350 different wines, beers, spirits and sakes were hopefully poured for Denver's restaurant and retail buyers to taste and buy. It was nice to see the guys from Ruby Trust Cellars pouring their 2011 wines. With only a handful of Colorado wineries represented by distributors, it's a big deal to see one at an event like this. I was only at the tasting for about an hour and I spent most of that time walking around and randomly trying wines; a few Burgundies, some Californian wines, a couple from Italy  and of course a handful of Spanish wines. I wasn't surprised to see that the lone Slovenia ribolla gialla was thoroughly ravaged by the flock of sommeliers at the venue (what do you call a group of sommeliers?).

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Maybe Steve Heimoff was right (I might have lost my mind...)

After giving it a week of thought, I'm going to argue something with which, on the surface, I adamantly disagree. Last week, my digital buddy, Steve Heimoff, wrote a blog post titled, "Saying Goodbye to the Golden Age of Wine Writing." His thesis was that with the rise of the "Age of Digital Information" (i.e., wine blogs) wine writers are finding it more and more difficult to earn a living writing about wine. He claims that the world of wine writing is no longer the utopia it was when he got into this profession and made a name for himself (I'd argue he actually has made his name via his blog and not as the California Editor for Wine Enthusiast Magazine). David White penned a great response to Steve's assertions and claimed that things are actually getting better in the world of wine writing. I wholeheartedly agree with David, but I want to take a deeper look into Steve's post.

Monday, September 9, 2013

John Madden the wine critic...

Football season is finally upon us. For many of you (including me), yesterday was spent parked in front of the TV with a beer in hand. The entire state of Colorado is bursting with anticipation for a Super Bowl run after Peyton Manning and the Broncos thrashed the defending champions on Thursday. However, I grew up in Wisconsin so naturally I'm a Green Bay Packers fan. In fact, ever since 1998 I have actively rooted against the Broncos. If the Broncos aren't going to finish 0-16 this year, I'd like nothing more than to see the Packers beat the Broncos in the Super Bowl in New York. I'd be in a better mood today had the Packers beaten the 49ers, but thinking about a Green Bay Super Bowl victory over the Broncos keeps me smiling.

You may be wondering what football has to do with wine. Bear with me as I get there. Along with the beginning of the NFL season, perhaps the most popular sports video game, Madden 25, was released recently. In the game, every single player is given a numerical rating - from 1 to 100. Sound familiar to wine yet? Thinking about how and why human beings are given such subjective ratings got me thinking about how the video game is like the wine review game. Is Calvin Johnson equivalent to a bottle of 2009 Château Latour (WS 99)? Is Anquan Boldin like a bottle of 2007 Canyon Wind Cellars IV (WS 88)? Which bottle of red blend or which receiver would you rather have had yesterday?

Friday, August 30, 2013

Is the 100-pt system more confusing than helpful?

Proponents of the 100-pt system for often claim that the main advantage of the system is that it provides consumers with a clear, concise and relative measure of a wine's intrinsic quality. The problem with that statement is that a wine's intrinsic quality is completely subjective. Every person is born with a unique palate and a distinct set of experiences from which to conjure aroma and flavor comparisons from memory (how else does one know what an "intense sensation of ... gunflint" tastes like? Those experiences also make relative scoring inherently flawed. Do you enjoy green tobacco or do you find it off-putting? Acidity, oh don't start a debate about acidity amongst wine writers! Sure, one person's opinion is easily defensible, but when two (or more) prominent wine publications diverge dramatically on their assessment of a wine (more often than you would expect), the result for consumers could be more confusing than helpful.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Everyone is a critic, and wineries should be listening!

The claim that "Everyone is a critic" is no longer a cliché, but a fact. Anyone can start a blog and write about wine. Anyone can post reviews on TripAdvisor or Yelp. Maybe you don't give these amateur critics an ounce of credibility, but many people do. Lots of people look to others for recommendations on what wine to taste or what winery to visit on their vacation. Wineries need to pay attention to how they are perceived by their customers, real and potential. Real customers are the ones giving those recommendations and potential customers are the ones using those recommendations on blogs, Yelp and TripAdvisor.

Out of curiosity, I decided to browse Yelp and TripAdvisor specifically for tasting room recommendations in the Grand Valley AVA of Colorado. I saw lots of positive and overly glowing reviews of most wineries. However, a few caught my eye and made me want to bang my head into a brick wall. Without naming names, I wanted to share three of these reviews, each about a different winery, with you.

1. This was by far the worst experience I have ever had at a winery. We arrived for a wine tasting about 35 minutes before their tasting room was scheduled to close, and there were still a few people at the bar doing wine tastings. We were immediately greeted by this man who seemed agitated that we were there, who rudely exclaimed that they had already closed their tasting room for the day. Since we had driven an extra half hour to visit their winery we pleaded with him to give us a tasting, at which time he got confrontational and ordered us to leave his establishment...

2. ...We bought a bottle - price is $38 - and stored it at correct temperature. Tasted it 3 month later and the wine had turned into a bad tasting vinegar not at all a Merlot or Port. It was visible the cork had visible holes and I think that is the reason for the spoiled wine. I contacted the winery and I only got a very arrogant email back - not really trying to help me much - so I know I would not taste nor buy any wine there - as what they present is not really what you get. A wine can go bad, but I think customer service is most important. Not found here. 

3. ...Then she launched into a rant against the distillery next door and a few other wine makers. An elderly couple entered as this was going down and the phone rang. She took the call without greeting the newcomers and proceeded to gab loudly while walking towards the back of the warehouse. When it became obvious that she had no intention of coming back we left... 

I still shake my head in disbelief every time I read these. All three of these reviews were uncalled for, not because of consumer critics gone wild but because each winery behaved in ways they should never behave. First, why would a winery turn away customers when they are open? Winery tasting room hours are an issue in Colorado. I've tried to visit a winery when it was supposed to be open, only to find the doors locked and the lights off. When customers take time out of their busy (or not busy, who cares) lives and are looking for reasons to give wineries money, wineries should treat them well. I can see no reason why a winery representative wouldn't want to open a fresh bottle at the end of the day for a group of people pleading to taste their wine (fine, maybe the legal requirement to not serve intoxicated individuals would be a good reason). You never know who the customer might be. I actually spoke with a restaurant owner about this same winery a year or two ago and he relayed a very similar story. He said that he would not serve this winery's products because of the poor customer service.

Ok, now on to the second review. Bad bottles happen. When they do, the winery should do the right thing and replace the bottle at no charge to the consumer. Maybe the next bottle would have been bad too, but the act of listening and caring is what this customer obviously wanted. As I will keep saying over and over, wineries are more in the customer service business than the wine business. Excellent customer service can go a long way. This review could have been glowing had the winery ponied up $38, plus shipping, to make the customer feel appreciated. It amazes me when I hear people complain that wineries or even restaurants won't take back product because of quality concerns. Just a few weeks ago, I tweeted that I was drinking a bottle of Two Shepherds Grenache. I described the bottle to the winemaker, who had responded to my tweet, and he said that the wine sounded off to him and he'd send a replacement bottle. I didn't even ask for him to do that, but that kind of proactive customer service is more likely to secure a loyal customer than an arrogant reply.

I used this third example not to illustrate more poor customer service, but unnecessary industry squabbling. The small alcoholic beverage producers in Colorado all have to work together. Why a winery would bash another winery is beyond me, yet I hear local vintners continually put down other vintners. Instead of focusing on the negatives, producers need to focus on the positives and grow together rather than competing against each other. Complaining about neighbors or industry partners just makes the complainer come across as petty. I know I'd rather support a winery that is support of their neighbors. Just as Robert Mondavi is famous for promoting California and Napa Valley above his eponymous winery, small Colorado producers need to start banding together and promoting each other.

As unfortunate and unnessary as each of those reviews were, wineries should be paying attention and do something about them. I still think negative reviews are the time when a winery's true customer service ability can shine. Thankfully, I was able to find an example of just this. I noticed that Jay Chrisitianson, owner and winemaker at Canyon Wind Cellars and Anemoi, responded to 95% of the reviews on TripAdvisor. To the positive reviews, Jay personally thanked the reviewer. To the one less-than-positive review, Jay thanked the reviewer for her comments and offered a solution to the complaint. Customer service doesn't get much better than that.

Wineries should not be afraid that customers might post bad reviews on blogs or TripAdvisor any more than they should be afraid of Wine Spectator publishing scores about their wines. Wineries need to adopt the mindset that every single customer interaction is the most important one. Try not to give consumers things to complain about, but when complaints happen (and they will) please act in an appropriate and kind manner. The goal of every winery shouldn't necessarily be to sell more wine, but make their customers sell it for them. There is nothing quite as powerful free brand ambassadors: consumers need to be thought of as part of your marketing department. In this age of social media, you may not know who your customers are or with whom they will communicate.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Breadth or Depth?

Wine can be a dangerous thing. Sure, there are physical maladies that can arise from the alcohol contained within, but the addiction it can cause can be the most perplexing. I'm not talking about alcoholism. I'm talking about the addictive nature of wine collecting. I know that many of you are also afflicted by this, sometimes, debilitating condition. Whether you know it or not, there are many others just like you.

From the first sip of truly fine wine that gets its vinous hooks into you, to the feeling you get when you make the mailing list of a forgotten winery you signed up with years ago, or the adrenaline rush that makes your heart race when you find that rare wine sitting on the retail shelf with the original (and uninflated) price still on the bottle, makes you want more. Soon that case of wine in a dark closet turns into a modest wine cooler. Then the cooler turns into an off-site storage site where your treasures remain safe from your spouse (and even yourself; how dare you drink that bottle before it has 10 years of age on it...). Finally, you come to grips with your affliction and bite the bullet and build a wine cellar in that extra room in the basement. You're not afraid to announce to the world that you have a problem, and you're proud of it!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Future of Allocations

Over the last few days I received emails from two highly sought-after wineries whose wines are without a doubt expensive and in demand. The wine allocation list is the holy grail for wineries. Allocations go something like this: Our limited production wines are sold by mailing list and are available in select restaurants around the world. Our mailing list is presently full, but we can add you to our waiting list. We move clients onto the mailing list based on when you contacted the winery, as space becomes available.

Demand exceeds supply. More people want to buy the wine than can and the winery limits the amount of wine a customer can purchase. Sometimes, if a client decides to not buy a given vintage, they are removed from the mailing list. Marketing, branding and distribution can take a backseat to the production side of the process and almost an infinite amount of detail can be given to the viticulture and winemaking. Critics give the wine glowing reviews and high scores. Demand increases and the process repeats itself. Waiting lists for the top wineries are often years long, but they've got nothing on the Green Bay Packers' season ticket wait list (see the second-to-last FAQ).

But what does the future hold for allocation lists? Are they really as robust as they seem? Are they the best way to build a customer base?

Monday, August 12, 2013

Breweries promoting wineries.

One of the big stories in the alcoholic beverage industry this week has been the results of a Gallup poll that suggest wine is increasing in popularity amongst American consumers at the expense of beer. Wine, beer and spirits will always be competing for consumer preference ratings. But this post is not about competition. It is about collaboration.

Collaboration is a big buzz word in the beer industry. It is not uncommon to see beers on a retail shelf with two breweries' names on it. Perhaps the most prominent collaboration is when Avery Brewing and Russian River Brewing teamed up to create Collaboration Not Litigation Ale. For a good read on breweries working together, read this Imbibe article. Wineries collaborate in a different way. Winemakers sometimes work at more than one winery and wineries share facilities and equipment at custom crushpads or alternating proprietor licensed premises.

However, there is much less cross-industry collaboration. Sure, distillers, and more frequently brewers, use old wine barrels, but for the most part there is a fierce competition for market share amongst the three segments. I stopped in to the Breckenridge Brewery Tasting Room a few weeks ago to pick up some growlers and I noticed something interesting. They of course had their beer everywhere, but their top shelf of liquor was all Colorado brands. The wines on the bar? There were four bottles of Penfolds. I talked to Stuart Close, the general manager. I asked him why they had Colorado spirits but no Colorado wine. He said that no winery had ever approached him. He told me if I knew of any local wineries that could sell him a few (they don't go through much wine in the tap room) cases of wine for less than $10 per bottle he'd be happy to replace the Penfolds with Colorado Wine. So, Colorado wineries: go talk to Stuart if you want to collaborate with Breckenridge Brewery.

Last week, I was in Wisconsin. Now, Wisconsin is not a hot bed for wine production (though the largest winery, Wollersheim, produces more wine than the entire state of Colorado). However, Wisconsin is known for its beer. It may not have as many craft brewers as Colorado, but the beers are just as good. Just ask anyone who has been to the Great American Beer Fest and seen the line for New Glarus Brewing Co. Another of Wisconsin's "cult" breweries is Ale Asylum, and during my trip I went to their new $8 million brewery with a childhood friend and our wives. We had a couple of beers, but during the second round my friend's wife ordered a Prairie Fumé from Wollersheim instead of a beer.

I was surprised that someone would order a wine at a brewery, but I was even more shocked that it was a local wine. But when you think about, a small craft brewery has invested itself in the localpour movement, so why not support other local producers? It is a bit hypocritical to tout your own local product and then try to sell corporate giant non-local products. It was also refreshing to see local Wisconsin wines prominently displayed at the one grocery store, one liquor store and one restaurant I went to during my week in Cheeseheadland. Only if Colorado restaurants and breweries were equally as willing to support and collaborate with Colorado wineries...

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Fallacy of Terroir

The fallacy of terroir is not that it doesn't exist, it is that people keep saying there is no English-language equivalent of the concept. Many people attribute, soil, climate and topography as the common denominator of terroir. According to the infallible Wikipedia, "at its core is the assumption that the land from which the grapes are grown imparts a unique quality that is specific to that growing site." Thus, terroir is often described as the set of special characteristics of a certain place. Depending on scale, that could be a region, a village, a vineyard or even a specific block within a vineyard. This is exemplified by the fact that syrah wines differ from Hermitage, Barossa and Paso Robles despite being made from the same grape cultivar. Perhaps the concept of terroir is best epitomized in Burgundy where famed climats like Romanée, Romanée-Conti and Richebourg in Vosne-Romanée are only meters apart and yield distinct wines all made from pinot noir.

Yes, the soils, climate (not so much in Vosne-Romanée) and topography vary in each of these places. But one thing that is too often left out of the terroir discourse is the anthropic influence. After all, grape vines don't decide where they grow, harvest themselves or stop fermentation before the product is vinegar. Some people, including myself, add the human element to the concept of terroir. Whether or not you include people as part of the terroir of a place, there is in fact an English word that covers all the definitions of the concept: geography. In English, the characteristics of a wine can be said to come from the geography of a place. Geography is more than just maps (actually, the study of maps is called cartography). Geography encompasses soil, climate, topography, geology, history and cultural practices of a place.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Wine Libraries (not the Gary Vaynerchuk kind...)

I was going to start this post off by saying all wineries need to have wine libraries. Many of the liquor stores in Denver are in fact libraries of just the type of wines that shouldn't be saved for future consumption. Too often when I've gone into an off-the-beaten path shop I've seen bottles of $5.99 merlot from vintages in the early 1990s just sitting there sullenly on the bottom shelf. Perhaps they'd make decent salad dressing now, but should not still be offered for sale as wine. Despite wines like these that need not be unopened past their third birthday, more wineries ought to keep wine libraries. There are several reasons to do so.

First, saving a few bottles (or cases) of a wine has an important research application for a winery. All too often I see wineries with less than a handful of released vintages claiming their wine will drink well for 20-25 years. This may be the case, but there is no actual evidence that it will be the case. Sure, a winery can't wait 25 years to make the claim that their wines will actually last a generation as a serviceable beverage, but at least tasting a few wines after they've been laid down for a few years will provide some evidence of such claims.

Second, wineries need to document the results of the choices they made between bud break and the time the finished wine is bottled. If the entire production is sold, a winery will have no way of knowing how the acid adjustment or the spinning cones (or the non-interventionist approach) turned out. Holding back a few samples is necessary for finding out how the wine changes with age. Some people call it drinking, but in the wine industry it should be called research and development. Wineries should always try to be improving on their most recent vintage and there might be no better way than drinking their wines when they have aged.

Third, and maybe most important for consumers, library wines means library releases. Reserving more than a few cases allows a winery to re-release wines that may be their customers weren't able to buy on release. Many consumers don't have the patience or the ability to hold on to wines until they're at their peak, so being able to buy directly from the winery a few years down the line has its advantages. Knowing how a wine ages is often a key piece of information consumers use when trying to decide on how much of a currently release to buy. One of a winery's advantages is charging a premium for library wine. As long as a the premium isn't outrageous, it's a win-win situation for the winery and the consumer.

Scherrer "Shale Terrace" Zinfandel, Alexander Valley AVA
Without library releases I wouldn't have had the opportunity to drink the 2005 Scherrer "Shale Terrace" Zinfandel I enjoyed on Independence Day. There is something to said about having perfectly aged wines as your first experience with a winery. I bought a few new releases and a few aged bottles. The Fourth of July seemed like an opportune time to open one of the zinfandels. This wine was not like the zinfandels most consumers are used to. Big, fruity young wines is kind of zinfandel's character in the wine world. The Scherrer was starting to show a brick color and the aromas were more secondary in nature than most zins. The fruit was still there, but extra few years in the bottle (and in the winery's own cellar) allowed the wine to develop more toffee and savory flavors. It was still a big wine, but exceptionally smooth and complex. Complexity is often one of the characteristics critics use when determining quality, and yet somewhat ironically in the world of barrel tasting and futures complexity may take several years in the bottle to reveal itself. So, to wineries, I urge you to keep more of your wines held back. Taste them yourselves and re-release them a few years down the road. Consumers, next time you're at a winery I urge you to ask about their library program. Buy a bottle and experience what a few years of aging can do.

Monday, July 8, 2013

A Fortnight Without Wine

Last month, my beautiful wife went to Argentina for 16 days for a school trip. Naturally, I didn't drink wine while she was gone (mourning and all...). Well, that's not exactly the case. I did attend a Ribera del Duero tasting and I shared a bottle of J "Cuvée 20" Brut with George Rose (Director of Communications for J) over dinner. But at home, it was just beer or water that was in my glass.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Congratulations, not condescension are in order...

I'll go ahead and say it. Congratulations, Charles Shaw Winery on your three gold medals at the Orange County Fair Wine Competition. I commend the judges for not being influenced by the label and I commend the winery for (mass) producing a drinkable $2.49 wine.  I don't see why so many people in the twitterverse and blogosphere have decided that this is the worst thing since socks with sandals. But if you do wear socks with sandals, please stop!

Sure, wine competitions aren't the best arbiter of wine quality, but neither are Robert Parker, James Laube or Steve Whatshisname. I've had 100-pt Parker wines that tasted like dilly dishwater. I've had wines from Iowa that were pretty damn good. All competitions do is give feedback to a select set of wineries about how their wine fared against a few other wines on a given day as decreed by people that think they know a lot about wine, but don't know as much as they think they do. Yes, I count myself as a member of the illustrious club.

I think a lot of the angst has do do with the obnoxious "triple gold" headlines. It is a bit misleading. All that happened was three Charles Shaw wines earned gold medals. None were chosen as Best in Category or even 4-star gold medals (whatever the hell that means). 70% of the wines entered in this competition received a medal (1765/2521). Only 15.8% of the entries earned gold or better. Not bad for a sub $3 bottle of wine. But no wine competition is as influential as the major publications, and few consumers know what competition medals mean (if they mean anything at all). So lay off the criticism, people.

Now I won't make any claims to the quality of any Two Buck Chuck (as Charles Shaw is affectionately called). The last time I tried one, probably 4 years ago, it didn't impress me, but it wasn't the "beyond dreadful" or the "watery, alcoholic null set" that two respectable personalities claimed on Twitter. If I remember correctly, the glass I had was simplistic and uninteresting, but varietally correct and not flawed. I wonder when the last time any of the naysayers on the Internet actually tasted a bottle of Charles Shaw.

What should be praised, but is overlooked is the fact that this blind tasting showed that a wine can be judged by what's in bottle and not what's on the label. Preconceived notions should not influence what a judge thinks about a wine. Too often in the world of wine criticism, writers judge a wine by the label and not the wine. None of the judges that reviewed these wines knew what they were tasting. It's not like they lined up the wines themselves, put them in bags, moved them around their desk and magically forgot the identities of the bottles. Had the judges known they were tasting Two Buck Chuck, I'd bet gold medals would not have been awarded. But that is the beauty if blind tasting. A $3 wine can stand on equal footing with a $30 wine.

So, I say lets celebrate the idea of a quality cheap wine. It's not like Charles Shaw is going to raise its prices to $850 a bottle because of these accolades. This competition isn't the most important source of consumer information and in fact is open only to "wine produced from grapes grown in California and commercially available for sale in Orange County." Charles Shaw will still be loved by its fans and loathed by most wine snobs...

Thursday, June 27, 2013

How to sell wine before it's finished and alienate people

There are so many ways to sell wine it can make a vintner's head spin. Finding the easiest and most efficient way is the goal of every winery. Case in point: en primeur. Every spring, the châteaux of Bordeaux invite the wine world to come taste the wines that are sitting in barrel from the previous harvest. En primeur is a method for selling wine while it is still in barrel. It is often referred to as "wine futures." Payment is made 12-18 months before the finished wines are bottled. The idea behind the system is that wines may be cheaper during en primeur than when they are released on the open market. Though, with the exorbitant prices the top châteaux now charge (Mouton Rothschild, Château Margaux and Haut-Brion released their 2012 wines at €240 per bottle ex-negociant, and that was roughly 33% less than the release price of the 2011 vintage!), investment opportunities are not going to be as easy to come by as they were in the early 1980s.

Many wineries around the world offer future wines for sale, but the producers of Bordeaux have been fine tuning their system for what seems like eternity. The system has been in place in Bordeaux for centuries. Why do they do this and why do other producers attempt to do the same? Well, producers benefit from the early cash flow. They also often sell their entire inventory before the finished wines are released. Pretty good deal, huh? It's almost like printing money. Or at least painting your own masterpiece...

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Consumers looking for a voice...

Last week, the American Wine Consumer Coalition launched. The organization, led by Tom Wark and David White (among others) is set to give a voice to the people most affected by the wide array of wine regulations, but are regularly ignored during the process of creating those laws. If you've ever been told you can't drink a certain wine just because you live in a certain state, the AWCC (sounds more like an athletic conference, but other acronyms are probably worse) is for you. Here is the group's manifesto:

The unique needs and desires of the American wine consumer have for too long been ignored by lawmakers as special interest groups have used the legal and regulatory system to protect their own interests at the expense of consumers. This is neither fair nor in the interest of the wine consumer. Wine consumers have the right to be heard, to be part of the entire process devoted to the regulation of wine and to have access to the broad range of products in the national marketplace. Anything less is unacceptable.
  • Wine Consumers ought to have the legal right to purchase the wines they want as long as a licensed entity agrees to sell them the wine.
  • Wine Consumers deserve a well-regulated marketplace designed to give them access to the wines they want.
  • Wine Consumers have a right to be consulted on the creation and passage of state and federal laws that impact their access to wines.
  • Wine consumers ought to have the legal right to have shipped to their home or place of work wines they legally purchased in-state or out-of-state.
  • Wine Consumers ought to have the right to carry with them or ship home a reasonable amount of wine they’ve purchased and legally own after visiting an out-of-state wine region.
  • Wine Consumers and their interests must be accounted for equally alongside those of producers, wholesalers and retailers when legislation and alcohol policy is considered.
Specifically for Colorado residents, consider the following that it is illegal for you to receive a shipment of wine from an out-of-state retailer, you are not allowed bringing your own bottle of wine to your favorite restaurant and only one location of a chain grocer is allowed to sell wine. Some people feel that allowing grocery store sales would hurt the small, boutique local wineries, but I personally (not in any association with my employment with the State of Colorado) think that the ability to deal with fewer buyers rather than a different buyer for ever licensed retailer might help local wineries with distribution. Retailers also have to buy wine from a wholesaler (luckily CO wineries can operate as their own wholesaler) and cannot buy directly from West Coast wineries; further restricting what wines you have access to. A few things have slowly started to change in the Centennial State. Only in the last few years has Colorado allowed sales on Sundays and we can now bring unfinished bottles of wine home from a restaurant!

But we still have a long way to go to catch up to much of the rest of the country. The AWCC is determined to make consumers' voices part of the wildly secretive and out-of-date system that determines how, where and what we can drink.

So, consider joining and supporting the American Wine Consumer Coalition. Then, help by spreading the word on Facebook and Twitter. You can follow the AWCC at @wineconsumers and Facebook.com/AmericanWineConsumerCoalition.


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A winery without a tasting room, but flavor to spare... (2011 Ruby Trust Cellars releases)

Few, if any, Colorado wineries operate like California wineries. Generally speaking, that is a good thing. Colorado is not California and its wines are going to be as equally different. Yet, merlot, cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay are still Colorado's most planted varieties by acreage. Many of Colorado's vintners still think they can compete with California on these major varieties. Sure, the quality might be there, but consumers will more than likely go for the known commodity rather than take a flyer on the local juice.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Wine as a cocktail ingredient

There has a been a fair bit of media coverage of late about ingredients used to make wine. I haven't seen too much attention to wine itself as an ingredient. Mimosa: Sparkling wine and orange juice. Everyone knows that. Sangria: recipes vary, but generally wine, brandy, juice or soda and fruit. Two of my favorites also come from the Iberian peninsula, but are not so common as their punchy cousin. Kalimotxo is red wine and cola. Tinto de verano (this sounds great right now in this record Colorado heat...) is red wine and La Casera Limón (any lemon-lime soda works). In most cases, the cheapest wine possible is used. Yet, does that need to be the case? Should it be?

Monday, June 10, 2013

An antagonistic approach (a reputation you get when you question authority)

This weekend, a colleague of mine introduced me to a friend of his at the third annual Colorado Urban Winefest. Part of his introduction include a reference to my wine writing. He referred to me as an "antagonistic blogger." Both of those terms are used pejoratively in the world of wine writing. Now I have no problem being called a blogger. I write about wine on this blog. I have also contributed to Palate Press, Sommelier Journal, Wine Spectator and Decanter. So I am a wine blogger, and I also consider myself a wine writer.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Wine as a food or a lifestyle?

In the New York Times last week, Eric Asimov wrote an article about how little consumers pay attention to what ingredients are actually in wine. This article sparked a 6-page long (and still going) thread on the Wineberskers online forum about ingredient listings on labels and was the catalyst for a multi-day Twitter discussion between Bruce Schoenfeld, Keith Levenberg and myself (there were a few others in there, but those were the principals) about marketing wine as a food. Asimov pointed in his article out that Americans "weigh the nutritional, environmental, humanitarian, aesthetic and even political consequences of what they cook and consume," but do not do the same for wine. He concluded that perhaps if we were to start considering wine as a food that "standards for quality and authenticity" may start playing a part in wine consumers' purchasing decisions. I figured that this post would be much more conducive to laying out my argument than the restrictive nature of Twitter.

I actually disagree with Asimov on two points. First, many, many Americans don't give two seconds worth of thought about any consequences of what they eat. More than one in three Americans is obese; and that number is rising every year. Cheap and easy is easily more important to more people than any nutritional, environmental, humanitarian, aesthetic and even political consequence of food (or food-like product). Why would people care what is in their wine when products like sodas, hot dogs and chips are considered a traditional American meal. How many people look at the ingredient lists of those foods? Those three "foods" aren't even food. Now don't get me wrong, I've consumed all three in the last week, so I definitely live in a glass house. But wine is already confusing enough to the average consumer that they don't want to think about what's in their bottle of chardonnay.

On top of that, and as Asimov started his article, wine is still considered to be "natural" product. I don't have the numbers to back me up, but I'd be willing to bet that most people think only grapes are used to make wine. Just as when you buy an apple or orange juice, you probably assume that's all you're getting. I think people actually consider wine a food. People might like chardonnay more than merlot just like they like Golden Delicious more than MacIntosh. Perhaps wine is not thought as a natural accompaniment to the nightly dinner table (well, Europeans might, but not most Americans), but neither are apples. Consumers also think of wine as a glamorous lifestyle choice. But can wine be both?

When I saw Bruce Schoenfeld (who I often agree with, but love to argue with) tweet, "promoting wine as a lifestyle adjunct comes at the expense of promoting it as a staple food ... Not saying one or the other is better, but they're kind of mutually exclusive," I had to jump into the discussion. Bruce (for some reason I just can refer to him as Schoenfeld) was hitting on the point in Asimov's article that treating wine as a food would cause more consumers to care about the ingredients that go into making a bottle of wine (not all remain in the finished wine). Asimov and Bruce both are correct in there assessment that in America wine is most often marketed as an aspirational product and not generic food. "Drink my wine because it'll make you fun or make you more alluring," is the premise of most wine ads. There is the occasional, "drinking my wine will make you feel like you're at this beautiful, pastoral place when you're just on your couch." But by and large there is no "Got Wine?" campaign in the United States. There is no push to make a place for wine on your dinner table.

That's not to say there couldn't be. And that happens to be my main point in my argument with Bruce. He can think what he wants, and I'd love to shake the hand of a person that has actually changed Bruce's mind. Commodity and luxury are not mutually or intrinsically exclusive of each other. Why do people buy those asinine 2002 Chevrolet Earnhardt Signature Monte Carlos? The car itself serves the same purpose of a regular Monte Carlo, but offers the aspiration to be like a NASCAR driver (yay, I know how to make left turns...). Same could be said about designer jeans or lots of other products. Even foods like bison, heirloom tomatoes and farm-fresh eggs could be considered luxury staple foods. Marketing wine as a generic foodstuff and a glamorous aspirational good can and does happen.

Does it happen often in the U.S.? Nope. But travel to Europe. In Spain, ask for a glass of tinto at a bar and you'll be brought a glass of red wine and a tapa. The bartender most likely will not tell you anything about the wine. The wine's brand is a mystery, yet the brand exists. And I'm sure the winery that made that wine has several other wines that they market as a premium wine. Wine is both a staple food and an aspirational good in Europe. I've only spent an evening in France (and I ate pizza...) and never been to Italy, but I've heard anecdotes about house wine there too being just a generic wine.

Some restaurants in the U.S. also have brand-less house wines, but wine is definitely on fewer tables. My in-laws drink lots of house wine. They don't care what brand it is, they just order a glass of white wine at a restaurant. The fact that many fewer tables are graced by wine is not from wine being inherently incompatible as a lifestyle good and a staple food, but more from America's puritanical history. European history is steeped in wine. American history is not. In fact, it was outlawed for more than 13 years less than a century ago. Nudity and sex are also taboo in the U.S. (though slowly becoming less so) whereas in Europe or Asia the naked body or a sexual act is not something mutually exclusive from decency. Our culture is the reason wine is not usually considered a nightly dinner accompaniment. Marketers in the U.S. know this and have used the wine as a lifestyle campaign to their advantage. But that's not to say wine couldn't be marketed as a food. Wineries would just be barking up a tall tree if they were to attempt that approach.

Though someday the wine as a food campaign may not be so difficult in America. Take the Drink Local Wine movement. All 50 states now have wineries. Today, America wine isn't as much as a special product from the mystical land of California, but something that is much more approachable. Much of the argument for local wine supporters is that wine can be every bit as local as local cheese or local vegetables. Local wine should be considered (considered, not mandatory) when thinking about eating locally. The locapour crowd is much more wine as a food oriented than people that only want to drink top Napa or Bordeaux wineries. Yet, the locavore movement is also about aspiring to a certain lifestyle. And so the circle continues...

Monday, June 3, 2013

A (sort of) defense of the proposed new BAL standard

Blake Gray should lay off the hyperbole pills. Of course his blog views might decline a bit, but his posts might be a bit more believable if he did (I happen to agree with lots of what Blake says, but I don't mind throwing stones at CA writers' hornets nests). Last week, he wrote a few posts about what he called a "Draconian DUI proposal." If you haven't already read about the NTSB's recommendation to create a nationwide 0.05% blood-alcohol level limit that would change the legal drunk driving standard. Gray claims that such a change could "put an end to dining out as we currently know it."

Now, I'm not a proponent of the proposal, but I do know that lowering the BAL from 0.08% to 0.05% would definitely not put an end to dining out. In fact, I am going to make a factless claim that very little would change. The calculation of blood alcohol content is only possible on a case by case basis, so it is hard to say exactly what this lowering of the limit would mean in terms of actual consumption, but as a general estimate only one drink per hour will make a average sized person legally intoxicated whereas currently it takes about two drinks per hour. Perhaps a few law-abiding citizens would order fewer drinks and a restaurant might lose a couple of bucks. Probably not.

A few more people might get pulled over and issued DUI citations, but are the impairment differences between 0.08 and 0.05 really that dramatic that law enforcement officials will notice that many more people driving under the influence? Probably not.

I doubt that the recommendation will see the light of day. After all, the NTSB has no jurisdiction to lower the BAL. That power rests with each state. And since when do all the states get in line and voluntarily do the same thing? Now, if changes in highway funding were tied to lowering the legal limit, then we might see some action.

I am confident that nothing will come of this draconian proposal because it is unpatriotic. I am sure that Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann will rise to the occasion and keep us from turning into Europe. After all, every European country, except for the United Kingdom, have BAL standards at or below 0.05%! And Russia, of all places, has a zero tolerance. Perhaps Palin will be patriotic enough to call for increasing the legal limit back to 0.1% just so we're less like her neighbors across the strait. If you ever watched any of those Russian dash-cam videos on Youtube can make your own assumptions on how the zero-tolerance thing is working out...

So sleep well tonight, Blake, dining out as we currently know it can be taken of the endangered activity list.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Deep, honest thoughts are always soulful (the importance of words)

Earlier this week, I was part of a twitter discussion about the use of figurative language in wine writing sparked by Alder Yarrow's description of wines as being "honest, soulful." What is an honest wine, you ask? Well, of course it is a wine that doesn't try to be something it isn't. Is describing wine in that way really useful? The honesty of a wine is purely subjective, but then again any description of a wine is subjective. Even the most objective part of a review, the numerical score, is subjective bullshit. Do you know what 93 points tastes like? I don't.

Now, I'm not saying that tasting notes are bullshit, but some of the words you may find in them are. Take honest, for example. David White took Alder's description as meaning "a bit flawed." Others might take "honest, soulful" to mean a pure expression of terroir. Me, it means nothing, but it makes me think about it. Is a mass-produced wine honest? Sure. Lots of mass-produced wines don't pretend to me artisanal. Is a 16.5% 2007 Châteauneuf-du-Pape dishonest because it is pretending to be wine when it is actually a liqueur? Or does it honestly taste like 100 points?

I get the reason why writers try to write colorfully about wine. There are only so many things that wine tastes like. You can only read about mocha, currants and tobacco in cabernet sauvignon so many times before you tune out. And consumers don't really want to read about methoxypyrazine, monoterpenes or ketones. pH and titratable acidity only matter to a small group of nerds like me (and probably you). Numbers just taste bland. Do abstract terms have real meaning. No. But, bullshit terms like honest and soulful actually make people discuss wine. And that is a good thing.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Colorado Wine Week, 2013

Next week (June 2-8) marks the third annual Colorado Wine Week. In 2011, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper proclaimed the first week of June to be Colorado Wine Week to coincide with the first ever Colorado Urban Winefest. Both the Urban and Mountain Winefest (in September in Palisade) are put on by the Colorado Association for Viticulture and Enology (the wineries' and vineyards' trade association). The Urban event has changed venues three times the past three years, but has also grown in scope beyond just the Saturday afternoon festival and may soon surpass the original festival in importance for the local industry.

The kickoff event for the week's festivities is billed as a "Farm-to-Turntable" Party on Sunday, June 2. The idea behind this event is to combine a farm-to-table passed appetizer gathering with music from a DJ. It is nice to see a fresh approach for Colorado wineries to reach a different audience. Almost all of the wineries are run by retired Baby Boomers and the younger generation is often overlooked as an important consumer base. Not surprisingly, perhaps Colorado's most successful winery, Infinite Monkey Theorem, has focused on the "farm-to-turntable" type of crowd. I am looking forward to seeing how successful this event is.

Sticking with the hipper crowd and bringing back a theme from last year's Wine Week, local alcoholic beverages other than wine will be celebrated as well. There will be a Colorado Cocktail Celebration (June 4) at Green Russell where Denver's top mixologists will use local wines in creating unique mixed drinks. Also, on June 6, organizers have developed a wine, beer and spirits food pairing competition they've dubbed "Craft Colorado" at Root 25 Taphouse & Kitchen. I think it is an important step for the industry be considered on the same level as the highly successful craft breweries and distillers in Colorado. Too often wineries complain that they're not as successful as the breweries instead of trying to place nicely with them and support everyone.

One of the highlights of the week for me (because I helped organize the Governor's Cup) is the Governor's Cup Awards Presentation Reception and Tasting at the Hospitality Learning Center at Metro State University on June 7. Only medal-winning wines from the competition will be allowed to be poured; so attendees won't have to worry about getting a mouthful of vinegar or horse manure. I was able to taste many of the winners during the competition and can say that there will be some really nice wines poured. And for the second year in a row a cabernet franc won best of show. This year, Creekside Cellar's 2010 Cabernet Franc succeeded the Winery at Holy Cross Abbey as earning the Governor's Cup. As I've said before, I think Colorado could really make cabernet franc its signature variety.

The week concludes with the Urban Winefest breaking in its new digs at Infinity Park in Glendale. More than three dozen wineries will be sampling and selling bottles. The rugby stadium and park are near the high-rent Cherry Creek North so the walk-up crowd should be sizeable and affluent. The venue is not as centrally located as last year's, but the space is bigger and parking is more ample. If the festival stays at Infinity Park in 2014 I'd say this year's event was successful.

Perhaps the most important part of Wine Week isn't the proclamation or the events, but the buy-in from area restaurants and retailers. Along the Front Range, from Boulder to Colorado Springs, restaurants and wine shops are now involved in the local industry like never before. Dozens of restaurants will be offering Colorado wine and appetizer pairings all week. The restaurant tier has been a tough cookie for most Colorado wineries to crack, but Wine Week has been a boon for getting on wine lists and in consumers' mouths. And getting Colorado consumers to see that Colorado has a growing, quality local wine industry is the goal of the whole week.

Tickets for all events can be purchased here. Use the promo code "WINEWEEK" for $10 off (25%) your ticket to the Urban Winefest.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Identity in Specialization

On Monday, I wrote about wine regions' need for signature varieties in creating an identity. The post my have been a bit odd because while I proclaimed the need for a region to be known for a specific grape variety I also praised two wines made from non-mainstream varieties. If the Russian River Valley weren't known for its pinot noir nor the Napa Valley for cabernet sauvignon, then these two wines would have been just another bottle in a sea of many. But because they both came from regions with strong ties to specific varieties (and styles), their uniqueness was part of their stories.

But above their respective regions' identities, both Gary Farrell and Massican have their own identities. Not surprising, Gary Farrell is known for producing chardonnay and pinot noir. Massican, on the other hand, is known for white wine blends inspired by the wines of North East Italy. Not too many Napa wineries can make that claim. Even in the sea that is Napa Valley cabernet, there are wineries that stand out because of their identities. Corison Winery is known for its age-worthiness, elegance and balance. Dunn Vineyards is known for its formidable tannins, bright acidity and low alcohol. Silver Oak is known for its prodigious use of American oak and the resultant characteristics. When buying wine from Napa, winery style/identity clearly is important. The same could be said about wine from every region.

In neighboring Sonoma County, there is a much more diverse set of wineries that also have to set themselves apart from their competitors. Just as in Napa, many strive to make the best example of the signature variety that they can. Yet, many also try to be known for something more specific or different. For example, take the group of 17 wineries (including Massican) that are a part of what they're calling the 7 percent solution. They are all rallying around lesser-known varieties like ribolla gialla, grenache blanc, trousseau, verdelho and others. While some of the wineries make less exotic varieties like cabernet sauvignon and syrah, together they are embracing diversity and experimenting with interesting (to me) varieties. I have been lucky enough to have tasted wines from nine of the wineries and in fact am proud to have purchased (yes, bloggers are also consumers...) and presently own wine from five of the wineries.

Now to bring this back to Colorado. I have told many of the wineries here that they make too many wines. It seems that every winery makes a merlot, a cabernet sauvignon, a cabernet franc, a syrah, a chardonnay, a riesling, a viognier, a sweet rosé and a few other odds and ends. Many even have the token port-style dessert wine. They claim they need the cabernet sauvignon for the serious drinker and the sweet rosé or a sweet riesling for the RV crowd just passing through. Of course they have to have chardonnay and merlot (they are the two of the most planted varieties in the state...). Making ten different varieties in three or four different styles is ok, if you're a big winery with the resources to spread yourself out. But the average winery in Colorado makes about 1,000 cases per year, total. So many wineries are making two or three barrels (50-75 cases) of ten or twelve wildly different wines. It seems that many of the Colorado wineries are trying to make a wine for every consumer without any thought given to the wineries' identity. I doubt any winery in Colorado is going to be the next Robert Mondavi Winery that can make a high-quality wine for every single type of consumer. I think many wineries make good wines, but I also think almost all of them have wines they should stop making in order to focus on their better wines.

Why not make a concerted effort to create an identity? What if a few wineries were known for only producing Rhône-style wines? What if a few wineries were known for their big, bold Bordeaux varieties? Rather than making many different, often mediocre, wines, wineries could focus on what they do best and do it better. I am more apt to buy a specific type of wine from a winery that specializes in that style than from a jack-of-all-trades winery.

Say a winery "needs" to have a white wine to sell in its tasting room. Perhaps buying finished bulk wine (or even shiners) from a winery known for its whites and selling it under their own could work for a winery making only Bordeaux varieties. Or, Colorado law allows Colorado wineries to sell any other Colorado wine in their own tasting room. Not spending the time and energy to make a mediocre wine just because you think you need to have it in your tasting room would allow you to spend more time and energy on the cabernet franc you do well. Plus, you might be able to sell a better white than if you had made it. That would be a great way to help promote the region as a whole. Wineries could focus on what they do best and also support their neighbors.

I don't want to knock all the wineries, because there are more than a handful that do already have an identity because of specialization. A brand is more than a winery name and logo. It is a promise to customers about the quality and type of product being offered to them. If they don't know what they're getting when they see a winery's name on a label, they're probably not going to buy that wine. Knowing the identity of a winery is perhaps more important than the identity of the collective region. And when individual wineries start being recognized for high-quality wines of a certain style, then the region will benefit as well.