Friday, April 19, 2013

'A' for Concept, 'D' for Fulfillment

I marked this post to read because I loved the title.  Who doesn't want to drink great wine on a budget?  Perhaps the striking picture at the top should have dissuaded me from reading further.  Pouring wine over pennies in a glass might make a statement but it caused my palate to recoil in horror, the all too easily conjured, nasty metallic taste lingering in my mouth.
Their message is basically good, but wine does not lend itself to easy encapsulation.  You would never expect an article of this length to tell you how to build an entire music library nor how to successfully invest in collecting art without spending much money.  We want this for wine and where there is a demand, someone will fill it.
Providing a different perspective helped build my wine career and I continue the effort here.  I applaud the attempt from Food52 and acknowledge that most of their posts are thorough and well presented but this one demands a response.
The suggestion of single vineyard California chardonnay as a substitute for Grand Cru pinot noir from Burgundy is a bit ridiculous.  Ignoring the color change, single vineyard wines from California hardly carry the same pedigree as those from Burgundy.  Hundreds of years of grapegrowing experiments and results shaped the boundaries of the French vineyards.
"A single-vineyard wine is a wine that knows exactly who it is—it's confident and pulled-together, partly because of its unified origin."  There may be a distinct style that emerges from single vineyards in California but let's add some perspective here.  Romanee-Conti is a tiny vineyard.  It covers less than 5 acres.  The single vineyard chardonnay recommended by Food52 covers 39 acres, or about eight Romanee-Contis.  There is a single vineyard in Santa Barbara (Bien Nacido) that could hold almost 120 of the small Burgundian vineyard.  
The next suggestion is to look for second labels.  This can work out very well and is explained well as long as you limit your search to specifically labeled grape varieties.  If a winery does not use some juice in their $40 cabernet, for example, but sells the rest  for $15, that may be a good deal.  But if the wine is a blend it may bear no resemblance to the top wine at all.  If the expensive wine is a blend of 70% cabernet and 30% merlot, the second label might be exactly the reverse and not please your palate.  This can be especially true in Bordeaux.  The advice is solid, if a bit insufficient.  
In my experience, top-notch wineries in California that are selling their unused juice at a significant discount do not advertise that fact.  Much more prevalent these days are wineries creating a second label with fruit or juice purchased from growers and other wineries.  These offer no promises of bargains and often display nothing in common with the winery's primary wines.
The next section, about experimenting with unfamiliar varieties, misses an opportunity.  I am shocked they did not mention these two very cost effective options.  The best way to try a selection of new wines is to attend tastings, or get a tasting group together.  Bottle shops everywhere host regular, free, events and you can try wines here with no obligation.  Alternatively, gather ten friends with ten bottles and you just got to try a wide variety of wines for the price of one bottle (your contribution).  The added bonus is a party, you need not write notes or feel required to spout wine-speak.  Set a price, style, or even have one person buy all the wines and the other attendees will reimburse the host or rotate the hosting/buying duties.
Drinking local works as a green choice but rarely offers much in the way of bargains based on my extensive travels.  You may sacrifice much more pleasure than any savings you gain.  Please note that I am a big proponent of wines from all around the country, not just the West Coast, but I rarely feel like these wines offer great bargains along the lines of Spain or Argentina, for example.  
The final section almost seems like the author feel asleep or ran out of time.  
"Ice wines serve as a great example here—indulge in a renowned Sauternes from Bordeaux for $200 a bottle, or choose a wonderful bottle of Eden Ice Cider, from upstate New York, for $25."    I'm intrigued.  However, these beverages are not comparable, sort of like apples and oranges only we're talking apples and grapes.  I will mention, but not focus on, the fact that the Eden Ice Cider company is based in Vermont, not New York (perhaps their apples are from NY?).  Another disclaimer, Sauternes are expensive but they do not start at $200 a bottle, just like all Burgundy does not cost five figures, as Romanee-Conti can.  Finally, Sauternes are NOT ice wines.  They are dessert wines, like ice wines, but Sauternes are produced from grapes with botrytis, not frozen on the vine. [Bonny Doon used to make a great "ice-box" wine by freezing some late harvest grapes.  The wine offered a fantastic bargain but appears to no longer be produced].
Supposed authorities who publish incorrect information do plenty of damage.  Consumers may remember what they "learned," use it and be corrected by another "authority."  Even if the second has the right answer people will be left wondering what to believe.  

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Wine Pronunciation Guides

Raise your hand if you opted to study Spanish instead of French in school.  Now, keep your hand raised if you did this at least partly because pronouncing Spanish is much easier.  My hand is still up...anyone else?
Speaking French for me is an exercise in awkwardness and confused tongue-tying that can only be rivaled by the first time I called a girl to ask her out.  Still, I managed to muddle through more than a decade as a wine professional, actually helping people become more comfortable with saying the names of grapes and regions out loud.  
France does not have exclusivity on hard-to-pronounce wine names but with their long history and high profile they tend to intimidate more regularly and create people willing to quickly and vehemently correct you...even when they are wrong.
My two favorite moments regarding customers adamantly denouncing my pronunciation reach back to my retail days in the mid-1990s.  Both took umbrage with my French.  Muscadet and Chateauneuf-du-Pape mostly lend themselves to being sounded out (moos-KA-day and shat-o-newf-doo-pop) but emphasis changes everything.  One patron scolded me, saying, "The French say it this way, "MEEWWWWWS-ka-day. MEEWWWWWS-ka-day."  It sounded more like the beginning of a comedy routine or some sort of mating call than a pronunciation guide.  The other only objected to the ending of my version.  Instead of "doo-pop" he insisted, with hand flourishes included, that it should be "DOO-pop-PAY, DOO-pop-PAY."  
Snobs and bullies, unfortunately, abound in the world of wine...don't let them intimidate you.

Here are some of the best pronunciation guides on the web:
Wine Lover's Page - This offers many definitions and even a chance to click and listen to someone speak the word you selected.  I have an issue with some of the phonetics but they are minor.
Palm Bay International Audio Files - Excellent, if perhaps "overly correct," examples from their portfolio.  Fortunately they carry a lot of wines.  You can search by region, grape, producer, country, etc.  You have to search each time but this is impressive. - A large library of words and good phonetics.  No audio.

There are thousands of others, many with some audio pronunciation but they are much more specific, focusing on Bordeaux, Rhone varieties, etc. or on YouTube and I'm not going to listen to a five minute video for one word.  If you want to, by all means visit YouTube and search "wine pronunciation."

If you have other top-notch free resources, please feel free to share them here.  I will be creating a page with this information for easy access and there will be more to come.