Does It Matter How A Wine is Made or Just Whether You Like It Or Not?

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As many of you know, I love to partake in other blogs and wine bulletin boards, for these discussions are always ‘fruitful fodder’ for my own blog here. And believe, not a day goes by where another topic comes up that I feel is perfect to ‘verbiage’ about it!

There is constant chatter about being ‘non-interventionist’ when it comes to making wine, ie. taking as few steps as possible in going from grape to bottle. I think all of us can agree that, in theory, this is a desired path, and not only with grapes to wine, but with farm to table, etc.

The reality is that winemakers are interventionists, each and every one of us. By mearly making the decision WHEN to pick a grape, we have intervened. By choosing specific rootstocks to put into the grand, we are intervening. By choosing to age our wines in stainless steel or oak or cement, we are intervening. And on and on and on.

But there are many other steps taken by some, but not all, winemakers to go from grape to bottle, and this is where it gets a bit ‘sticky’. One discussion veered off toward the topic of MegaPurple, a product that was created to give red wine more color and to add a touch of sweetness.

The product itself is created from wine grapes, so it is a legal additive and is approved for use in wine. That said, it is associated with mass production, ‘industrial’ wines that lack color and depth and therefore NEED this product in order to make them palatable and, more importantly, visibly ‘appealing’.

Therefore, should a winemaker admit to using this, they would be ‘banned’ from many a discussion about ‘better’ wines because, you know, it just shouldn’t ‘happen’. These ‘smaller production, higher value’ wines obviously don’t NEED this product because, you know, they are ‘better made’ and more ‘artisinal’.

Guess what – this product, along with others that wine connoisseurs would find ‘unmentionable’, are used by smaller producers from time to time. And what about ‘oak chips’, created so that wines could age in stainless steel but still have that ‘oak flavor and aroma’ that consumers just dig? Again, this product is associated with lower priced industrial wines, but I know of a few producers who have used this, and continue to say in their marketing that their wines are ‘aged in French oak’. They just conveniently forget to add the word ‘chips’ J

Which brings me back to the original question – do you care how a wine is made if you like it? Or in other words, do the winemaker’s means justify the winemaker’s end? Do you truly care if MegaPurple is added if you like the finished product? And just as importantly, how would you feel if that winemaker didn’t disclose this?

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on this today . . .

Cheers!

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Would You Like an Ice Cube with That Glass of Red Wine?

red wine with ice cube

I’m just curious what your first reaction is when you hear that first line? Is it ‘outrage’, as in ‘I can’t believe anyone would even THINK of asking that question!’? Is it ‘disgust’ as in ‘I can’ think of anyone ACCEPTING an ice cube with their red wine!’? Is it ‘sympathy’ as in ‘I feel SORRY for that person who would put an ice cube in their red wine.’ Or is it something else?

I was talking with a good friend of mine the other day, and he said that he always thought that putting ice in a red wine was ‘blasphemous’ – until he was in Florida and every glass of red wine he had was served too warm! Guess what he did – yep, added a little ice to it to cool it down . . .

I continue to be amazed out how dated some of the’conventional wisdoms’ are in the wine business – the generally accepted ‘dos’ and don’ts’ that seem to guide so many people. Now, I know many of you are thinking – but that’s not me, I’m really open minded about all things wine.

Really? Let me hear it for white zin!!! Yep, I know many of you are laughing right now – it’s just a knee jerk reaction that is prevalent in the wine biz – both at the producer level AND definitely with consumers. Well, did you know that white zin continues to be one of the most popular wines out there? And no, it’s not just because ‘many wine consumers are uninformed’ . . . a lot of people, wait for it, actually LIKE white zin. You may not, and that’s cool – but it is not cool to look down upon or not accept those who do like it.

There are so many of these conventional wisdoms that I feel need to be ‘re-evaluated’ these days and either discarded or updated. What about the ‘only have white wine with fish’ idea? Can this ‘rule’ be broken?!?!? Heck yeah – I am many of my friends do it all of the time! What about ‘only reds with red meat’? Well, how about a nice glass of white burgundy or perhaps a roussanne – yep, these can and do certainly go with red meats.

What are some of your favorite ‘rules’ in the wine business that you feel need to be ‘broken’ or re-evaluated? Here’s another one to start the discussion – screw caps are only meant for ‘cheaper’ wines or only those wines meant for ‘consumption now’!

Cheers!

What Does It Mean When a Wine is ‘Corked’?

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I am having a lot of fun these days in the tasting room and elsewhere asking folks what they think of when I say a wine is ‘corked’. It is a bit ‘disturbing’ as well, though, since there obviously is a LOT of misinformation out there, and it seems as if the wine business really isn’t doing too much to change that.

It’s been really interesting to hear the descriptions thus far, and I thought I’d share some with you – and please note that many of these are from ‘experienced’ wine drinkers:

‘It’s when a wine just tastes bad.’

This, to me, is still one of my favorites . . .

‘It’s when a wine has a port-like flavor and smell.’

This can be many things, but if I had to guess, it would probably be oxidized, perhaps from exposure to heat at some point.

‘It’s when the cork breaks up when you try to take it out’.

You may not know this, but most wineries ‘measure’ the moisture in corks before they go into the bottle during the bottling process. If it’s too dry, the usually reject the lot, for it won’t create a perfect seal and therefore can cause too much oxidation during bottle aging, and can lead to leaking, or perhaps brittle corks. (And on the flip side, it can be problematic if it’s too moist as well.) Corks also dry out over time if wine is stored vertically, for the wine is not in contact with the cork anymore. This is one of, if not the, main reasons why most bottles should be stored on their sides.

‘It’s when a wine smells like vinegar.’

There are many potential causes of this, but this should not be a descriptor for a ‘corked’ wine. High levels of volatile acidity lead to the smell of vinegar in a wine, and there are a couple of different causes. In many cases, this is due to the wine itself – either having very high pH’s that make it difficult to keep the wine from ‘oxidizing’ and leading to this, happening during the winemaking process, or perhaps due to a bad cork seal leading to oxidation.

‘It’s when a wine smells like a barnyard’

Nope, in most cases, this would be due to brettanomyces, a ‘spoilage’ yeast that is generally caused by poor cleaning in the winery or perhaps bad cleaning of older barrels. Brett, as we refer to it, can also continue to ‘bloom’ in bottled wines if they are bottled unfiltered and if they are exposed to elevated temperatures at any time during their lives.

I happen to have a hose bib right outside of the back door to my tasting room, and I discovered long ago that the water that comes out of there is a perfect ‘standard’ for TCA, which is the telltale sign that a wine is ‘corked’. The water smells like wet cardboard/wet cement/damp and moldy basement. THIS is what is meant when a wine is ‘corked’, or at least ‘bad enough’ that these scents are noticeably present. (If a wine is just ‘slightly’ corked, the aromatics will simply be ‘muted’.)

Why am I writing this? I believe there really needs to be more education about ‘corked wines’ in our industry if we want to get a true idea of how many bottles out there are truly affected by this. Right now, the feeling is that the ‘problem’ is getting better and better because of steps taken during the production process. The reality is, though, that if consumers have no clue what a ‘corked’ wine truly is, could numbers that we’ve been seeing be ‘greatly understated’? And more than that, don’t we as an industry owe our ‘customers’ a better understanding of what they are drinking and why a wine may not smell or taste the way it is ‘supposed to’?

We owe it to consumers to let them know that wines do go bad, and explain to them how and why. These are the ‘touch point’ opportunities for us in tasting rooms, at wineries, in restaurants, at wine shops, during wine seminars – use those to not only highlight the ‘good’ things, but also let them really experience and be able to name some of the ‘off’ things as well.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this please.

Cheers!

Are Young Wines ‘Assessed’ Fairly? Depends Upon The Producer, Perhaps?

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I enjoy reading a number of different blogs and one that caught my eye was Steve Heimoff’s commentary on the World of Pinot Noir tasting which took place last weekend at the beautiful Bacara Resort in Goleta, just north of Santa Barbara.

He went to a Burgundy vertical tasting of a specific producer’s wines, and he commented that all of them were great, but that only the oldest one was ‘drinkable’ now. Upon further questioning, he felt the younger wines were simply showing too much acid or tannin and simply weren’t balanced – but he did not see this as a fault, but instead, a sign that these wines will continue to age.

This brings up the big question – what if he were tasting a wine from a ‘lesser known’ or ‘unknown’ producer that had these same traits (ie was ‘backwards’ and needed more time to truly strut its stuff). Would he be as ‘kind’ and ‘understanding’ and give it the same benefit of the doubt?

And I’m not trying to single Mr. Heimoff out, as I do appreciate his take on many things wine-related. I believe that most reviewers, without the benefit of a ‘track record’, may indeed not be as kind to a ‘backwards’ wine these days as they may have been, say, two decades ago.

Producers are releasing their wines earlier and earlier to try to recoup their monetary outlays and to try to make room for future vintages. In order to do this, though, many wines are being made in a much more ‘forward’ manner,  wines that are more approachable and drinkable at younger and younger ages.

So what to make of producers who are making wines with plenty of ‘rough edges’, wines that are meant to lay down for a while. Do you still search these out, even if reviewers would ‘pan’ them for not being ‘drinkable’ now?

I’m curious to hear your thoughts on this.

Cheers!

To The Heroes That Walk Among Us Every Day . . .

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I am incredibly honored to be surrounded by a lot of heroes in my world. Now, these folks are not movie stars or rock stars or even fashion models. They are not ‘famous’ in the macro sense of the word – they are not recognized by millions (at least, as far as I know).

They are heroes none the less for what they do on a daily basis. They are teachers, like my father was over three decades; they are doctors, like my best friend from high school and his wife are back in Philadelphia. They are stay-at-home moms, like my mom was, trying to corral me and my four brothers. They are policemen and policewoman, like my ex-father in law was for decades and decades. They are soldiers, as my father was back in World War II.

This past weekend, I was in the presence of a true hero, though he would never consider himself to be one.  His actions brought together about 150 people from as far and wide as Toronto, Philadelphia and New York to his home in Southern California in order to raise funds for something he feels incredibly passionate about – a safe haven for women and their children affected by domestic violence.

His connection to this house is intimate – his wife, a psychiatrist, had her first intern there and continues to assist with the organization. He certainly did not feel ‘obliged’ to do anything to support this cause – he just felt it was the right thing to do.

He didn’t set out to become a ‘hero’ and that just makes him that much more enduring to me and those that know him.

Why is this important enough to be a blog post about wine? Wine was the catalyst that brought all 150 of us together this past weekend; wine was what helped raise over $20,000 that afternoon and has raised about $100,000 thus far from efforts led by this person over the past number of years.

Wine is powerful and can not only be something to make and drink, but it can also be ‘used’ to make a difference in many folks’ lives. I love that something I love to make can help others in ways that I never knew I could – and I hope to support causes such as this for many years to come.

So raise a glass to Mr. Frank Murray III this evening or sometime this week, if you don’t mind, and see how you might be able to ‘make a difference’ in a similar way.

Cheers.

Is Image Anything . . or Everything?

image is everything

The wine industry is a fun place to ‘call home’. There are tons of great characters out there; wine continues to be an absolutely fascinating ‘vehicle’ to work with and is truly ever changing; and one will never tire with the challenge of introducing one’s wines to new folks all of the time.

As we all know, or probably should know, it’s sad but true that what lies ‘inside’ the bottle often has little to do with whether a wine is purchased in the first place – and often whether it is repurchased for that matter. The packaging of the product is extremely important, as is the reputation of the winery, the winemaker, etc.

But here’s a question for you – do you care what the principals of a company ‘stand for’ or how they act when it comes to the purchasing of that product? Does it matter if they’ve supported causes that you might not support (such as Chick Fil A and their anti-gay stance or Carl Karcher of Carl’s Jr. fame and his anti-gay and anti-semetic stances). Does this truly affect your purchasing decsions?

A recent blog post came out about a famous French producer not allowing long time reviewers to review their wines because of ‘less than stellar’ reviews of a previous vintage, among other things. On the surface, this seems like a very short-sided thing to do for the producer. Of course, there may be other sides to the story, but for now, it appears that the winery in question is ‘running scared’ and, for them, in a very public manner.

So again, the question remains – would this affect your purchasing of these wines? Would it matter if a winemaker or winery owner publicly or even privately stated that they were ‘against’ something you stand for?

Curious to hear your thoughts on this . . .

Is It What’s Inside that Really Counts?

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One of the challenges making and trying to sell wine in this industry is that what’s inside the bottle seems to be the least important thing in the process at times. This may sound strange, but let me explain . . .

Visual and verbal clues help ‘guide’ us in everyday life. Your senses are honed to quickly get information to your brain – that doesn’t ‘look’ right or that ‘smells’ great. It’s human nature, and that’s not a bad thing at all.

When it comes to subjective stuff, though, it certainly can wreak havoc on trying to ‘evaluate’ something on face value. Let’s take wine, for instance. I make a dryish Gewurztraminer. You would not believe the types of responses I get when I mention this – and before a drop is even poured. Many many people simply say – no, I don’t want to try that because I don’t like sweet wines’ or  ‘I really want to try this because I like sweet wines.’  A ‘picture’ is set with their senses as to what to expect when the wine is poured . . .

Those that don’t like sweet wines will begrudgingly try the wine – after I ‘force’ them to, of course – but their mind is already anticipating a specific experience with the product based on the variety itself and they will perceive it ‘with bias’. The same is true with those who like really sweet wine.

How do I ‘get around’ some of these biases? I work as hard as I can to actually have someone taste the wine itself and judge it for what it is. I also do not call this wine a gewürztraminer, but instead call it The Outlier J

Or take rose.  Yep, it’s certainly ‘hip’ to like rose these days, and you’re seeing more and more of them produced in drier, crisper, more ‘food friendly’ style. That said, just showing someone the bottle will illicit an immediate reaction because of the color alone. Many will not even want to try the wine. Why? ‘I don’t drink white zinfandels’ is often the reasoning I here.  There’s nothing wrong with white zins at all, if that’s what you like, but the visual color clue is immediately telling them what to ‘expect’ about the wine.

And there have been tons of studies about how the label itself affects how one ‘feels’ about the product and whether or not you are drawn to wanting to pick it up off of the shelve if in a retail location.

What are your thoughts on this? Have you ever found yourself excited or not excited about a wine because of the color of the wine itself, descriptors used, the label, etc.? I’m curious to hear and to get a discussion going on the subject.

Cheers!