Archive for the ‘Rants and random wine stuff’ Category

Drink Wine, Save the Planet

cowI just read a great post on It told me that some clever researcher has discovered that cows who eat winemaking residue (such as crushed up skins and seeds) are happier, healthier, and pass less gas.

Yes, someone found a way to measure cow flatulence (I can’t wrap my head around that one) and were able to determine that happy wine-junk-eating cows pump less gas into the atmosphere. And since an ordinary cow’s typical CO2 production is equal to an automobile’s (imagine that!), then feeding grape junk to cows is as good as car pooling for cleaning up the environment.


I know we’re all looking for ways to save our planet, so isn’t it GREAT that DRINKING MORE WINE has been added to the list? Now you can sip away all evening, knowing that the more you drink, the more new wine will be needed to meet increasing demand. And that creates more wine-grape-junk to feed to all those happy cows.

Check this article out for yourself: it’s a feel-good read.

Cows, the popular bovines behind beloved wine accompaniments steak and cheese, may get fit from wine just like humans do, a new agricultural nutrition study shows. Cows in Australia were fed about 11 pounds of grape pomace, or marc—the skins, seeds and stems usually repurposed after winemaking for brandy production, or tossed in the refuse bin—along with their usual cuisine of cow food, for 37 days. Some of the winemaking leftovers were consumed in pellet form and some were scraped right out of the vat, retaining their pleasing winey smell for the animals. Compared to the dairy cows that only ate hay and bugs or whatever, the wine waste bovines improved, at least for our purposes, in three ways: They produced 5 percent more milk, that milk was higher in anti-oxidants and fatty acids (that’s a good thing) and, perhaps best of all, the cows’ methane emissions were reduced by 20 percent. Cows, you see, have four stomachs, and when they get gassy after a big meal, entire ecosystems cry out with great lamentation: A cow annually spews as much greenhouse gas as a car does. So drink up—tonight’s wine might make tomorrow morning’s milk cheaper, better for you and better for the planet. —


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Wine: Good For Your Insides and Your Outsides

spaWine writers (like me) have gleefully written stories about the many, many health benefits of drinking wine. “Yippee,” we say. We can enjoy the wine we love and and believe it’s good for us, too.

So now I’ve read that wine is good for our outsides, as well as our insides. High-end spas all over the world are using wine and wine grape products for everything from facial masks to full-body soaks.

Here’s a link to a story in Wine Enthusiast magazine about all these wild and crazy (and no doubt, pricey) vino treatments. (Thanks to Nancy Robinson of Portovino Italiano Wines in Phoenix, Arizona for flagging the article.)  Some of them sound wonderful, but I reserve judgment on one that involves Carmenere wine, mineral water and oats…

Let me know if you’ve tried anything like these treatments. We’d all like to hear if you thought it was a thumbs-up or thumbs-down experience. Cheers!

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“Moscato Madness?” or Cheap and Nasty California Sweet Wine

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KISS and Wine Writing

wordsHow do you talk about wine without talking about wine?

That’s roughly the question posed by Mike Steinberger in his blog, Wine He wrote a post about the way all of us wine writers, bloggers, and critics describe the wines we’re writing about. “Tasting Notes” are what we call our descriptions of how a wine looks, smells, and tastes.

OK, tasting notes don’t sound too controversial, and it seems they serve a useful purpose. The thing about them is… I for one am sick to death of reading them and writing them. Traditional Tasting Notes can be:

  • the same old “blah, blah, blah”;
  • ambiguous and misleading;
  • total gibberish; or
  • a pack of downright lies.

The truth is, there are only so many descriptors we can use, and so we use them again and again, ad nauseum. For fruit characteristics, we talk about cherry, black cherry, blueberry, blackberry, raspberry, black raspberry, and in one notable case, qumquat.

“Qumquat?” I read that in a tasting note somewhere and set out to find one so I would know what it tastes like. I shouldn’t have bothered — it tastes like grapefruit mixed with essence of dirty socks. Scratch that word off the descriptor list…

And what about those earthy/savory components? It’s not unusual to read about forest floor, pencil shavings, musk, or my personal favorite, wet bush. But who really relates to those things? When was the last time you tasted pencil shavings?

Here’s the thing — we’re trying (lamely) to use words to describe a very visceral experience, and it doesn’t always work. I suggest we revert to the kind of notes I used to read in Wine X Magazine. I loved that magazine’s style (back in the Olden Days when there were actually printed magazines instead of e-everything).

A review in Wine X would go something like this:

“Drinking this Cabernet is like making love in the vegetable aisle.”

Now that’s a review that captures a sensory experience, and gets your imagination working to boot. I think the wine writing community should make a pledge now:

  • No more notes describing the wine. We’ll describe how we feel when we drink the wine.

Can’t you just see it now? Reviews will be short and to the point:

  • “This wine will remind you of when your mother made you eat those disgusting lima beans,” or
  • “This wine oughta replace Viagra in the ED ads.”

I like it: simple, straight-forward, and insightful. Let me know if you agree with me, and if you’ll join me in the pledge. Cheers!

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The Cure for Over-Wrought Winery Websites

websiteA fellow blogger who writes  The Winery Website Report” just flipped my switch. He wrote a post called “Why Most Winery Websites Stink, Part II”, where he explains why many winery websites, well, suck.

That’s putting it kinda bluntly, but the truth is that too many winery websites are mind-blowingly visual and high-tech, but they tell you almost nothing about… the wine!

I’m sensitive to this problem, because I always start work on my posts by researching the winery and the wine region in question. I want information that I can use to understand the winery and its wines, and if I like what I see (and taste), I end up promoting them to an international wine audience.

Unfortunately, I too often get fancy graphics instead of info. The first bad sign comes right up front, as the website is building on my screen. If I see one of those running bars that says something like, “Uploading images, 98% to go,” I sigh and settle in for a wait. If I see an on-screen message that says, “Skip Intro,” I think, “Yeah, don’t have to sit through this one,” and I click to the next page.

Problem is, the other pages are often just more spectacular images. Still no information.

Michael Duffy, creator of the Winery Website Report, uses a good quote to explain the problem:

“Say you’re a designer and you’ve got to demo a site you’ve spent two months creating,” Bohan explains. “Your client is someone in their 50s who runs a restaurant but is not very in tune with technology. What’s going to impress them more: Something with music and moving images, something that looks very fancy to someone who doesn’t know about optimizing the Web for consumer use, or if you show them a bare-bones site that just lists all the information? I bet it would be the former—they would think it’s great and money well spent.”

OK, now I get it. “The sizzle” beats “the steak” when the person approving the website doesn’t understand the technology or the process enough to know what really matters. Read the rest of this entry »

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Wine and Millennials: “Everything Old Is New Again”

millennialsOK, I’ll try not to sound like an old geezer when I say this — I’m really tired of pandering to “Millennials.” It seems like every ambitious marketer and academic is studying or reporting on the habits and preferences of this category, which is supposed to be the focus of our sales and marketing efforts for everything from cars to computers to wine.

Here’s the latest overblown academic treatise that set me cursing:

Dr. Liz Thach MW, Korbel Professor of Wine Business & Management at Sonoma State University, released a study on the wine drinking habits of Millennials. Now before I go any further, let me specify that Millennials are defined as people born between 1980 and 2000 (give or take), and are also known Gen Y. They followed the previously famous Gen X, and they’re basically the children of the Post WWII Baby Boomers.

Have you got that? I know I’ve got two — Millennials, I mean. I (a self-confessed Baby Boomer) produced two children in the 1980′s, so I’ve had a chance to examine the care and feeding of this group in a very “up close and personal” way. I don’t feel I need an academic study to analyze their behavior, but I’ll go along with it. Hey, it may tell me something useful for my wine business.

This study, which was commissioned by the Wine Business Institute at Sonoma State University, was designed to determine the most common occasions during which young people drink wine. Here are the results.

The two wine-drinking occasions listed most often are Special Occasions and  Drinking Wine with Meals at a Formal Restaurant. Nothing revolutionary there, and in fact the study says these were the most common occasions listed by previous generations (including mine).

Next most popular: Family Get Togethers, Special Events (graduation, weddings, etc.), Friend’s Night, Parties, Theme Nights (movies, games, etc.) Date Nights/Romance, On Vacation.

OK, I’m waiting for something I don’t know already. Aren’t these the exact same occasions during which we Baby Boomers consume wine now? And that were popular when we were the 20-Something Generation (they didn’t give us initials like X and Y back then)? Read the rest of this entry »

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Sports Team Owner Jump Starts Restaurant Business


From Wine Enthusiast: Dallas Mavericks player Dirk Nowitski drinks the extra-large bottle of Armand be Brignac champagne.

It’s no secret that the restaurant biz — particularly the high-end restaurant biz — was hit hard by the Great Recession. If you’ve been living under a rock and weren’t aware how much they’ve been struggling, you can read my post about the misfortunes that have befallen fine dining establishments (“Ode to Overpriced Restaurant Wines”).

So it was thrilling to read that one billionaire is doing his best to single-handedly jump-start the luxury night-club biz and enrich at least one club and its staff. Here’s the story I just spied in

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban spent a whopping $110,000 while celebrating at the trendy nightclub Liv at Miami’s Fontainebleau after winning the NBA Championship against the Heat on Sunday night. Cuban spent $90,000 on an oversized bottle of Armand de Brignac Champagne for teammates Dirk Nowitzki, Brian Cardinal, Jason Terry and Shawn Marion in celebration of their victory, which they finished in a mere four hours. But that’s not all. When the bill arrived, Cuban left an additional $20,000 tip for the wait staff. According to Forbes, he’s ranked 459th on the “World’s Richest People” list and has a net worth of $2.5 billion.

Wow. God bless the guy for being willing to part with that much cash for a single bar item. But here’s what I’m trying to figure out:

The “Armand de Brignac” the big guys were enjoying must be the famous “Ace of Spades,” made infamous by rappers like Jay-Z who’re seen quaffing it in rap videos. Ace of Spades has become the Must-Have Drink du Jour of celebrities and celebrity-wannabe’s.

On the internet (and in my shop) a regular size bottle of Ace of Spades goes for $250. In a luxury club or restaurant in a place like Vegas or New York, I’m guessing that 750ml bottle could go for $1000 — or I’ll go nuts and say it’s on the list for $2000.

So how big does the bottle have to be to be listed for $90,000?? That’s 45 times more money than the regular bottle!

You know, I should stop belaboring that point. Who cares how big it was, or how astronomically over-priced it seems. If Liv nightclub wants to charge $90,00 for a bottle of wine, and if Mr. Cuban is willing to pay it, then good for them. I thank them all for doing their bit to enliven the U.S. entertainment scene.

And oh yeah — thanks for beating the Heat, too.

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Giving Wines a Health Score: Sense or Nonsense?

grapesI read in a recent post by Dr. Vino that a couple of British wine people have created an online wine store that rates all of its wines on a healthfulness scale.  The site is called and here’s how Dr. Vino describes it.

Vinopic brings together Rosemary George, Master of Wine and one of the UK’s leading wine writers and critics, and Professor Roger Corder, world renowned health expert and author of The Wine Diet. These two wine experts assess and score every wine at Vinopic for the two key elements of wine quality. Roger guides consumers in the direction of higher “natural quality” by taking into consideration the richness in grape polyphenols. Rosemary ensures the wines are of superior “drinking quality”, rewarding aroma, taste and pleasure.

If you’re wondering what they mean by “Natural quality” and what “grape polyphenols” have to do with anything, they’re obliquely referring to our old friend, Resveratrol. This substance found in red grapes and therefore red wine was the Miracle Drug of the mouseMoment a year or two ago. Researchers found that if they fed massive amounts to laboratory mice, the little critters would show reduced signs of aging. (You can read all about it in my post, “Are You A Man (Woman) Or A Mouse?”).

Every nutritionist and anti-aging quack jumped on the Resveratrol bandwagon, and many wine geeks made it their mission to figure out which red wines would give drinkers the most anti-aging bang for their buck. They published articles saying things like, “Cool-climate Pinot Noir has the highest levels of Resveratrol, followed by mountain-grown Malbec” (or something like that).

People who didn’t know any better (i.e. who drank little or no wine of any kind) came stumbling into my wine shop, clutching dog-eared pages ripped out of magazines and newspapers. They believed that the key to their health and happiness lay in procuring this one, exact, cool-climate, mountain-grown red wine. And when I told them the Oregon Pinot they were seeking was gonna run them $25 or $30 a bottle, they almost wept.

What was the problem then? Too much hype and not enough common sense.

And what’s wrong with the Vinopic concept (in my humble opinion)? Too much hype and not enough common sense.


Wines made from grapes that ripen slowly, i.e. where cooler temperatures and lots of sunlight allow longer “hang time,” will have more developed polyphenols (and Resveratrol), which are the compounds in red grapes that ripen more slowly than grape sugars and also happen to contribute flavor and complexity to wine.

Grapes grown that way are also the ones used to make higher-quality wines: it costs more to baby the grapes through their growing season, usually dropping fruit to limit yields and further improve quality. So the wines made from these grapes cost more.

The cheaper wines generally use grapes grown by the boatload, the more tons the merrier, in the relatively hot Central Valleys of the world.

Do they have less Resveratrol? Yes. Are they less healthful and lower quality? Yes again.

But not just because of the Resveratrol. These wines happen to be made by companies that intend to fill grocery store shelves with wine in jugs and boxes. To keep costs down and to standardize flavor profiles, they add to the wine: CHEMICALS, SUGAR, SULFITES, AND GOD KNOWS WHAT ELSE.

So we’re getting around to the Moral of my Story: If you want to be healthy, feel youthful, and enjoy a lovely-tasting beverage with food, friends and family — drink any red wine that doesn’t come in a jug or 5 liter box (notice I said % liter, because there’s some decent stuff in 3 liter boxes) and doesn’t cost less than about $8 a bottle. (Or even a little less for some good-quality and good-tasting imports from Spain, Chile or Argentina.)

It’s that simple. You don’t need complicated rating systems or scientific reports — just ask your friendly local wine merchant to recommend a good, naturally-made red (i.e. with no unnecessary additives) and whether it’s a Pinot Noir, Malbec, Rioja or Cab, you’ll be doing your body a favor while you give yourself some fun and pleasure.

And now excuse me — I’m gonna pour myself a glass of red wine. Cheers!

P.S. – I tried to go to and Google says “Cannot Be Found.”




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Smart Marketers, Smart Wine People: Costco, Inc.

costcoI wanted to hate these people. I wanted to slam them for being hacks and opportunists.

Unfortunately, they’re doing a way better job than I thought.

Costco‘s warehouse stores are one of the biggest of the Big Enemies for independent wine retailers like me. Their prices are almost guaranteed to be the lowest in the area, so they usually undercut the smaller independent retailer, and duke it out with the big chains (Total Wine & More, Bev Mo) for market supremacy.

On the down side, Costco doesn’t have nearly the selection of the big chains, or even of a good-sized independent. Even with 145,000 square feet in most of their warehouse stores, only 5,000 or so are devoted to wine, beer and spirits.  The trade-ff, though, is that consumers gain the convenience of picking up the wine for tonight’s meal while they’re shopping for the meat and cereal.

So I just read an interview that makes Costco look pretty darn good. It was published in Shanken News Daily, an online publication that features news and research on the wine, spirits and beer business. SND was talking to Annette Alvarez Peters, who heads the wine/beer/spirits buying team for Costco. I assumed that their sales would be impressive — yes, they did $2.345 billion (yes, with a “b”) in global beverage alcohol sales in 2010, and are projecting a healthy increase for this fiscal year. I also assumed they weathered the recession well, because in down times buyers seek out bargains (real or perceived).

But I didn’t expect this: Costco’s wine buying team (and it is a team) is manned by Alvarez-Peters and 10 buyers. Each has the know-how to research and select inventory items, which requires indepth knowledge of wine regions, varietals, consumers’ shifting preferences, etc. These 11 folks have a combined 254 years of wine/alcohol experience — thats sounds impressive to me! And they have an impressive amount of wine education: Level 2, 3 and even 4 certification from the Wine and Spirit Educational Trust. Read the rest of this entry »

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Dan Berger Hasn’t Really Discovered Sweet Muscat Wine

moscatoWe’ve been selling Moscato for years. We sell it to all those folks who don’t like dry wines, and there are many of those. Usually they’re at the beginning of the wine learning curve, and after drinking sweet stuff for a while, they decide they want to try less-sweet stuff.

So let’s link to Dan Berger’s article in the that claims that Barefoot Cellars has done wine drinkers a favor by producing a California “Muscat” at around $7. I’ve talked to many people who’ve tasted this wine, and let me be clear: it’s not good wine. My sweet-loving customers have told me it tastes like lighter fluid compared to good Italian or California Moscatos. It may be the same grape, or a derivative of it, but whatever they do to it at the Gallo wine factory takes all the wonderful flavor out of it.

The best Moscato’s are the ones from Italy, because that’s where the grape originated. In Italy’s Asti region, they make wonderful wines from the Moscato grape: they’re sweet, but not with added sugar, and have some natural spritz and nice acid on the finish to keep them from being cloying. The Italians  manage the fermentation process so that fermentation is stopped before all the sugar is consumed, which means there’s a lower level of alcohol but luscious natural sweet, peachy flavors. Some people drink them as table wines and some as dessert wines: either way, they are the best affordable sweet wines on the market (priced in the low to high $teens).

There are also some very good California Moscatos that have been around for some time. St. Supery makes one in the high $teens and Martin & Weyrich Moscato Allegro is in the low $teens (this was one of our best-selling wines more than 10 years ago). And if price is the object, you can buy a good quality Australian Moscato from Banrock Station for about the price of the Barefoot.

I don’t want anyone, including Dan Berger, to drink bad Moscato. In fact, I’d be happy to send him a bottle of really good Moscato. Once he’s tried it, he’ll understand…





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