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Friday, November 30, 2012

Scaling Back

I’ve been hearing for some time now that wine blogs are, as a whole, losing energy and becoming less popular.  I think that can be for any number of reasons, but whatever the reasons are, it seems to be true.

I’ve had some interesting observations regarding my own blog - most of my posts with the highest number of hits are among the most off-beat wine topics I’ve come up with, including Vranac from Montenegro, and a few Croatian wines.  To me, that’s a little peculiar.  I do understand that perhaps readers are led to those particular blog posts from Google because no one else has covered some of the topics I’ve covered, or at least not recently.

Then there have been other blog posts that have garnered a lot of attention, but not for the tasting notes or the seriousness of wine topics - no, especially in the case of one of my most popular posts this year, on what some of my wine friends began calling the “Nebbiolo man” - this was a blog post about the allure of men who age gracefully and comparing them to Nebbiolo based wines.  That post was meant just for fun, and the vast majority of my other posts were meant to be taken more seriously.  And instead, I drew some attention (and made some mischief) with a blog post centered more on men than on wine.

The somewhat broad topic that I’ve chosen to focus on is off-beat wines and the benefits of experimenting with them.  Many of the off-beat wines I’ve focused on are from Sud-Ouest, or South West France.  As I’ve explained in the blog on numerous occasions, I fell in love with the mysterious, terroir-driven, unique wines of Sud-Ouest after attending a master class with the Guild of Sommeliers last year, and being exposed to wines that would change the way I viewed wine ever since.  Other off-beat wines I’ve given attention to include wines from Savoie, Burgenland, Montenegro, Croatia, Campagna, and Valle d’Aosta, to name a few.  I’ve received a lot of questions as to why I prefer those wines.  Truth be told, I still have an affinity for good Bordeaux, like so many other wine drinkers.  And I love a good Rhone or Burgundy.  And I really love the wines of Piemonte.  My taste isn’t quite so strange as some may think.  But like I’ve explained before, it would be ridiculous to expect some of the native grapes in places like Irouleguy, Sicily, Wagram, Priorat, etc., to be produced here in the United States.  I prefer hunting down these wines and experiencing their uniqueness and expression of identity when they’re produced in their place of origin.  It’s a great way to learn, it’s fun, and it serves as a constant reminder what a tremendous place the wine world really is, and that the more we learn, the more we realize we still have yet to learn.  If I thought there was anything finite about wine, I’d lose some interest in it.  But knowing how much is left to explore, how much history there is to uncover, and how many new developments there will be - well, that makes it all the more irresistible to me.

Anyone who has been reading my blog since the beginning might recall why I started the wine blog.  I once had a friend that I met through a wine discussion on the internet.  He and I began our friendship and over time, and exchanged a lot of wine notes and observations.  When our friendship came to an abrupt end, it felt strange to me that I had no one to share my wine observations with, so I thought about simply posting it all to Facebook.  But then I decided to share them with whomever cared to read them, so that’s why I started my blog.  This January will mark 2 years since I started the blog.  I’ve learned so much in that amount of time.  In fact, I can hardly believe how much I’ve learned, and how quickly, and the changes it’s brought to my life.  I’ve since entered the wine industry, met some fascinating people, and interestingly enough, learned a great deal about myself.  If that sounds crazy, think of this - I started a wine blog to share my observations with like-minded people who love wine.  Since then, I changed careers, developed new friendships, and I’m learning what it is that I love.  Yes, I’ve been learning a great deal about myself.  5 or 10 years ago, I never would have predicted that this would be my current path.

Since entering the industry and meeting so many people who share my views and also having the chance to learn from each other, my real life interactions have replaced what was at one point exclusively online interaction regarding wine.  I’ve also noticed that while I’ve helped some people find new favorites in the wine world, and shed some light on different things to consider, I’ve realized that some minds are too shuttered or narrow and closed off from new ideas (or old ideas that never crossed that threshold of a person’s mind), and I’ve learned that it’s nearly impossible to have any effect whatsoever on a mind or palate so immovable.  And it’s exasperating to try and convince someone that it’s probably worth it to spend less on better quality wines than on mass produced wines that command prices higher than they should, only to be told that they think I’m wrong, or just looking for off-beat wines for the sake of being different.  And it’s also frustrating to have to explain very basic, fundamental things over and over, knowing that it’s not being heard and digested.  It’s also frustrating and annoying to have to defend my strong preference for wines produced as they were intended and have been grown, harvested, and produced for centuries - simply because my preference lies with tiny vineyards and producers in Europe, instead of Long Island, New York, United States, etc.  I like a lot of the people involved with the Long Island wine industry and in fact I have some favorite wines from Long Island (you can find them in this blog), and so I tend to keep most of my opinions to myself about what I really think of a lot of the wines produced here on the Island.  Meanwhile, I go along spending a lot less for wines that tell me a great deal about themselves, and transport me to a new place every evening when I open a bottle.  For me to feel the need to defend this concept, day in and day out, is more than just annoying and frustrating.  I’m proud to pour regular tastings in a wine boutique that focuses on both traditional and off-beat wines that are focused more on quality than on name but are predominantly from Europe, and I’m proud to represent a book that is 100% European and 100% quality driven.  Every time I go into another wine shop or restaurant with the book and the wines I represent, I’m enthusiastic and confident in them.

What I’m trying to say is, I think my blog has served to teach me a great deal over the past 2 years, but I’m not so sure I got through to anyone about a whole lot.  I’m beginning to feel that a lot of it falls on deaf ears, and the rest is just repetition to those who already agree and share my beliefs.  For those reasons, I’ve decided to scale back on the blog posts, and after the new year begins, marking 2 years of blogging, I’ll be writing only when I feel so inspired.

Friday, November 23, 2012

My Case for European Wine - Revisited (Again and Again)

“What’s with you and all these European wines?  Why no American wines?”

I hear this all too often.  Each time I answer, I come up with more reasons why I drink European wines at a ratio of probably 50 European wines to every 1 American wine I choose.  I think my reasons are logical.

I prefer lower alcohol wines.  I prefer leaner, brighter, terroir-driven wines.  I’m not saying that all European wines are in that category and no American wines fit in.  But generally, I find more expression of identity in European wines, and that the wines are truer to the grape and the region from which the grape originates.

It’s no secret that I also prefer esoteric wines that are made from grapes that grow exclusively in those tiny regions and appellations in Europe.  It would be impractical to expect American producers to experiment with Coda di Volpe, Negroamaro, Jacquere, Roter Veltliner, Negrette, etc.  American producers are a lot less familiar with those grapes and it would be risky to experiment excessively with them, especially since American consumers usually wouldn’t pay for off-beat wines and prefer to spend money on Chardonnay, Cabernet, Pinot Noir, and Zinfandel.  And it’s completely ok that American consumers generally prefer safe bets.  But when I look at quality/price ratio, I find that European wines are by far the more efficient way to go.

Certainly, there are exceptions.  But here’s an example.

A month or two ago, I was pouring at one of the regular Friday tastings.  A couple approached me and was completely unfamiliar with the wines.  The couple claimed they don’t drink any French wines (already a massive red flag in my mind), and that they prefer Italian and California.  I was curious to hear which Italian wines they like.  The man told me he likes Amarone and “the one that starts with a B, it’s really expensive” - Brunello, I asked him - yes.  And then he proceeded to tell me he could barely afford to drink them.  I asked him if he was at all familiar with Primitivo or Aglianico, and he had no idea what those are.  I explained, and hopefully he’s tasted a few since then.  I also asked him which are among his favorite American producers.  He told me he and his wife like Kendall-Jackson and Robert Mondavi.  (My thought process probably looked something like, “Aha!  I thought so!”  But obviously I wasn’t going to say that.)  I suggested he try some others.  He wanted to know why.  I told him he’d surely find more exciting wines of better quality elsewhere, and undoubtedly at a better price.  “Where?” he asked me - I responded, “Right here.  In this wine shop.  From France, and Italy, and Germany, and Austria, and Spain, and Portugal.”  He wanted to know if I was confident those wines in the $12-$20 price range would be better than the Mondavi wines.  I told him I was absolutely certain they’d be better, and I hope he and his wife took my suggestions.

It’s nearly always the case that I find much better deals with European wines.  Sure, there are some really expensive wines coming from Europe.  But in comparison to their American counterparts, I find that European wines are less expensive and tell their own stories through their grapes and terroirs.  Basically, my point is that I’d rather pay less and get more.  Wouldn’t anyone?  And yet I find that so many American consumers refuse to believe that a French or Italian wine would be less expensive than its American counterpart.  Seeing (or tasting) is believing, I suppose.

I’m completely open minded about it and I do have some favorite American producers.  Most are small producers who pay attention to detail and therefore create a unique wine.  But in all honesty, I don’t remember the last time I spent $15 or less on an American bottle and was completely satisfied with it.

So there’s some of my answer as to why I strongly prefer European wines.

Bergerac - 100% Merlot, Sud-Ouest.  Very dependable and expressive.  $13.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Keeping it Fun - Blind Tasting

Yes, wine should be taken seriously, for so many reasons.  But I think a lot of people who take it seriously tend to forget to have fun with it too.  I take it seriously but I make it a point to remind myself regularly to keep it fun.  How do I keep it fun?

Well, I aim to learn something new about wine every day.  I love researching things that might not have occurred to me previously, I enjoy trying new wines all the time from regions that often go forgotten, made of grapes that most Americans have never heard of, and I love attending tastings.  But one of the most fun things I can think of is blind tasting.  I do realize blind tasting is often done so that the person scoring the wine is not biased (or at least that’s what people claim), but I like doing it to keep my mind completely open, and to teach myself more about the characteristics of the grapes and terroirs.

Sure, it can be a humbling experience - sometimes a wine we hold in high regard comes up short, or sometimes our palates come up short and we have no idea what we’re tasting - but overall it’s lots of fun and a great way to keep it interesting.  And it’s also a great way to get others to try wines they might not have considered.  (All summer I suggested it to people to try, when their guests only drink white Zinfandel and they wanted to pour dry rose - I suggested covering the label or decanting.)

Want to try blind tasting at home?  Brown bagging is the way to go.  Open the bottle, remove the foil from the top, and try to cover as much of the bottle as possible with the brown paper bag (as oftentimes, the shape of the bottle gives away some clues).  Pour away and watch the other person/people observe the color, viscosity, aromas, flavors, and textures of the wine.  If it sounds like a challenge, it is.  If it sounds like fun, it is!

Friday, November 9, 2012

I’m Back

It feels so strange; I haven’t written any blog posts in almost 2 weeks.  Why?  We had a hurricane.


And we had no power for quite a while.

And we also had a nor’easter.

It was a rough couple of weeks - a bit stressful and challenging, but I’m feeling pretty lucky after hearing horror stories from communities not too far from here.  I’ve placed a link to the Red Cross Hurricane Sandy Relief efforts at the top right corner of the blog - please consider donating whatever you can to the recovery efforts in our area (Long Island, metro New York, and New Jersey).  Every little bit counts.

One of the things that got me through the past couple of weeks was wine.  No, I didn’t overdrink - that’s not what I meant.  Wine is that thing that makes my mind wander from where I am, it makes me think, it makes me happy, and it makes others around me happy, too.  Opening a couple of bottles every night with the family while we waited for our road to be cleared of the trees and debris, waited for our power to be restored, and waited for gasoline, food, and supplies to reach our area again, we had our wine together and it provided fun, comfort, and something to share and talk about and think about together.  This is no surprise to me, as we did the very same thing last year during the hurricane.

I hope we won’t have another experience like this for a long time.  But for now, I appreciate the stash of red wines that got us through the past couple of weeks, and I’m happy to welcome whites back into the mix, now that our refrigerator is up and running again and we’re able to chill the whites properly.