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Friday, December 28, 2012

Demand Better Quality

Someone once told me that a low price tag does not excuse poor quality.  He was talking about wine, of course.

He also said that when a person finds him/herself excusing poor quality without giving it any thought, perhaps it’s time to stop lowering their standards.

When I see things becoming acceptable, things that were once regarded as subpar or taboo or simply unacceptable for whatever reason, I begin to wonder why.  Culture becomes dumbed down, attention to detail goes by the wayside, quantity outweighs quality.  I once referred to this as the “White Zinfandelization” of our culture.

When I was in college, I majored in politics and minored in European studies (and this was before I knew I’d enter the wine industry someday), and part of my minor was studying a European language - I studied Italian and Latin during my college years.  I had one favorite Italian professor, a lady who made class entertaining and treated us with respect, and I learned a lot.  What she pointed out to us, interestingly enough, was that she spent more time correcting her students’ use of the English language than she did correcting improper Italian grammar.  This was odd because all of us in the class were native English speakers, and she’s a native Italian speaker.  She couldn’t understand why she had better command of our language than some of the American students did.

When I look at things I read and I hear people speaking, proper use of grammar sounds wonderful to me.  Several years back, I think it would have been the case that poor use of grammar would have disturbed me.  It still does, but it’s become much more normal these days, to see the language perverted.  The dumbing down of other things disturbs me, too.  I think one thing that surprises me is when someone is rewarded for doing a good thing.  Shouldn’t someone always be doing the good thing, and should bear the consequences when he/she does the wrong thing?  Shouldn’t “good,” “right,” “well done” be the standard?

I once knew a music professional, and one day he was conflicted with whether to tell one of his students how poorly she had performed on a particular occasion.  I explained to him that as a professional in his field, it’s his obligation to ensure good quality.  I think people in any profession have an obligation to ensure good quality.

People seem to settle for poor quality products, services, etc., regularly.  I don’t understand that.  Why should we accept less than what we bargain for?  I don’t care if a wine is inexpensive - that’s not an excuse for it to taste or smell bad, or have an unpleasant feel, or give the drinker absolutely no pleasure.  I don’t care if it only cost a dollar.  It would be a dollar wasted.  I’m amazed literally all of the time by how many people think they can’t afford good wine.  Most everyone can afford good wine, because good wine doesn’t have to be expensive wine.  There are good wines across the price ranges.  But whether it’s expensive or inexpensive, it’s got to be good quality.  Lots of producers realize now that people will settle for poor quality products, so they can turn out products that are subpar and still know with reasonable certainty that the product will fly off the shelves of wine shops and out of the cellars of restaurants.  Why?  People people have lowered their standards.  And it’s often quite difficult to raise standards once they’ve been lowered.

I drink wine every night.  Not alone - I don’t think I could handle that.  But I do drink wine every night, and each night, it’s something different.  And nearly every night, it’s a wine that retails between $10 and $15, and almost never over $20.  Nearly all the time, I’m satisfied with the wine.  A while back, I used to drink wines made by larger producers.  I didn’t know what was out there, available to all of us, if only we look for them.  That has changed completely for me.  Wines made by small producers show more attention to detail and better quality, and the wines are often inexpensive.  Those small independent producers are driven by quality over quantity, and that’s the best way to ensure satisfaction.  And here’s another reason why I find good wines - I shop in places where the owner or buyer has high standards and will only stock his/her shelves with wines of good quality.

So it’s not necessary to spend loads of money to ensure good quality in a wine.  And this tells me that price should not determine quality.  Like I said, just because something may be inexpensive, that doesn’t excuse poor quality.

I also mentioned something about how absurd it is to reward a job well done.  A job should always be well done.  Wine should always be good quality.  A job poorly done should be “punished” in some way, and in my opinion, the best way to punish someone for making a poor quality product is to leave the product on the shelves.  For the same price (or perhaps even less) we can find a much better product.  Show the producers that you demand good quality, and that you won’t settle for anything less.  If we keep on buying lousy products, we’re encouraging them to keep on making bad wine.  If we refuse to settle, and instead channel our money toward people who ensure good quality, we’re doing everyone a favor, including ourselves, by purchasing good quality wine, as well as forcing others to strive to make a better product.  If we keep on settling, we will never be satisfied.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Celebrating the Holidays

If you’re reading this blog post, it means the world did not end as “predicted” - you didn’t really believe that, did you?  I didn’t!  And I certainly hope you didn’t deplete your best bottles you’ve been saving in your wine cellar just to make sure you drank them all before the world ends.

Let’s just assume you did not drink all those great bottles.  I think I know what we should be doing with our favorite bottles, or some bottles we’ve been holding on to for a while - we can enjoy them over Christmas and New Year’s with the people we care about the most.  I think a lot of us get caught up in the rush of the season, the material things, most of which don’t amount to a whole lot in the end.  What matters most is that we remember what we’re celebrating and we take the time to enjoy the presence of those dearest to us.  Hurricane Sandy, the tragedy at the elementary school in Connecticut, and other very unfortunate events remind us that while the end of the world may not have happened, the fact is that sometimes tomorrow never comes, and we’re left without the special people in our lives.  This is probably the best time of the year to realize just how important our friends and families are, to spend quality time together, and not just focus on the material things.

This is how I suggest we enjoy those special bottles we have - share them with family and friends.

For me, in our Italian-American household we have the Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve.  Last year I reviewed the off-beat Italian whites we had (Petite Arvine and Erbaluce di Caluso).  This year I’ve picked some interesting Italian whites for the feast.  For Christmas Day, I’ve picked a few Italian reds and a Prosecco.  I look forward to posting my tasting notes next week.  And as for New Year’s Eve - it’s time for bubbles.

Many of us realize that times are difficult these days.  The economy has suffered a great deal, rough weather and tragedies have affected lots of people, and often, things don’t turn out the way we had hoped they would.  If you’re like me, you’ve probably been disappointed by some of these things.  But I also know that there’s a lot to celebrate, a lot to be very happy about, and to me, New Year’s Eve is a great way to mark the completion of another year that’s hopefully brought blessings and good times, and also to begin another year with great hope and excitement.  I think that’s an excellent reason to celebrate, so bring on the bubbles!

Last year, my New Year’s resolution was (believe it or not) to drink more wine from small producers, vignerons independants, etc., and to leave the mass produced products on the shelves as often as possible.  And interestingly enough, this is the first time I’ve been so successful in keeping my resolution throughout the year - nearly every night, I open a bottle of wine from a small producer, usually made from unique grapes from a lesser known region.  It’s taught me more than I thought possible in just 365 days.

Cheers to a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Call it what it Is

Champagne and Sekt

What’s in a name?

I like my name.  Do you like your name?  How would you feel if someone (or many people) kept referring to you by a name other than your own?  I know I’d rather stick with being called by my own name and no one else’s.

Many people use the term “Champagne” liberally.  What do I mean?  Well, true sparkling wine from Champagne is “Champagne” - all the others are a different kind of sparkling wine; they’re not “Champagne.”  We hear the term “Champagne” used a lot at this time of year, with Christmas and New Year’s Eve coming up, and all kinds of holiday parties happening.

Sparkling Gaillac

I ask you - how often is real Champagne being served?  And please understand, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with serving or sipping other sparkling wines that aren’t from Champagne - in fact, there’s something wrong with snubbing the other sparklers, just because they’re not “true Champagne.”

How about Prosecco?  Or Cava?  Or Sekt?  Or New World sparkling wines?  Or those other cool sparkling wines from other parts of France, generally known as Cremant (from Alsace, Loire, Bourgogne, Limoux, Jura, etc.) - those can be some pretty awesome wines.  And most times, they’re far less expensive than true Champagne.

But calling a Prosecco or a Cava “Champagne” is doing a disservice to both true Champagne (since the real thing has to be from that specific region of France), and it’s also wrong to call those other sparklers anything other than what they are.  A good Prosecco, a good Cava, a good Sekt, a good Cremant - they deserve to be called by their proper names.

And it’s a good idea to know what it is you’re serving or sipping, too.  There are technically 7 different grapes permitted in the Champagne region, but those most commonly used are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier.  In lots of other regions where sparkling wine is produced, those aren’t necessarily the same grapes they’re using.  Take Sekt for example - I’ve had a cool one from Mosel, called Deinhard Lila, and it’s made of Riesling.  Another exciting sparkling wine I’ve tried recently is from Sud-Ouest  (there’s a BIG surprise - not really) from Gaillac, Domaine du Moulin, and it’s made from Mauzac.  That’s quite different from true Champagne, isn’t it?  But it’s fun to try all kinds of sparkling wine, especially when we’re in a festive mood.  They tend to pair well with lots of foods and leave the palate feeling extra clean (but just because it’s trendy to pair sparkling wines with dessert doesn’t mean it’s a good idea - in fact I strongly advise against it).  And it’s fun also to know where each of the wines comes from.

So yes, Champagne is sparkling, but not all sparkling wine is Champagne.  And a story for another day - not all wine from Champagne is sparkling.  Some of it is “still” wine with no bubbles.  How about that?!

Friday, December 7, 2012

2010 Herri Mina Irouleguy

Like I’ve said before, there’s no secret about my fascination with Sud-Ouest wines.  I think I’ve also mentioned a few times that I generally don’t care much for Cabernet Franc.  But there are always exceptions, and I’ve found a few Cab Francs in the past year or so that I really liked.

Here’s a cool Cab Franc - from an awesome wine region that Americans don’t hear about very often - the 2010 Herri Mina from Irouleguy.  I’ve written up one other red from Irouleguy, the Ohitza.  If I remember correctly, the Ohitza is a bit more rustic in style than the Herri Mina.

Irouleguy is a wine region in Sud-Ouest.  It’s very near to Spain, by the Pyrenees (Basque wine, really), and the wines are so unique.  (I’m still currently looking for a white Irouleguy - presumably made from Courbu and Manseng and the like - that should be interesting!)

The Herri Mina, for my palate, is a nice example of a smooth Cab Franc without the excess bell pepper characteristics.  Instead, it’s got nice fruit notes, a bit of pepper, and expressive mineral, with a very clean feel.  The wine is nicely balanced and while it’s unique because of where it comes from, it’s not as bizarre or off-beat as some of the other wines I tend toward, particularly from Sud-Ouest.  I think it’s quite food friendly and it’s a nice wine for sipping alone as well.

There are some days when I honestly wonder how wines like this haven’t become more popular, and that places like Irouleguy are pretty much unheard of.  The wines aren’t strange, they’re not priced out of the market, they’re just a little different and they’re worth noticing.