industry personal

The New Phone Books are Here! The New Phone Books are Here!

Hey, remember a long, long time ago when I was shopping for wine magazines? I never got back to you on which I chose, but I did order some. I confess that I’ve gone really non-mainstream, so far… But the first one arrived! My first International Wine Cellar came in the mail today!

Tanzer TableauIt’s so thick and weighty, with such impenetrable columns of small type and no pictures! Ful-O-Pep, certainly, but in a very serious, Oliver Wendell Holmes kind of way.

And it discusses the wines coming in my first shipment from my Xmas present this year: a Tablas Creek Wine Club membership! (Thank you Dr. Debs for the recommendation.) And the wines arrive on Friday! And Tanzer gave most of them 90+ point ratings! And the wines arrive on Friday!

I leave on a trip to Oregon on Sunday and I’ve been wondering what to read on the plane, or rather how many books and what types I should bring. Now I can bring a magazine, too! And I can make little notes in the margins like my mom used to do in her theological texts while in grad school! I’m in wine grad school!


Why Tanzer, you ask, and not Parker? Well, two reasons. First, I’ve received Parker’s zine before and I wanted to try something new. Second, I must confess that the stinkiness from the eBob board brouhahas wafting around the wine blogosphere lately has put a bit of a bad taste in my mouth about the Advocate. On top of that distastefulness surrounding the eBob board (and thus, name), I don’t get that “champion of the consumer” vibe from Mr. P any more; I’m feeling him much more as an institution and less as an industry outsider with some wine tips for little old me.

Also, I feel that Tanzer’s 90 point ratings are a little harder to come by, and he’s not AS seduced by the old fruit-bomb, high alcohol, high extraction style of wine that Mr. P prefers and lauds. Not that I’m adversely inclined toward a fruity-tuity-big-booty-patootie myself, but lately the booziness of a 16% bottle will get to me, and I’m really enjoying more balanced, structured juice these days. Really interesting interview with Stephen Tanzer over at Grape Radio, by the way. Check it out; I very much enjoyed it.

I’ve never regularly read Tanzer (he wasn’t very influential in my market when I was in the business), so I’m really looking forward to getting to know his work. The other magazine I’ve subscribed to is Restaurant Wine, which is another industry-focused publication. I’m thinking I’ll also pick up Wine Enthusiast or the Spectator, just to keep an eye on the more consumer-oriented print mags.

But away with these sober reflections and plans! I’m going to pour myself a glass of something and dig in to my new tome.

personal wineries

Pennywise… and Poundwise, too

Warren en familleI was approached a month or so ago by my friend Jessica, whose co-worker Warren had been given a $100 gift certificate to Spec’s Wines, Spirits, & Finer Foods. Jessica reads my blog as regularly as her driving work schedule allows, and had spread the word about the Scamp around her workplace, so Warren now reads my blog. Friends are the very best publicity, I promise!

Jessica explained to me that Warren spent a couple of years studying in Italy, and thus has been exposed to good wine. As the father of two young children, however, he does not have the budget to spend much on wine, and the opportunity to spend $100 guilt-free dollars on himself is quite unusual and luxurious indeed. His desire was to spend it wisely, and so Jessica contacted me for advice.

news personal world of wine

Won’t Somebody Please Think of the Children?

Interesting article over at the San Francisco Chronicle on Friday about kids and winery tasting rooms, i.e. whether it’s appropriate to bring your kids to wineries you visit. Dr. Vino ran a delightful series of posts on this subject, starting with a poll about whether kids should be allowed at wineries (218-80 in favor of tots tagging along with their parents in the Fields of the Grapes), with a lively discussion to boot. He then did an adorable photo contest of children at wineries, the winner to be found here in all his Cuteness. This kid will be a heart-breaker!

I voted in favor of wineries being a family friendly, not because I love having whiny kids running around the place while I’m trying to taste through a flight at a crowded counter, but because I believe that if America is ever to overcome its Puritan roots, we must Think Of The Children!


Pouring Time at the Zoo

When I was in the wine business, the thing I hated the most was to pour at a public wine tasting event.  Considering how gung-ho I am about de-mystifying wine for people, and how much I enjoy teaching people about wine, I recognize the irony. What better way, one might ask, to help people feel more confident about their own taste in wine but to help them taste more?  And be able to talk to them while they’re tasting?

This optimistic viewpoint completely discounts humankind’s animal tendencies.  One of the scenarios in which people act like animals is when they’re in crowds.  Another scene that brings out the animal in even your mildest-mannered of auntie is when people are giving something out for free.  Yet another animalistic behavior encouragement is alcohol. 

These are the building blocks for the miraculous equation that takes normal men and women at a large public wine tasting and turns them into ravening, parched, ill-tempered zombies.  Crowd + free (or cheap) alcohol = UGLY.  It’s true, I don’t care who you are.


Am I fired?

Would you dump me as your favorite scampish wine gal if I told you that, in a tasting on Tuesday of some very beautiful and expensive Burgundies, my favorite by a large margin was the Fleurie, a mere Beaujolais?

I’m sorry, I tried to like the more expensive, silky, elegant, perfumed premier crus better, but I just didn’t. I appreciated them, I enjoyed them, I lauded them, I recognized them, but if I had to go home with any of those sexy bottles, it would have been with the lowly Fleurie. Because it was fun and pleasurable and it was so bright I almost had to shade my eyes from the fruit.

As I agonized over this fact (one I had difficulty admitting to in the first place, knowing from extensive research What I Should Have Preferred), it got me to thinking about literature.

basics personal

How to Drink Bad Wine

Yeah, yeah, I know. Life’s too short, right? Well, bullshit. There will always be that party where you’re the “wine gal,” so you get the special bottle of Turning Leaf Pinot Noir they’ve been aging on top of the fridge for 5 years, or that gathering where you are forbidden to bring anything and everyone’s drinking Franzia Merlot from plastic cups.

The fact is that there are times when you have no choice: due to social or psychological pressures, everyone eventually is trapped into drinking bad wine.  Fighting it won’t help you.  Quit struggling.  Accept that glass of pukey juice with a smile, confident that you can knock this fucker out with panache.

1. Drink very little.  Accept your glass gracefully and then contrive to lose it somewhere, and then switch to water after a decent interval.  If anyone raises an eyebrow, make some comment about feeling dehydrated.  That shuts everyone up.

2. Keep it cold.  Cold is your best friend when it comes to bad wine.  When given a selection of seemingly identically bad wine choices, choose the cold one: cold mutes a wine’s flavor, you will taste less of the badness.  If your bad wine choices are not refrigerated, ask for some ice.  Even Franzia Merlot is almost palateable over ice; the blueberry flavors almost conquer the bile flavors when it’s cold enough.  Plus, ice will dilute it, and you won’t be too drunk to go get a decent drink after the party.

3. No smellsies.  I know it’s a reflex to swirl and sniff everything, even your coffee cup and water glass, but don’t go sticking your nose in this crap!  It’ll only remind you of the misery of your situation and exaggerate the nastiness of your swill.  Even better, close off your nose when you swallow — you know how you kind of close the back of your throat when you drink?  Like that.  Keep your throat closed for a few seconds before and after your swallow, and you’ll minimize the amount of flavor you can perceive.  (This also works when you have to down nasty-tasting medicine, and Jagermeister.)

4. No sipping.  Take big gulps, using the throat-closing technique, and soon you’ll be buzzed enough that the ick won’t bother you as much.  This will invalidate your ability to go find a glass of something bearable later on unless you have a driver, I’m just warning you.

5. Mix it.  If you’re given bad champagne, splash some Kir or cranberry juice into it. Bad white wine can also be fruited up or made into a (more) drinkable spritzer.  If you’re really desperately staring down the barrel (no pun intended) of 4 bottles of rotten red and no way out, cheerily suggest Sangria.  If your hosts have no fruit, just throw some ice and OJ into your glass. Colder, dilute, and the juice will mask some of the skank.

Do you have another secret way to withstand bad wine?  A good story about learning that life’s not too short after all?  Pull up a comments box and tell us all about it!


If you can’t say something nice…

Speak no evil: I borrowed this cutie pic from, I’ve been a member of this book club for going on two years now, and we have lots of fun. We meet monthly, and communally choose the books that we read. We read literature, non-fiction and modern novels; nothing too long, preferably in paperback, frequently having to do with women. I’m one of the few 30ish women in the group, which is largely 20-somethings, and we’re all women. We meet at different people’s houses every month; everyone brings snack or wine or both.

All of us are wine drinkers, but I am the only real wine geek. Mostly the bottles are around a $10 price-point. There is a slight red-over-white preference.


Out of Step

When I was in the wine business, I had lots of people that shared my interest in wine, and who were just as excited as I was about tasting something or learning something new. We would gabble to each other about the latest neat wine we’d tasted in Advanced Winespeak, referencing winemakers and varietals and sub-regions… gobbledeegook to other people, but fun times for us wine nerds.
What if your wine tastes are not the same as those of your friends? If you are an experienced wine nerd like me, your idea of a great thing to bring to a party is an exciting wine. (Actually, the very notion of an “exciting” wine might just brand you an insufferable wine nerd right out of the box.
Also if you are like me, a wine that excites you may not excite the rest of your party. You may be bringing Chablis to a party of I-only-drink-red-wine-because-it’s-the-real-shit drinkers. When invited to a fish fry, you may be dying to drink that sassy Provencal rose that you picked up for next to nothing, while everyone else is studiously ignoring what they think is your nasty imported WhiteZin. You might want to serve a pleasant chilled Beaujolais to your guests, but they’re convinced that they don’t like anything but Merlot.
I know everything teeIt’s harder for me to enjoy a bottle of wine I’ve brought to someone’s house if I’m the only one drinking it. Even if I’m hosting, I feel bad if no one enjoys the wine I’ve chosen for the night. Maybe it’s just my insufferable need to please, or my indefatigable desire to widen people’s wine horizons. Quite possibly, it’s just the lonely road of the wine “expert.” As your interest in wine grows, and thus your education about wine deepens, you very well may find that not everyone shares your enthusiasm. Shocking!
Similar is the path of the die-hard foodie. I am fascinated with cooking and new flavors. I am very lucky in that my husband is very willing to try new things, but the truth is that my interest in food far outstrips his. In fact, I’m more interested in food than nearly anyone I know. At this point in my life, I can share my passion for new cuisines and techniques but by and large I entertain only myself with my elaborate dinners and wide arrays of hors d’oeuvres at parties.
What I’ve noticed, though, is that people are much more willing to try new things in food than they are in wine. Or maybe I’m better at cooking than I am at wine recommending? Commending a wine, when you Really Know About Wine, can be a big responsibility. At least, I’m always worried that people will blame themselves if a wine I recommend to them fails to please their palate. I Know What I’m Talking About, so if I think something’s tasty I must be right, right? Wine mystique makes the question of taste, like Pepsi vs. Coke, into a question of expertise and sophistication. I bet Coke wishes it could put that much pressure on its prospective consumersAnyhow, poor old me and my elevated tastes, right? Paranoid about my queer little bottles and what the neighbors will think! I guess my real message is the same old, same old: try new things, and trust your own sense of taste.
Do you have specialized interests that leave you alone in a crowd? Please share your experiences with the entire class via your fancy comment!


We go way back

When I was a kid, I wanted desperately to be sophisticated, and dreamed one day of knowing all about wines and vintages. (I also wanted to be able to spout whole monologues of Shakespeare, earn my PhD before my 25th birthday, and live in a tower.) I didn’t grow up in a alcohol-friendly household; there was no alcohol in our house at all, except for a bottle of Blue Nun that would show up in the fridge every 6 months or so, titillating us kids with its very existence. MOM! we would shout, THERE’S WINE IN THE FRIDGE! She would yell back, DON’T WORRY! IT WON’T BE THERE FOR LONG!

My first taste of beer was out of a half-warm can of something domestic, and nearly put me off it for good. After an abstemious 80s adolescence with only a few B&J wine coolers under my belt, I finally had my first real glass of wine, my epiphany wine. I had a room-mate when I was about 19 who was a great cook, an older woman, and she let me have a small glass of a special bottle she had in the house. It blew my socks off! THIS was what it was supposed to taste like! THIS is what all the fuss was about! Whatever your name was, Ex-Roommate of Long Ago, I thank you.

I only wish I could remember what the wine was. In later years, tasting big Cabs and first growth Bordeaux, I think it may have been either a really mellow Caymus Cab, or possibly a down-market Margaux. Nameless Ex-Roommate also introduced me to the concept of sweeter spices like cinnamon and clove in savory dishes with some divine African-inflected stew she once made. If only I hadn’t moved out — I could have been a freaky foodie so much sooner!

Instead, I stuck to traveling, and over 10 years went by until I tasted wine I liked that much again. In the meantime, I drank a lot of fruit wine, made friends with microbrew and coffee, and discovered martinis. It wasn’t until I moved to St. Thomas and accidentally got into the wine business that I started to be able to taste wine and discover what I was supposed to like and what I actually did like. Frequently, these coincided. Sometimes they didn’t. But by learning the language of the wine business, breaking the winespeak code, and learning about how and where wine is made, I was able to finally understand how to drink what I enjoyed. Now I just need to memorize some vintages…

I don’t drink wine every day (have to maintain my amateur status), but I know what I like and I know what I like to pair with what dishes. I am a Certified Wine Specialist with the Society of Wine Educators, and I sold wine and taught classes about it for about 5 years. Now I have a Joe Job that pays the bills (most of them), but I still have my same love for wine.

What made my love for wine a lifelong passion and not just a passing fling is that wine, for me, provides a sensual and an intellectual pleasure all in one. You can never stop learning about wine… even if you’ve learned everything about every grape and every region and every winemaker and every vintage, there’s a new harvest happening somewhere in the world RIGHT NOW. Therefore wine offers infinite opportunities to learn new things and taste new things. And isn’t that the best part of life?

industry personal


So here’s what I don’t get: when did wine get so snooty? Humans have been drinking the stuff since ever since any of us can remember. If familiarity breeds contempt, then we should be snotty to wine people, not the other way around. They make it all over the world now, just like cars. And we Americans love our cars, but we don’t tell people to pick a car for us because we don’t know enough about them. Sure there are an overwhelming number of choices of different wines out there, but you could say the same about sodas, and I don’t see anyone taking classes to learn what kind of Coke they like. What’s the big deal? It’s grape juice that had a brief affair with yeast and was never the same since.

Honestly, whence the mystique?

Anytime I tell people I “know about wine,” they gasp and stand back as if I told them I were telepathic or a member of the aristocracy. This is, admittedly, a reaction I enjoy more than the reaction I get when I admit to a past life as an English teacher, which is that 90% of the world thinks it necessary to explain that they can’t diagram sentences and hated trying to learn. (I love to diagram sentences, but I never force it on anyone.) Actually, now that I think about it, maybe the two reactions are similar: guilty consciences. “All this time I’ve been drinking wine, and now a real life wine expert catches me in the act! OK I give up! I admit it! I don’t know what I’m doing!”

Hey, there’s a big bad wine world out there that doesn’t choose to tell you what the slosh in the bottle tastes like before you buy it. There are magazines and online wine clubs and wine writers that profit by your ignorance because the wine establishment, while saying it wants your business, wants it only on its own terms: you drinking what you’re told. I say, and many say it with me (shall we all say it together?), let’s think less about what the wine means and more about what it does in our mouths. Wine biz, tell us up front what you’re selling us, and don’t tell it to us in points. Points are for sports. (And while you’re at it, would you make it easier to open? Cripes, every bottle that used to be closed with a cork in ye olden tyme (perfume, whiskey, oil) is now provided with a closure that doesn’t require special equipment or skill to broach.)

Gracious, how would any normal human being learn all about wine if she weren’t completely obsessed with it, or in the business itself? I say, you don’t need to know everything about wine to know what you like to drink. And, I say, that is the purpose, the raison d’etre of wine itself: to please you. The wine that does not please you has failed, poor darling. I dream of a world where we’ve learned to pair the right wine with the right person, and everyone drinks what they love without the haunting feeling that they’re showing ignorance by simply enjoying what’s in their glass.

It puts me to mind of the old e.e. cummings poem, “pity this busy monster, manunkind” which ends,

listen: there's a hell
of a good universe next door; let's go

In this blog, I plan to write about wine I’m tasting, wine events I attend, and wine-related subjects I enjoy. As I do so, I hope to encourage you, gentle reader, to find the wines you love, drink them, and enjoy doing so. Who’s with me?