Monday, August 22, 2011


homer fed donuts Pictures, Images and Photos

Luckily, when dealing with wine geekery, the force-feeding of knowledge is like an endless supply of sweet, sweet donuts.

Got the WSET Level 3 exam coming up next Thursday (Sept. 1), and I'm way behind in my studies. Until then, let this animated .gif amuse you, or check out some of my favorite blogs (listed on the right-hand side of this page).

See you in the funny papers, as the kids are saying. Hopefully, with another silly credential.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Business Time

Much like the country's favorite sons, Bret & Jemaine, New Zealand knew when it was business time.

Gathering incredible support like a gale wind off the Southern Alps, the Kiwis struck hard and struck early. In the end, they ousted proud Oregon from the throne to stand alone as 2011's Pinot Smackdown champion.

It's not so difficult to imagine. New Zealand is making incredible wines in Marlborough, Martinborough, Central Otago, Waipara, and beyond.

What the #PinotSmackdown belt acknowledges is that New Zealand isn't necessarily recognized as making the best Pinot Noir in the world (such accolade would create a nightmare of subjectivity), but has most-successfully captured the zealous backing of its supporters on Twitter. The latter run the gamut from those who- daily- have their hands in that Southern dirt, to the enthusiastic advocates who often have their glasses full of that Kiwi red-gold.

So congrats, New Zealand. Wear your belt with pride... and keep your head on a swivel.

for all the stats, pop on over to co-founder, Wine Tonite's, blog

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The "Smackdown" Cometh

It's a slang term-staple at Kid Rock concerts, on Kid Rock albums, at Kid Rock cover-band shows, and probably anywhere Kid Rock fans flock (including Kid Rock concerts, Kid Rock cover-band shows, crystal meth dens, WWE Summer Slam- especially if Kid Rock is presiding, Departments of Family and Childrens' Services, Univerity of Florida tailgate parties, episodes of Toddlers & Tiaras, and Burger King).

Rarely, if ever, is the term "smackdown" nestled into the haughty company of fine wine.

But, when the competitive spirit of the human animal is interwoven with a subject-matter of great debate, we droop- like Ric Flair's aging man breasts- to the basest of lows (especially men). We boil it down to "we're better than you", whether it be sports, politics, or... Pinot Noir.

This red grape, often praised for its uncanny ability to express the place from whence it came, really only thrives in some distinct pockets of the world. However, due to it's ability- when shepherded properly from vine to glass- to create complex, elegant, even haunting wines; wines that perform as perfectly by themselves as they do with meals, these specific growing areas are limited, but prolific. The extraordinary demand requires availability.

Outstanding examples of Pinot Noir-based wines are found in Burgundy (France), Oregon, California, Canada, New York, Washington State, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Germany, Italy, Argentina, and Chile (and probably somewhere I missed). So many great Pinots out there... and so many opinions on which are the best.

Naturally, we need to fight about this. To quench our primal urge for combat, the Pinot Smackdown was created. However, despite rampant jibs and jabs, the Smackdown is more-closely akin to professional wrestling: fake competition in the spirit of entertainment for all. Ultimately, if the whole world is united with a glass of Pinot Noir on Thursday, August 18th (via the Twitter community), then there are no losers...

...except those who don't participate. So, if you do have a glass of Pinot Noir in your hand on Thursday, and you like to make magic on the Twitters, just join in the conversation:

1) Get some Pinot Noir. Drink it with friends. Drink it with Ric Flair. He might put you in a figure four leg-lock and steal your wine. Which sucks. You'll need some to dull the indescribable pain.

2) Use a site like, or free software such as Tweetdeck or Seesmic to create a flow of tweets containing the hashtag "#pinotsmackdown". You can see the conversation from around the world.

3) Tweet, if you wish. If you do, make sure to tag your tweet with #pinotsmackdown. Furthermore, if you're drinking a wine from a certain region, throw an additional hashtag in for the region! We've simplified things this year, so make sure you keep it at a high level, in order for the number of referenced tweets to be collected (for example, don't tweet "I like this Sólena Pinot from Willamette Valley... #pinotsmackdown #WV". Say, "I like this Sólena Pinot from Willamette Valley... #pinotsmackdown #OR"). Keep it simple, and unify for your favorite region.

4) Go crazy with it! You can "vote" as often as you want with tweets, and for as many regions as you please (fake wrestling, remember? Very few rules). You can see the details HERE, or I'll just break down all the qualifying regions for you now, because I think you're attractive:

#OR - Oregon
#CA - California
#WA - Washington
#NY - New York
#46 - U.S. The "Other 46," outside of the Big Four
#FR - France
#IT - Italy
#DE - Germany (Deutschland)
#EU - Europe, beyond France, Germany, Italy
#CN - Canada
#NZ - New Zealand
#CH - Chile
#AR - Argentina
#AU - Australia
#SA - South Africa
#WD - World, as in none previously listed

5) Most importanly, enjoy the wine. That's really why were all here. It's a very elaborate excuse.

And seriously, Flair. I learned a long time ago, at my tender age, to keep my shirt on. Time for you to do the same. Them's some flapjacks, brother.

Friday, August 12, 2011

My Flux Capacitor (or, "The Wine Consumer, Compartmentalized")

The one (absolutely only) redeeming quality of an awful commute is that it gives you time to think...

Even this is a stretch, but as someone who cruises 17 miles and 39 traffic lights twice-a-day, I have to justify this baffling madness. If only for sanity's sake.

Today's wandering mind took me into retail wine sales. As I concentrated over the creeping, sweaty feeling of my air conditioning perhaps breaking again, things became very clear. Too clear. Sort of a zen-like clarity of thought, not experienced since I realized "race car" spelled backwards is "race car".

Quite honestly, I felt like Doctor Emmett Brown after he hit his head on that 1955 toilet, jarring loose the vision of the flux capacitor, which... makes... time... travel possible.

Unfortunately, my epiphany- a sweaty guy sitting in Atlanta traffic thinking about how to sell wine- would make a far-worse movie. But here it is anyway:

Colorful, huh? What does it mean??

Well, here's where I'm going: seems that all wine consumers can be roughly lumped into four categories, based solely on two criteria: wine knowledge, and wine curiosity.

1. The Disinterested Creatures of Habit (low knowledge, low curiosity): otherwise known as the "gimme my 1.5L of Woodbridge, sonny!" crowd, these folks know what they like, are adverse to change, and don't want to try new things. They are loyal to brands, appreciate consistency, and have little interest in learning about wine. As my mother once said when we ate filet mignon and drank KJ Chardonnay for the ten-millionth time on her birthday, "Son, I've been around. I've tried everything. And now, I just know what I like." For the record, mom is not ten million years old. Not even close.

I suspect the Disinterested Creatures of Habit don't cause shop owners many problems, and turn a good business. But they're probably not much fun to work with, and they buy low-end, with low margin, but perhaps high-volume, sales.

2. The Annoying-as-Hell Know-it-All (high knowledge, low curiosity): I do not work in wine retail, but I can only suspect how many insecure, blabber-mouthed twits come into to wine stores to challenge the personnel. "Oh, really? 'Grenache' from Spain? Don't you mean [with a disturbing, overdone Spanish accent] Gar-nacha??" As I said, I don't work in retail, so I don't know if this actually happens, but based on the proliferation of snobbery and one-upsmanship that oozes from the world of wine, I wouldn't be surprised.

The "listen to how much I know" guy or gal is probably a terror to engage. But, they probably buy some more-expensive stuff, based on some knowledge, and a level of understanding in the production of wine. Higher price doesn't always equate to higher quality, but- as they say- you pay for what you get.

3. The Geek (high knowledge, high curiosity): for lack of a better adjective, these are the most "enlightened" of all consumers. They are the ones who don't only ask for the weirdest, most unique bottle, but they bring in something crazy for the shop owner to try. The "let's get weird" crowd would hang around the store for hours and hours, just to be surrounded by wine, and people who like talking about it. The advantage of these folks would be that they know what they know, but they also know what they don't know. This crowd also understands the sheer vastness of wine, and it always looking to try something new.

For these reasons, the geeks are open to suggestions, check their egos at the door, and just want to enjoy the shopkeeper's latest gems.

4. The Eager Novice (low knowledge, high curiosity): with all due respect to the geeks, these folks are probably the best of the bunch. Because, not only do they love wine, but they are yet-to-be jaded, spoiled, or too critical (stages that all wine geeks seem to go through, yours-truly included). From a geek's perspective, the Eager Novices are sponges for knowledge. They love to learn, and geeks love to teach. This crowd wants to try new things, takes an earnest interest in information that would send most folks into a coma, and ask all the fun questions. They are primed to be molded into future geeks.

From a sales standpoint, shop owners should never let the Eager Novices out of their clutches. If I am honest, genuine, and can provide valuable information, education, and recommendations, I'm going to create a great deal of loyalty from those who thirst for that knowledge. And as novices become geeks, they may bring new novices into the fold...


But, alas, these are merely the thoughts of a traffic-jam. If only I had hit 88 miles per hour...

Monday, August 8, 2011

Holy Terroir

"Does terroir exist everywhere?"

It's the one question I desperately wanted to lob at America's truest terroirist (with all due respect to the Terroirists and the Terroirist Blog), Randall Grahm. Figured the profound-yet-often-abstruse owner of Bonny Doon Vineyards would have an interesting, if not perplexing, response.

Alas, as so often happens at a wine tasting attended by a wine celebrity, said guest of honor can be difficult to corner. By the time I awkwardly weaseled into the featured circle of conversation, my eager line of questioning was hijacked by a more assertive (and perhaps over-served) guest, wanting to blab on and on about [something forgettable] to Mr. Grahm, prompting his evasive maneuver: a polite but terse, "Excuse me. I have to go eat some dinner now."

Not that I've ever been that person... ...



Fortunately, the evening- featuring a lineup of Bonny Doon wines (disclosure: I was invited by the local distributor- Empire Distributing- as a 'member of the press'... figure that one out)-was not a total loss, despite my pouting. Grahm opened the tasting with a synopsis of his- and Bonny Doon's- philosophy: to create vins du terroir rather than vins d'effort. That is to say, wine that ultimately expresses the place from where the grapes are grown, much more so than "wines of effort", or manipulated concoctions of a winemaker's hand. As Grahm- quite bluntly- put it [paraphrased]:

"A 'wine of effort' is only as good as a winemaker... that is to say, not very good. However, a 'wine of terroir' has the potential to mirror nature... and that's quite staggering to imagine."

For this reason, a deep respect for the dirt that coddles those vines, Randall Grahm has been a loud voice in the promotion of Biodynamics: practice that goes beyond the stringent requirements of organic farming. Biodynamics essentially think of the vineyard as an organism that is part of a harmonious universe. Astronomy guides planting and harvesting days. Soil preparations can seem... well, unusual to the non-believers. But the supporters of Biodynamics swear by its results. Then again, so do Scientologists.

Ultimately, Bonny Doon's magnum opus is to create California wines that offer "quiet pleasure", not blockbuster fruit-bombs that have become the standard-bearer of the New World. And based on what I tasted, they're on the straight-and-narrow. For most of the night, balance and subtlety filled my glass more than "wow". These wines are certainly not for everyone. Many might find them underwhelming. But for those tired of stereotypical California wine (high-alcohol, heavily-extracted, oak-blasted powerhouses), the wines of Bonny Doon may scratch what itches.

Yet, I'm still not convinced. Just because I'm not tasting big fruit and big alcohol, am I truly tasting the terroir; the "sense of place", of California's North-Central Coast? For anyone who has yet to visit there, to stick their hands in the soil, to breath in the air, and really, REALLY understand where these wines come from, then they are no more than elegant, food-friendly bottles of tasty alcohol...

A crude way to view these wines? Perhaps. But if creating "wines of terroir" means stripping away the pomp & circumstance, the mad food science, and getting back to simplicity, then perhaps that's exactly what Randall Grahm is really asking of us.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Oy Vey.

After trudging through 3 hours of some of the worst writing I've ever cobbled together, the time came to cut my losses. I mean, there were tasting notes in the post. Tasting Notes!!

In the end, just moments before unleashing the foulest collection of words from the bowels of literary hell, I determined that this had more journalistic merit:

No, the Redneck Vampire does not live in my neighborhood. But he probably lives in the one across the street. I hear his undead bride is pretty trashy.

Anyway, the WSET studying is getting hot & heavy, so I fear that the posts may be a little sparse for the next month. And if I can't get anything good out to you, I'd rather chalk it up to a temporary focus elsewhere, than to shamelessly turn this piece of cyberspace into my personal outhouse...

Back soon, with something worthy of these pages. Which, I suppose, isn't saying much either. But I still love you. And love will keep us together. Or tear us apart. Guess it all depends on if you're into Captain & Tennille, or Joy Division.

Monday, August 1, 2011

What an Interstate Rest Area taught me about Wine

Truth that wine is everywhere, if you want it to be. Even on an uninspired stretch of highway between Atlanta and Macon...

...and no, there weren't a couple of escaped convicts stirring a batch of pruno in one of the toilet reservoirs. You know I would've gotten a picture of that jive. And probably a taste. And then a shiv in the ribs, otherwise known as a "Putnam County tickle".

Actually, I was heading down to middle Georgia to snap some shots of a renovation project-in-progress for the day job. I should really carry the camera with me more often. When you know you can capture something on film, so many more interesting things pop out at you.

So, I snapped a shot of an unassuming rest area bathroom. I had to: it reminded me of Walt Disney World. As soon as I walked in to that very clean space (kudos, state of Georgia), the powerful scent of bleach and cleaners smelled exactly- EXACTLY- like it did during childhood trips to Disney. The brood would pile into whatever prototypical family vehicle we had at the time (be it conversion van or station wagon), and roll down I-75 for 7 hours until we hit Orlando. Being pea-bladdered kids, we must've stopped twenty times at rest areas. I don't know how Dad did it.

But what I do know is that moments like these only strengthen my conviction towards the evidence that suggests a strong connection between emotions and olfactory memory. Considering I was on the way to the greatest place on Earth for a child of 5-10 years old, there was a heap of anticipation associated with that endless drive. Ergo, I step into a public restroom 25 years later, and I'm immediately whisked back to Space Mountain and mouse ears.

To this end, I've also noticed that the aromas in wine that are most familiar to me often stem from moments when I was enjoying a glass with friends, loved ones, or overlooking vineyards (the latter- I believe- explains why a bottle brought home from wine country never seems to taste as good as it did while you were there). So, I posit that if you want to learn more about wine, and build up your olfactory memory, don't forget to step away from the tasting table once and a while. Take a break from critical analyses and blitzkrieg tasting shows. Grab a bottle, and some friends, pour a glass, stick your nose down in it, and inhale. Take your time. Enjoy the wine. Savor the moment. And you may find you've learned more from that glass than you could from a dozen trade tastings...

...unless it's a glass of pruno. Swig that shizz down and pray for the gag reflex.