Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Trying Something New



Familiar is comfortable and safe.

So are turtlenecks.  And Volvo station wagons (are station wagons even around anymore?).  I imagine a pair of British Knights offers both a cushioned sole and adequate ankle support when one wants to comfortably- and safely- dance the Roger Rabbit to the latest hip-hop stylings of Color Me Badd.

But guess what?  After dressing warmly in my ribbed turtleneck & pumped up kicks by BK, then taking to the streets in my 245 DL, I figured out that the conservative route elicits little adventure, and even less sex appeal.  No hot rod will challenge a Volvo off the line at a stop light.  Cops don't glare with apprehension- and a bit of admiration.  I don't need to run faster than anyone's bullets in my British Knights... nobody wants them.  And no sexy American foxes are coming after me when a turtleneck shrouds my bulging biceps and even more impressive liger's mane of chest hair.

Let's get as real as the kids say they are keeping it these days:  California Chardonnay is the turtleneck of wines.  Folks who only drink Napa Cabernet also happen to wear British Knights (look at their feet next time!  Seek out that huge "BK" on the side of the shoe, staring you down like a Cali Cab drinker's scarlet letter).

But I understand it's tough to deviate, especially to those who are just starting to drink wine.  Many of us started our adventure into adult beverages with 6 and 12 packs of beer.  For the price of a halfway decent bottle of wine, we were getting 12 drinks.  And 12 is more than 1... 1 bottle of wine, that is.  It was always hard to justify- unless trying to look cool and sophisticated in front of a lady for whom I had a fancy- buying only a couple drinks when I could get several.  Alas, I suppose alcohol back then was a means to an end, not something to be considered a compliment to the meal.

So, when the time came to pony up, it was important to go with what we knew.  What had tasted good before.  Its like being in a foreign country and going to McDonald's.  I think the instinct is to avoid risk and go with consistency.  We're all guilty of it.  In business travel, I've eaten a hell of a lot more Taco Bell in my days than popping into the local place.

With wine, the choices are endless.  Dizzying, even.  And so many don't know what they may be missing.  I've tasted more people on torront├ęs and bonarda (among others) in the past 5 months who had never even heard of the grapes.  They've walked past the bottles a million times, but didn't want to risk a bad experience.  After tasting, at least 8 out of 10 expressed excitement and favor towards these "new" wines.

Next time you go out to buy, try something new.  If you're shopping at a good store with knowledgeable wine folks, they won't steer you wrong, and they probably won't put a bunch of junk on the shelves anyway.  I rarely buy the same wine twice.  There's just so much out there.  It's a great way to learn about the hundreds of grapes and regions that turn out fabulous juice.

Be sure to still wear those British Knights, though.  Most shops require shoes.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Warranted Outrage



Recently, CNBC ran a special about Costco (The Costco Craze:  Inside the Warehouse Giant), the now-ubiquitous chain that is virtually cornering the big-box retail world.

As part of the special, Costco's wine buyer, Annette Alvarez-Peters was interviewed.  During the course of the segment, the world's most powerful buyer was quoted as saying that wine is really no different than toilet paper, spurring outrage from the wine-loving blogosphere.  She suggested that- in such a position- viewing all products as commodities is how an operation like Costco succeeds.

Such vitriol is completely warranted.  We're talking about a product that comes in so many different styles.  A product that elicits an emotional response; something that comforts us, something we share with our friends when they come to visit.  Something that is infinitely personal.  And Costco's head buyer has marginalized it.  A thing that many of us cannot live without has been relegated to commodity status.  THIS IS BLASPHEMY, MS. ALVAREZ-PETERS.

Honestly, to say that toilet paper is all one-in-the-same pisses me off to no end.  Yet the Costco buyer has the gall to compare it to a homogenized beverage like wine.  Toilet paper is as varied as the individuals who feel its plushness daily.  It helps frame our emotions.  Toilet paper comforts us in our time of greatest need.

There's the cheap single-ply stuff.  Takes me back to the college days.  Boy, were those good times. When I feel its coarse, sandpaper-like touch- my fingers ripping through its gossamer structure, I recall a simpler time:  when having plenty of Old Milwaukee in the fridge trumped my need to avoid a chapped butt.


But we're just scratching the surface (pun intended).  Double-ply, even triple-ply fills the shelves, serving high-rollers with powerful flushing mechanisms.  Do I want my toilet paper quilted?  Maybe with ripples?  I can get it.  From "Over the Hill" to "Shit Happens", the customized prints of any roll are limited only by one's ability to get to the mall and pop into Spencer's Gifts.

When the toilet paper runs out?  When it has fallen off the roll into mystery "water" in a public bathroom?  Even when it's draped over-the-roll when we prefer it under-the-roll... all these dire situations affect our emotions.  The difference between a tremendous day and utter hell is often dictated by the morning pit stop, and the subsequent T.P. situation.

Point is:  there are millions of toilet paper enthusiasts out there, many of them Costco shoppers (myself included).  If this thoughtless monolith wants to continue to retain our business, I suggest Ms. Alvarez-Peters, et al, choose their words more carefully next time they decide to compare a multi-faceted plethora of personal choice to something as simple and interchangeable as wine.

Shame!