Category Archive: Wine Thoughts

5 Things You should Never Ask Your Sommelier

Posted on October 23, 2018

My Favorite Wine

 

  • What is your favorite wine?

This is like when someone asks what is your favorite movie. The question is flawed for so many reasons. Who can pick their favorite movie on the spot? The answer really depends on who is asking. If my 10 year old niece is asking, that answer may differ from the answer I give to someone while on a blind date. Therefore, asking this question will only lead to hearing what they think you want to hear.  A sommelier tastes thousands of wines, there is no way he/she could pick one out of thousand. The answer you will get, is probably something they recently tasted and stuck with them long enough to stand out over the past week. Wines are in constant evolution, so the 1989 Petrus the sommelier tasted 10 years ago which was his/her favorite wine, will never taste the same. Bottle variation, time, environment, glassware and the company they’re with all effect the way the wine was received. It will never be the same, so the question is really an open ended question. Finally, the answer you get might not be the one you are looking for. Somms typically like austere high acidic wines. If you are looking for a recommendation on a wine, don’t order what they like, you probably won’t like it. Instead, tell them what you like to drink and then ask for a recommendation based on your favorite styles. If you are sincerely looking to be adventurous, then ask the question and go with what they like; otherwise, don’t ask.

oak & butter

  • What is the oakiest and butteriest Chardonnay?

Okay some of you might think this is a fair question, especially if you like this style of wine.  However, many people who ask this question really do not know what they are asking. They use this particular jargon to seem like they know about wine. They assume they are going to impress the sommelier. The sommelier will smile, hold back an eye roll and recommend the one Chardonnay on the list reserved for this particular guest.  The unfortunate part is the Somm will never recommend anything too interesting.  If your goal is to start a conversation  and receive their honest suggestion on a great bottle of wine, do not lead with this question. They will simply steer you to something that you are familiar with and then recommend you order the lobster.

somm movie

  • Did you watch Somm The Movie?

I don’t think there is a sommelier out there that has not watched the movie. There are so few sommelier jobs, I find it difficult to believe there is a somm who has not watched this movie. Come on, it is a well-made movie about their career. The sommelier exam is a life altering examination, there is no way that anyone that has gone through it would not sit through this movie.  Those of us in this industry are no more than 2 degrees of separation from that movie. It was the catalyst for the growth of our industry. It’s like asking a 12 year old boy playing with a Star Wars Leggo set, “have you seen Star Wars?”

cheap wine

  • I had this wine in Italy, do you have it on your menu?

This question is usually brought up by the person who just returned from Italy and is reminiscing on the magical experience of drinking inexpensive house wine from a clay jug in a water glass.  “The wine was absolutely amazing and cost like 1 or 2 Euros!” Naturally they ask if they can get it here. First of all, that wine was probably made by the proprietor of the restaurant and most likely not in distribution. Secondly, even if we had the wine it would never taste the same. So much of our enjoyment of wine is made up of our surroundings. Enjoying a glass out of a clay jug  in Tuscany while enjoying a three hour lunch without the daily stress of life, will change the flavor of the wine. Drink that same wine at home in front of the TV and the wine will not be the same. Lastly, Italy makes so much wine. It is very unlikely that the wine you had is in US distribution. And if it is distributed, the likelihood of that wine making it to the restaurant you decided to share the story with somm, is virtually .01% of probability.

dry wine

  • Is that a dry red wine? I only drink dry wines.

A proper response would be “sorry, but they are all wet.” 99% of red wines on most wine lists are dry. Remember restaurants are not tasting rooms in Temecula. And it will be very unlikely the sommelier will start you off with a port; anyways, ports will usually appear on a dessert wine menu and not the main wine list. I think people say this for the same reason that they ask “what is your oakiest and butteriest Chardonnay?”  Their intent is really not to get your opinion but to let the sommelier know how much of a wine aficionado they are. They abide by the ridiculous fallacy that only seasoned wine drinkers drink dry wines. What a load of cockles and mussels! The most revealing thing about these sort of people, is that serve them a blind tasting of red wines, and they will probably pick the one with the highest RS as their favorite. The lesson here is to only asks questions you want answers to, do not ask leading questions. Do not use the question process to overcome your wine insecurities. Remember, wine should be enjoyed, shared with friends and pretentious free. A good sommelier is not pretentious and only wants to turn you on to a new experience. Let them, ask the right questions and do not try to show off.

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5 Wines You Should Stay Away From

Posted on September 10, 2018

People are always writing about what to drink, what’s hot and what is the most unique.  This is helpful, but can be overwhelming with a new product hitting the market every week.  I think more than anything, people don’t want to make poor choices. Let me help you out. This is my list of 5 wines you should stay away from. Sorry if I insult anyone, it is not my intention. It’s my blog and my personal opinion. You can take it or leave it (in the comment section).

5 wines you should stay away from

 

1)  Butter and Jam

Any wine whose label gives you the illusion of what it is going to taste like. There are laws against calling a wine fruity or jammy. TTB says that it is misleading consumers. There are brands walking on a fine line with this by calling their wines Butter or Jam. I guess what really annoys me is that wine should taste like wine. This means it should have fruit, acidity, tannin and hopefully in balance. Great winemakers strive to do this every year through farming and wine making techniques. But wines like Butter, are manipulated so the wine resembles a wine aged in 100% new oak which has gone through malo-lactic fermentation. Instead they are manipulated so that they have such flavors and textures, what a disservice to the heart and soul of winemakers around the world.  Jam is a wine pushing the boundary of ripeness though the laboratory and giving adults a kid friendly wine. We should stay far from them.

expensive napa cab

2)  $500 bottles of Napa Cab

Try a $35, a $50, a $100 and a $500 bottle of Napa Cab. Blind taste them and tell me which is the $500 bottle. It is absurd that some of these wines warrant that high of a bottle cost.  Just because the owners decided to pour millions into their pet project, does not mean that their wines are worth the price tag.  Let the wealthy elites waste their money on over priced wines that taste the same. In the meantime, if you want a new world style wine with a bang buy a $35 bottle of exquisite high elevation Malbec from Mendoza, or a single vineyard sites in Chile, or an old vine Grenache from Australia on its own root stock.

red blends

3)  Red blends

Okay not every  red blend, but those mass produced red blends with some kitschy name on the front label and where the back label reads “vinted and bottled by”. These are massive wine corporations trading left over juice with each other and trying to squeeze every last drop of potential profits into the bottle. Someone had under ripe Merlot, they give it to someone that had over ripe Cabernet and sold it to someone that had Pinot which never finished fermenting.  Put them altogether and viola, “Barbed Wire”, “Apothic” or any “Trader Joe’s Red” is born. These wines use labels to sell themselves. The labels deceive you into thinking it is is big, robust, tannic red wine but in reality are flimsy, over-ripe sweet wines. They lack integrity. Wine has evolved over centuries trying to prefect techniques, procedures and regulations with intent to get the best product into the bottle. But now with profits driving the industry, quality wines take a back seat to Wall Street wine makers branding grape juice.

Bourbon barrels

4)  Bourbon barrel aged wines

If you have not had one of these wines, and you are looking for elegance and balance, then you are in the wrong place. For years winemakers have been trying to reach optimal grape ripeness while balancing alcohol levels.  The goal is to have fruit minus the hot and overwhelming warmness on the palate. Many might agree or disagree the top wines of the world are “Robert Parker” wines, which are ripe and push higher alcohol levels. Where ever you stand on this style of wine, they are still drinkable and in balance. Sometimes one does not know they are drinking a 15.5% wine. Which is a good thing, the alcohol is not overwhelming and the wine remains in balance. Now with Bourbon barrel aged wines, and you change the concept of balance. These wines are boozy, one can feel a headache coming on just by taking a whiff. Worst of all, producers making bourbon barrel aged wines use poor quality juice. Instead of using “Parker” juice which may be able to take on this added boozy oak aging they choose juice left over by the Wall Street wine makers. The best way to describe this experience is like driving a Suzuki on 4 spare tires with a Charger engine. NO BALANCE

Cheap Pinot Noir

5) Pinot Noir Under $10

I am always looking for a value wine, hence I do not buy $500 bottles of Napa Cab. However, I also have dignity. Pinot Noir is one of those grapes which lets you know what side of the tracks it comes from. One can manipulate and mix it but if they are not quality grapes, the wine will never become affluent. Most of these wines do not taste like Pinot Noir but fruity insipid wines. Pinot Noir should have vibrant acidity, touch of floral aromas, burst with red fruits and it takes the right amount of oak really well.  Throw oak chips into it and it is like an 8 year old girl putting in make up.  If you are going to enjoy Pinot Noir, splurge a bit. Save the value brands for Malbec.

photo by: smlp.co.uk
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Employees are Key to a Restaurant’s Success

Posted on August 24, 2018

Reflection on the blog post in video minute 13:00-17:00

Most people do not realize how vital the restaurant industry is to US economy. It is a 799 Billion dollar industry, double that of Hollywood. The alcohol business is a 300 billion dollar industry. Restaurants provide jobs for 15 million people, that is 1 in 10 workers in the US.  One out of two people at some point has worked in a restaurant. For every dollar spent on food, whether it be grocery store, farmer markets or online; restaurants make up 48%, back in 1955 we spent only 25% in restaurants. This means that more and more people are going out to eat, two times more than in the 1950’s, which was the dawn of fast food.  In 2000 there were 160.1 restaurants per 100,000 people. Today there are 189.8 per 100,000 US residents. All of these statistics show us that the business is continuing to grow which means more competition.

Along with more competition restaurants are facing some challenging obstacles.  The labor pool is a lot smaller than it had been in the past. Some reasons are tied to recent policy changes such as,  not hiring illegal immigrants, not having people who want to do the work, and in many areas wages are not inline with the cost of living in those cities. Retaining good employees is difficult and if there are more and more restaurants opening, the need for more labor is crucial. “The grass is always greener”, is the mentality of most restaurant workers. Many people jump from job to job in search of the perfect job guaranteeing $200 or more in tips each night. With more competition, this is getting more and more difficult to find as the consumers are spread thin throughout this growing industry.

The consumer is also changing. Baby boomers liked to go out and splurge on dinner, they sat in steakhouses and ordered wines. The Gen Xer was a mixed breed, some going out, some looking for value and many looking for restaurants through a health conscious lens. The Gen X generation was one of a small population, if it was not for immigrants during those decades, our economy could have had a worse crash from the lack of consumers in the population. Today we have Millennials doing most of the dining. They are making dining choices in a different fashion. They want to try something new, they are not loyal to brands and are willing to experiment. This generation is looking for personalized experiences when going out to eat.

In order for restaurants to stay competitive in today’s market, it is no longer enough to have good product, good cocktail programs, inexpensive prices or great ambiance. A restaurant today cannot open the doors without hitting all those points. They now have to go one step further, and that is create a personalized experience for the guest. Now these experiences come from not just the owner’s concept but from the employees they hire. Owners and managers need to make sure that they have a happy, energetic and hospitality driven work force. It is the employees that know how to provide an experience, it is the employee that needs to go to the next level. When a restaurant can build a strong team, then the restaurant will succeed.

Key to success is investing in the staff. Restaurants need to create an environment where employees are excited to come to work. They need avenues to make money, whether it be empowering them to create specials for the night, provide special dining experiences or allow them to show off their personalities. People go to eat in places where the staff is engaged and has a sense of ownership. In this day in age, managers and owners are bogged down with cost of labor and forget to invest back into that labor. The goal is to have a labor force that finds it easy to make money. They are then motivated to promote the restaurant and its brand.

The video above goes more into detail about myself and what I hope to accomplish with my teams.

 

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WINE LIST POLL: What is the Perfect Wine List?

Posted on May 23, 2018

Wine List Poll

11 DIFFERENT TYPES OF WINE LISTS. VOTE FOR YOUR FAVORITE WINE LIST LAYOUT AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PAGE

1. THE BUDGET WATCHER

The budget watcher list is the list which lists the wine by price point.  The least expensive wines are at the top and the most expensive at the bottom.  I guess this sort of list is great for those people going out on a blind date, because you can watch your date’s eyes and see just how important this date to them?  If their eyes are at the top of the menu, then you know your date has no interest in a second date.  If their eyes go straight to the bottom, then “good on you”, they are interested.

The budget watcher wine list is classic, but a bit boring.  It reminds me of a wine list for a Chinese restaurant, a list where a restaurant does not put too much thought into its list. However, as a consumer, the list lets you shop by price.  And let’s be honest, wines can get ridiculously expensive.  NOTES: CLASSIC, CONSUMER FRIENDLY, LACKS INGENUITY

Budget wine list

2. THE BUDGET WATCHER ULTRA 2000

This is similar to the wine list which lists by prices. However it is different in that there are only three price categories.  The wine is either $20/btl, $30/btl or over $40/btl.  Here the restaurant would rather get rid of all those different dollar amounts and sell the wine in groups of value. We had a restaurant with this format, it is close today. The issue was people had many options in the low end section that they did not want to upgrade. This is really meant for the value seeking people. NOTES: CONSUMER FRIENDLY, BRINGS IN THE CHEAP SCAPES

 

3. ALPHABETICAL ORDER

Seems pretty straight forward, but is it best to alphabetize by grape, region or producer? This makes  a lot of since especially for the servers. Listed in some sort of alphabetical order allows the server to easily find their favorite wines on the list more easily.  It is also easy for the guest especially if they now what they want.  NOTES: PRACTICAL, NOT CREATIVE

4. LET ME TELL YOU HOW MUCH I KNOW LIST

There are lists which list every detail of the wine. They tell you the region, the aspect of the vineyard, where the winemaker went to school and then they tell you how it tastes. Way too much info. This is great for IPAD wine lists, because you can get that in info by clicking on the wine of interest, but on a printed menu it is way too much. NOTE: INTERESTING, SAVE IT FOR THE LIBRARY

5. LET ME TASTE IT FOR YOU LIST

Not sure why I do not like these lists. I guess I don’t want people telling me how something tastes, since taste is so subjective. I just don’t like to read people’s descriptions. Many people like this, but I think it also turns off people who may not like a flavor the author writes down. Many a times I have heard people refuse a wine because the aroma descriptor said cherries, and they don’t like cherries. Come on people, wines are made of grapes!  *NOTE: WINE LISTS DON’T NEED TRAINING WHEELS

*FOOTNOTE: Maybe I would be keen on this kind of list if it read:

Sauvignon Blanc, Spy Valley, Marlborough, NZ  42

Intense aroma, High acidity, Medium Alcohol

6. LIST BY STYLE

Many lists are formatted so that you have a white wine section, then a sub section of Chardonnay with the list of Chardonnays listed by price or alphabetical order. Some lists may break it down into sections, and instead group the Chardonnays by weight or style. They may start with un-oaked, to neutral barrel all the way to 100% new oak and 100% full malo. This sort of list takes a lot work and requires a dedicated sommelier to group and regroup as new wines are added. This too, is excellent for servers. However, probably best for guests who are looking to find something new in a style they like. NOTE: DIFFICULT TO MAINTAIN, EASY TO NAVIGATE

 

7. BY REGION

I like listing wines by region. It makes sense for people who know wine. They look at the region and know the style of wine that region produces. The only problem is when we get to new vs old world wines. If you have California wines, the region may not be as important as the grape. Listing all Napa wines in one section can get pretty confusing. However, it seems to work for the old world wines. Listing Barolo, Barbaresco, Rioja, Bordeaux etc… makes sense. But what do you do when you get to non DO/DOC/AOP wines? How do you list a Chardonnay from Vin de Pays or a Grenache from the South of France? You don’t want to put the IGT, but rather the grape, correct?  It doesn’t make sense to read a list that has Barolo, Barbaresco, Chianti, Rioja, Priorat and Vin de Pays. NOTE: YOU KNOW WHERE YOUR WINE IS FROM, MAY NOT READ WITH CONSISTENCY

8. BY INTENSITY

Some lists create sections based on intensity. Beginning with light bodied crisp wines of low intensity such as Muscadet and Pinot Grigio then moving to medium bodied wines with more intensity all the way to higher ABV whites with high intensity.  My main issue is when management wrongly lists wines to make way for aesthetics.  These lists require a well-trained somm to keep it organized. Many times a somm may start the list, that somm moves on to another job and the list is taken over by another manager with less experience. NOTES: AS LONG AS IT IS ACCURATE, MAKES FOR A GOOD WAY OF SELECTING YOUR WINE

9. THE BEER MENU APPROACH

What about writing the list like a beer menu?  Beer lists show producer, region, style, abv, ibus and price. It allows the guest to know what their beer is going to taste like. Why not do the same with wine list. Here is an example:

White: Chardonnay

Ferrari Carano | Sonoma | 2015 |100% New Oak | 3.4 PH | RS .5  $60

Liquid Farm | Santa Barbara | 2015 | Used/Partial New | 3.2 PH | RS .04  $65

Morgan “Steel” | Santa Lucia Highlands | 2016 | Steel | 3.3 PH | RS .15  $45

I have not tried this yet, but may be worth a try.

NOTE: I’D LIKE TO TRY, BUT REQUIRES A GUEST TO HAVE SOME KNOWLEDGE ABOUT WINE

10. BEER MENU STRIPPED DOWN

Let’s take the beer menu idea even further, and strip the wine list down to the bare bones. What do you think about a wine list which looks like this? Just the type of wine; red, white, sparkling. No brand name, just the grape or region. I have seen these in pubs, but not in restaurants. Maybe it would work. Take all the pretentiousness and expectations out of wine and just say what it is. Imagine a list like this I removed the name of the wineries and regions of an already bare bones list to give you an example.

NOTE: THE RESTAURANT NEEDS TO HAVE A GOOD REPUTATION AND CONSUMER’S TRUST FOR THIS TO SUCCEED.

 

11. INFOGRAPHIC WINE LIST

Here is a fun and cool wine list for a small restaurant. You can make your list into an infographic. I borrowed the image below from Wine Folly, but imagine using something like this with the name of dishes you serve at the top and in each bottle you write the wines on your menu. Could be cool. NOTE: VERY MILLENIAL

I guess at the end of the day what really matters is what is on the list rather than how it is listed. That being said, how do you prefer to read a wine list? I’d love to hear your comments.

Mark your favorite wine list format

 

Verification

 

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Full Disclosure: Additives in Wine

Posted on May 9, 2017

additives in wine

I have taught at San Diego State University’s Business of Wine Program for several years. During my California Wine Intensive course, I always talk about reading the back label of a wine to have a better understanding of how involved in the production was the winery.  Was it “cellared and bottled by”, “produced and bottled by” or “estate grown, produced & bottled by”?  They get a kick out of seeing how many labels we see in the market place which have very little to do with growing grapes or even making the wine.  The TTB mandates that the front label displays the type of grapes, where they come from, when harvested and the alcohol level. On the back label they tell us how much involvement the winery had in the production process.  However, the back label omits something very important; what was added during production.

Why is wine so different from other consumer goods? Why isn’t wine held to the same requirements other packaged goods must adhere?  There are two sides to this argument.  Wine makers would have to change labels every vintage.  The additives and additions change from vintage to vintage. Most of the additives added are harmless. Stricter labeling laws would result in higher priced wines. On the other side of the argument, people want to know what is in the bottle. Were there any additives or flavorings added to the product?  In the mind of most people, wine is a natural product and it is what it is, fermented grape juice aged in oak.  Only if that was the truth.  Unfortunately, most wines are full of additives.  Granted most additives are there to improve the wine.

In 1987 wineries were forced to mention the use of sulfites, people magically developed headaches and allergies and blamed sulfites.  Sulfites have always been in wine to prevent bacteria growth. Amounts used vary from region to region and producer to producer.  When it became required to list on the label, people’s buying habits changed. Most did not care, but others whom were more sensitive, started to look at bottles to see if the wine contained sulfites. I guess we can say they became wiser consumers. Of course we know that the headaches are alcohol related and not so much from sulfites.  Funny thing is even though alcohol level is on the label, most do not read it. They would rather blame chemicals for their discomfort.

Consumers are very worried about ingesting non conventional chemicals.  Most consumers have no idea what goes into a bottle of wine. Just when they were trying to get our heads around sulfites, here are some other additives we may see in wine: yeasts, tannins, bentonite, dried fish bladder, gelatins, egg whites, sugar, tartaric acid, malic acid, lactic acid, calcium carbonate, acetaldehyde, dimethyl dicarbonate, mega purple, oak chips, pvpp, potassium sorbate and the list goes on. Many of these additives might seem familiar since they are in a lot of our packaged foods.  We have become used to reading the back of labels and are okay when we see the word “calcium” or “potassium”, we don’t bat an eye.  But mega purple? This is why I don’t buy Velveta cheese it has apocarotenal coloring. Some of these additives help stabilize wines and are an important part of wine making.  However, others are there to modify wine or rather, improve poor quality wines. Kind of like the coloring added to Velveta, used to improve the color of poor quality cheese stuff.

Worst case scenario is when the two buck chucks of the world use fining agents that release arsenic into the wines.  How many people would still buy a $2 wine if the label said “some ingredients are known to cause cancer” and in bold letters arsenic. Safe or unsafe, consumers have the right to know what is in the bottle. I think its time for full disclosure in the wine industry.  Let people make wiser decisions when buying wines. Hold wine companies accountable for trying to sell us swill by modifying with additives and slapping on an eye-catching label. It would also make producers of expensive wines focus on production in the vineyards and not the laboratory.

In my opinion if it is served in a package, then let us know what is in the package.  We have a right to know. I don’t care if you modify the wine so that it fits a certain flavor profile, but let us know you are doing it. Otherwise we will think that Pinot Noir is supposed to be purple.  Hopefully one day we can read the back label and know who, when, where and how the wine was produced. Where do you stand on this?

 

 

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