Entertainment | Restaurants & Dining | September 2009
|After 40 Years in Wine Here is All I Know|
Ed Schwartz - PVNN
September 21, 2009
I had my first glass of wine when I was six. It was at my Grandfather’s Passover Seder and I fell asleep. The wine was Manishewitz, made from sweet, concord grapes, and it worked for me both as a religious experience and as a soporific.
That was wine for me for many years until I was 24 when began working for the “21” Club. This job enabled me to taste a lot of world class wines with the “21” sommeliers and hear their comments and edit them for the wine list. I took an immediate liking to these very upscale wines and my wine career was off and running, thanks to having the “21” Club on my resume.
Now (drum roll), after all these years in wine, I can distill all I know about wine into one tidy feature and to share it with you.
Aging Wine - Really good advice... don’t do it. If you must play the “lay down wine in the cellar” game, you have to know what you are doing. Almost all white wines do not improve with age and just a few great red wines do. If you do age these wines, you have to have a good cellar at a steady, cool, temperature and you have to pay attention to these wines, tasting them from time to time to see how they are evolving. If you don’t, you will have a lot of over the hill wines to deal with and lots of wine pourings down the old sink along with tears of regret.
Wine and Food Pairings - People who spend time and money at wine and food seminars given by “wine pairing” experts are playing in a fool’s paradise. Twenty years ago, I had a beautiful roast chicken at Omero Restaurant in the Tuscan Hills overlooking Florence. The wine was Brolio Chianti. I had it with Brolio’s owner, the delightful and engaging Bettino Ricasoli, the 32nd Baron of Brolio, and our equally delightful wives. That red wine was great — a perfect match.
Last week, I had the same chicken dinner, overlooking Tomales Bay, with my wife. The wine was a California Pinot Grigio, Pietra Santa. The wine was great — I chilled the hell out of it and it was crisp and delicious. The chicken, by the way, is the best chicken one can buy in the Bay Area. It is from Costco. To sum up: There are 14,000 delicious wines that go with roast chicken. No bones about it. Don’t go to wine and food pairings; go to your wine merchant and buy some wines.
Wine Books - Most of them are a waste of time. Most of them start off, “This wine book is not like any other wine book,” and then proceeds for the next 300 pages to read just like every other wine book. If a book wants to demystify wines, why does it take 400 pages to do it? That’s the mystery.
Wine Descriptors - This insane adjective business goes from pompous to silly. I can deal with hints of lemon, peaches and apples. But in a recent issue of a top wine magazine there were (honest) these descriptors: hints of smoke, incense, cinnamon scented oatmeal, quince, dill, tar, mineral, flint, ground stone and graphite. Lemon and apples, o.k., but I’ll be damned if I am going to suck pencils and kiss a rock to get what I’m supposed to taste in a wine.
Silly Wine Names - I suppose having a wine for dinner called Pink Jock is fun for about 15 seconds, but the joke stretches thin after a very brief time. If a wine needs a funny name for your support it can’t be that great. All puns intended.
Cork Debate - I think the cork folks are trying hard to make amends for a run of bad corks, but to me the closure of the future is a variant of the twist-off cap, or the one with a small round ball as stopper. Plastic corks are so out as in so hard to get out of a bottle that one can get a hernia for his or her trouble. They are even bottling fine sparkling wine in crown caps, like sodas. Stick around for the eventual resolution!
Point Scores - There is a good side to ultra-high wine scores. Most 100 point wine scores means the wine is so rich it could knock you over and it’s likely very pricey. Most 88 point wines are bargains and taste like wine, not wine on steroids.
How to buy wine at Trader Joes - Many of the wines are rock bottom cheap - over stock or over the hill - and wineries want to dump them. Some are very good; some were never good to start. Here’s what the pros do. Take a corkscrew to TJs. Buy some really bargain wines, a bottle each. Take them out to your car and open them all. See what the best ones are, then go back and buy the best by the case. Next time you come, they will have different wines. Same drill.
High wine prices in restaurants - How come wine prices are so high? Because they are — get over it. Why are ice tea prices so high? Because a restaurant has to make a profit somewhere — it can’t be with expensive steaks. Solution, have a nice, delicious beer. Beer is good, too!
Why are top wines so high priced? - Generally speaking, the absolute cost of a bottle of wine is about $20 or less—cork, barrel, grapes, bottle, etc. But if the winery costs $100 million and the owner has a fleet of Ferraris and makes 1000 cases of the stuff with 20,000 collectors screaming for it. There goes the budget. The real question is:
Why are so many delicious wines so inexpensive? - They don’t have the reputation, they come from not popular (yet) places, there is too much wine in the market. Don’t ask this question, just buy the bargains up.
Different glasses for each varietal - If you think you need a different wine glass for each varietal, you are not alone. But, it isn’t true. It is marketing madness. All those glasses make greenhouse gasses and global warming.
Wine Snobs - You should avoid them. If you are confronted by one, here is the drill. If the WS asks you about your favorite wine, or wines you collect, understand that the WS doesn’t care. All WS cares about is talking about his or her favorite wines and his or her collection. So deflect the question and get set for a 20 minute WS monologue. It will be such a soporific; you won’t need a sleeping pill that evening.
I am starting a fund so that each year after my demise this column can be repeated.
This is not a wine column, but a public service.
Ed Schwartz has been involved in many aspects of fine wine for 30 years and has worked with top wineries in California, Italy and France. His writings on wine, food and travel have appeared in the SF Chronicle, LA Times and Image magazine.
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