Tag Archives: wine consumption

Wine: The Food Enhancer

Spice up your life! If you enjoy food, then wine will come naturally. It’s part of the seasoning of your meal. Think of wine as a way to enhance the flavors of food. As a full-time wine professional over at TasteDC and about to be released author of I Drink on the Job: A Refreshing Perspective on Wine I constantly get questions from new wine drinkers about food and wine pairing. My overall philosophy is that wine and food is a synergy: 1 + 1 should equal MORE than 2. I argue that this is the same way with spices and the cooking preparation of your dish. Chefs will often add spices and taste as they go which helps to layer flavors and adjusts the flavor of the dish. Wine has dual purposes as well: it wakes up your taste buds before you begin eating primarily with acidity, and it accentuates flavors in food. If this sounds complicated, remember – no one has ever died from a bad wine and food pairing, it’s a low-risk proposition, even if wine and food don’t pair well, you can still experience pleasure!

My suggestion is that since wine and food pairing is an art form at best, wine consumers should experiment. What works for you, may not work for me and vice-versa. Just as chefs are adding new combinations of spices and flavorings to their dishes, new wine and food pairing synergies will be discovered. I like to think of it as exploration – new adventurers are breaking out of the mold of old ways of thinking and discovering new ways to enjoy the pleasures of wine. Just like not every explorer discovered something of value or importance, not all wine and food matches will work. But why not experiment and possibly make a discovery? The world of wine and food adventures is much safer than crossing the Atlantic on a galley, the worst mutiny that could occur is wine critics and the wine “order” could ignore you or denigrate you, but with the new world of social media – who needs them anyway? Set sail my friend to a new world of Tasting Discovery – Cheers!

Charlie “I Drink on the Job” Adler

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Debunking Terroir

I’ve heard so much about terroir in the wine press/blogging/twitter the last few years, that I’m past overwhelmed by all the statements and now into my denial phase. If you’re not familiar with “terroir”, it’s all about the “placeness” of a wine: the what, where, and how of the type of vine chosen, the varietal, the roots, the soil, the micro-climate, the wine maker, the regionality and of course all the factors that go into making the wine. For example, the “terroirists” or proponents of the idea that wine (and cheese, and beer, and pretty much anything you consume) should represent the unique characteristics of its region, are generally against much human manipulation, ie. chemical fertilizers, fungicides, herbicides, and too much use of new oak (this is a very short list, there are many more!). Their thinking is that we should taste nature’s gift the way nature intended it to be–use natural yeast, don’t filter or fine, and let the grapes ferment and express themselves the way they were meant to..enough, enough!

So what’s my issue with the concept of terroir? Does my skepticism towards the idea that you can (or can not) taste the soil in the final expression of the wine give me the right to throw the whole idea of nature’s expression out the window? Well, that’s not my point. I actually believe that better wine makers know and understand the locality they live in and they should use the least aggressive means of getting the vine to ripen grapes and express the full range of flavors. I believe that terroir, like character, is personal to each wine consumer. We each HAVE our own terroir (where you were born, your family history, the way you were brought up, etc.) and VIEW terroir differently – you say tomato, I say tomaato, well..you get the picture. We all express our own terroir, taste things in our own way, and we should each express our own opinions. The terroirists like many idealists are just too fanatical for my tastes, so to speak. They often condemn “manufactured wines” that have no soul, no individuality, and don’t represent a unique micro-climate. Fine–but just like the average American consumer, I want to enjoy a wine and I want it to taste good – what if 2 Buck Chuck tastes better to my palate than a $45 bottle of Burgundy, does that make me insincere? Isn’t there a place for mass market wines just like there’s a place for chain stores, or other commercially made products? Sure, I prefer handmade chocolates, but I’m not offended by the highly industrialized manufacture of Hershey Kisses, hey they taste good too!

The French say “to each his own” – so be it with wine. You only buy grass-fed organic beef from the farmer’s market, I like Prime-Aged corn-finished meat, but my mother swears by the tenderloin at Costco. Same with wine, each of us has different needs and goals in mind, so that should sincerely respected. I’d rather drink a local Virginia or Maryland wine (non-organic – it’s not possible at this point to produce organic wines in our area primarily due to humidity and rainfall during harvest issues) than an organic wine from say Chile. Both wines are great, but I can see the face of the Virginia winemaker at a local wine tasting room or at local tastings. I like the idea to keep money in the community when possible – that’s my feel good issue. For me, my sense of terroir is connected with the people I help in life – economically, spiritually, and in whatever way I can be of assistance. I don’t give money to international charities because I try to assist the homeless that live within a mile of a my home. My terroir is right here..

Charlie “I Drink on the Job” Adler

Does America Have “Poor Wine Self-Esteem”?

gary_vaynerchuk

Does America Have Poor “Wine Self-Esteem”

I saw the awesome Gary Vay – Ner – Chuk on his #aucrush #crushit “Crush It” book tour this past Wednesday at American University’s Kogod College of Business. I wasn’t just seeing Gary to hear about his book, but frankly I had a bit of an agenda: I wanted to promote my own book “I Drink on the Job” on his fun web show Wine Library TV (I have good news at the conclusion of this Blog Post!). Since I obviously wanted to draw some attention to myself in an audience of 200+ mostly college students, I wanted to ask a relevant question about wine to get Gary’s point of view. I was so excited/thrilled when the Moderator pointed at me to ask a question, I literally jumped up in the air, I was really pumped up by the show!

My question for Gary was about American’s “confusion” with wine and what he thought the problem was. In usual Gary fashion, probably the most quotable man in the wine business as well as all of Wine 2.0, he spewed out one-liners like “We’re stuck on 16 adjectives”, “People have no wine self-esteem”, and “I’ve seen grown men sweat at a business dinner..” His key point was that there’s a lack of what he calls “wine self-esteem” in the U.S. I thought this was something to delve into further because it’s one of the main reasons that I wrote my book “I Drink on the Job”.

According to Wikipedia Definition “Self-esteem”: “Self-esteem” is a term used in psychology to reflect a person’s overall evaluation or appraisal of his or her own worth. According to Gary Vaynerchuk of Wine Library TV WineLibraryTV, his newest book “Crush It” Crush It and many other entrepreneurial ventures, this is the biggest “problem” among American wine consumers today. Here’s the UStream Video of the event Gary Vaynerchuk Video at AU Crush It (I’m at about the 36th minute, he definitely noticed me!).

Throughout my book, I mention episodes of tension with American wine consumers in the real world. Examples include the woman who almost fainted when she found out I had purchased wines with screw top closures for her corporate event, the gentleman who almost went ballistic when I suggested that Robert Parker may not in fact be a “wine God”, and the woman who would not accept a pour of wine from me – at a wine tasting! Throughout my twelve year career in wine, I have experienced so much wine anxiety that I think Gary hit it right on the head – it’s actually American’s lack of “wine” self-esteem. Much of the proof of this is anecdotal, but when I teach TasteDC’s TasteDC Website wine course Wine Basics 101, I get the same questions over and over again: what do the “legs” of wine mean, is a more expensive wine a better wine, how long should a wine age, etc. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the questions, in fact, I think it’s very healthy to have strong curiosity about wine. I think the problem is that too many people believe there is in fact a right and a wrong answer. Too many wine professionals portray wine as something “difficult”, “complicated” and “mystical” – why else would they “de-mystify” wine? You only de-mystify, what is a mystery. What if wine professionals simply told new wine consumers to try a wine first and see if that person gains pleasure or to make wine part of daily meals? I spend over 200 pages in my book “I Drink on the Job” portraying wine as an everyday staple – drink it every day with your meals and the mystery disappears like the secrets to a magic trick. Once you get past the “illusion” of wine, it becomes an enjoyable part of your day, and a way to improve the pleasure of your meals.

As I always like to say: “Drink first, ask questions later”..but of course, I’m..

Charlie “I Drink on the Job” Adler

Top 20 Questions of Wine Newbies

Napa Tasting Room

Napa Tasting Room

It’s been a great time for me to work on my upcoming book “I Drink On the Job” – nothing is happening right now at http://www.tastedc.com, my full-time wine tasting gig, so I’ve put alot of thought and energy into the book.  Of course, my computer ate about 30 pages of material, go figure, but I’m coming on strong with plenty of verve, a bit less wine and Scotch in my system, but you gotta make choices!

So my most recent foray is to figure out what are the top 20 or so questions that newbie wine drinkers always ask about wine.  These questions are mostly derived from my Wine Basics 101 class which I’ve held or taught for the last 12 years and approximately 16,000 people have attended – if you feel there are other important questions for me to answer or resolve in the book, email me at wine@tastedc.com, thanks:

Top 20 Questions/Comments That New Wine Drinkers Always Make:
1) Are more expensive wines better than cheaper ones?
2) What am I tasting?
3) The legs of wine in a glass tell you if the wine is good or not?
4) How does vintage make a difference?
5) What am I tasting?
6) Why can’t I taste all the things I’m supposed to in a wine or describe them?  What are the nuances of wine?
7) I need to purchase many different kinds of glassware to accentuate the nuances of wine?
8) Rieslings are sweet, so I keep away from sweet wines like that.
9) I prefer wines with cork closures, anyway wines with screwtops are cheap and crappy.
10) You’re supposed to sniff the cork when it’s given to you in a restaurant?
11) White wine with fish and red wine with meat?
12) I need to understand all the great and bad pairings before I can enjoy wine with food?
13) Wine ratings by critics are very objective, so I can just rely on them?
14) Organic wines are better for you and don’t contain sulfites?
15) When I sneeze when I drink wine, it’s because of the added sulfites?
16) Only France(or name a region) makes great wine because of their better location?
17) I can never figure out wine because it’s so confusing with so many labels, regions and confusing information, I’ll never be able to figure it out?

I didn’t quite reach 20, but I’m still working on this – gimme a holler if you think you can add some good ones – cheers!

Charlie “I Drink On the Job” Adler

How Prohibition Pushed Americans to Hard Drink

Prohibition may have failed in the U.S. but it’s far reaching effect was to replace the wine glass with a shot glass..

 

The effects of Prohibition on America’s drinking habits are so significant, that I wanted to point out a few reasons that Americans have only come up on the radar as a wine consuming country since the 1970’s.  American’s love affair with booze goes back in history to the early part of our country when Rum was traded as major commodity and George Washington set up his commercial still operation in Mount Vernon.  Over time, wine drinking actually caught on when Americans figured out a way to make American grapes (vitus lambrusco, no relation to Italian Lambrusco) palatable as drinking wines, thus putting Missouri and Ohio on the map of top wine producing areas.

 

When Prohibition raised it’s ugly head in 1919 through the Volstead Act which essentially made alcohol illegal in most forms (you were allowed to produce a limited amount of wine at home, and Near Beer with a maximum alcohol level of .5% by volume remained legal) and completed it’s devastation by 1933, America was in the middle of the big Depression.  America’s taste for “soft” alcoholic beverages like wine and beer had been hardened into a love of gin and other cheap spirits which were readily available during Prohibition in illegal drinking establishment known as Speakeasies.  Since the Mafia was in charge of providing illegal beverages to these undercover establishments, booze became king: it was easy to transport, relatively easy to make or bring over the border from Canada, and it had plenty of alcohol by volume both satisfying the thrill seekers of the era: if you were going to risk going to jail for breaking the law, why not drink the hard stuff – booze!

 

The other major effect of Prohibition (excluding the major number of deaths by people who mistakenly consumed cheap ethanol substitutes like wood alcohol which killed them) was the destruction of over 90% of the existing vineyards and the loss of a major number of breweries.  Since investment dollars were hard to come by during the financial Depression, and it takes a long lead time to grow quality grapes and produce quality wine, the wine industry took many years to reappear.  Even if a winery was opened, the shortage of talent and skilled labor to produce quality wines was almost non-existent.

 

America’s tastes changed to spirits such as gin, vodka and whiskey which was most evident during the 50’s and 60’s with the burgeoning cocktail culture and the prevalence of cheap, poorly made wine produces like wine coolers – I remember Bartles and James commercials on TV, do You?  Cocktails and the associated cocktail parties were the rage in this era, and wine was still either cheap and sweet or hard to come by unless you were willing search it out and spend relatively a lot of money for the time.  And each state had different alcohol laws and controls, for example, in my state of Pennsylvania there were an extremely limited availability of quality wines, and you were more likely to find Riunite, Blue Nun or Mateus as the closest substitute to a fine wine.  Since fine wine was relatively expensive and hard to come by, it had a snooty reputation and was perceived as “highfalutin”—something only the rich or Europeans drank, or something saved only for special occasions like sparkling wine for the Holidays.

 

Conclusion: Prohibition slowed down America’s interest in wine and repositioned booze as the alcoholic drink of choice.  Other signs of this fact include American’s sweet tooth in beverages from cocktails to soft drinks and the difficulty many people have adjusting to “dry” wines with food.  Two historical moments significantly effected American’s tastes in wine: 1) The Paris Tasting of 1976 when California wines one against French wines in both the red and white wine categories, and 2) 60 Minutes episode on the “French Paradox” in 1991 which suggested that the reason the French have such low heart disease even though they ate ridiculously high levels of saturated fat in their diet, was due to their consumption of a few glasses of red wine per day.  Add American’s relative wealth, travel to foreign countries, increased interest in gourmet food and fine cuisine and last but not least the movie Sideways, and it becomes clear why America is now the number one consumer of wine by total volume a year – Cheers!  

Charlie “I Drink On the Job” Adler

The Terror of Terroir

Vermi Compost, Vermi Fertilizer, Vermi Manure

I’m working on the chapter on “Terroir” for my upcoming book “I Drink On the Job” and I’m trying to figure out a simple way to explain to people that basically “terroir” means..well, uhh, sort of…poop!  Very few people I know love the smell of..well, crap, but in essence that what terroir is – it’s the stink of the earth..well sort of, it doesn’t necessarily have to stink, I mean when I think of the terroir of a runny washed rind cheese, I think of…there it is again, barnyard!  So how do I try to convey in language the natural, earthiness of terroir without getting stinky about it? 

So here’s my idea: rather than try to connect terroir with “earthiness”, I’m going to write about “placeness” or “somewhereness” – Terroir is the character of a place, the effects of taking two identical living things and bringing them up in a totally different environment.  If I plant the same Chardonnay vine, identical in every way right down to the DNA and I plant them in totally different “places” then I will come up with two totally different wines.  An analogy I use in the book is the story of two identical twins.  Let’s say I separated soon after birth two identical twin baby girls and brought them up in two different places with completely different parents, say one was brought up in Los Angeles by a wealthy family, and one was brought up in Tokyo, Japan by a lower class family.  Twenty years go by, and they happen to meet each other..would they be the same?  I mean, would they have the same personality and character, would you mistake the two of them for the same person after being around them for a few minutes?

This is very difficult to convey in simple language, because I think terroir is really a concept less scientific and way more philosophical, maybe akin to explaining “biodynamic” to someone who has never heard of it.  I’ll put some real effort into explaining the “placeness” concept, I just hope that people will read my book and realize that terroir is not only vague, but it is also difficult to detect in a wine. 

And maybe one person’s terroir is another’s terror..

Charlie “I Drink On the Job” Adler