Friday, August 19, 2011

Organize your bottles!

I love to organize things. Not everything, mind you. Just the things I'm interested the moment. Thankfully, I'm always interested in wine, so my wine collection is usually "in order". Now if you ever have more than a few bottles of wine laying around the house, do yourself a favor and organize them so you can easily decide which one you want to:

a) have with dinner
b) bring as a hostess gift
c) drown your sorrows in after a hard day.

One of's blogs offers many good options demonstrating there isn't one "right" way to organize your cellar (or in my case, the corner of my garage).

For what it's worth, I tend to separate red and white as a starting point, then sort by either varietal or region or sometimes both. Since I tend to keep a relatively small but varied stock of wines, my organizational structure will depend on the current mix.

If this post makes you want to go out and buy a bunch of wine just so you can organize it, you are not alone.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

What's wrong with scoring?

Some wine folks have created a website at aiming to get people to stop applying scores to wine. In their “manifesto”, the group argues each wine is so unique and each taster has such a unique experience tasting it that wine scores are “condescending, overly simplistic, and often largely in accurate.” The group believes scores on wines are never ok.

Surprise! I have an opinion on this!

First off, wine is enjoyed by consumers

I'm tackling this from the consumer view of wine. After all, we make wine so people can drink it. One may grow, produce, review or sell wine, but nearly everyone involved has a consumer’s relationship with wine. It’s the great equalizer in the world of wine.

Therefore, wine will be reviewed

Think about how many thousands of different wines are available to consumers, the multitude of places wine is available for purchase and how very few we get a chance to taste before we buy. Ah yes, don't forget, we must buy wine in order to experience it. I don’t have time to research and commit to memory every wine region, grape, label and review out there before I go shopping for wine. Most people I know don’t either. Many consumers appreciate a wine review (including a score) when they are standing in a store staring at hundreds of bottles of wine. Yes, some reviews/scores I don’t agree with, but the reviewers are entitled to their opinion. Most consumers understand that. Back to staring at a bunch of bottles: I like to have SOME idea what someone else thought of it since I (usually) can’t taste it first and I can't afford to buy them all. If there isn’t anyone who might have tasted it around or any written review available, most consumers (without above average wine knowledge, which is a completely normal state for most) will often find themselves picking a price point (quantitative), and then picking a label they recognize (familiarity) or a label that appeals to them (subjective). That gets the job done, but it's not a very informative process for the consumer.

Furthermore, wines will be compared to each other (often using scores)

Personally, I tend to be a comparative and quantitative person. I measure my ingredients when I bake chocolate chip cookies. I compare cheddar cheeses and prefer Tillamook Vintage Sharp White over all others. I rate potential employees on a point scale in order to decide which one I should hire. I like to know what temperature it is outside, and if tomorrow will be warmer or colder. When it comes to wine, while I most certainly like to appreciate it for what it is in and of itself, I also like to compare it to other wines. Most consumers do too. Consequently, we end up liking some wines more than others, and that’s just another way of “rating” wine.

Wine Elitism?

This is not a crime against wine appreciation, but the manifesto people seem to imply otherwise. It seems if you don’t or can’t take the time and effort (and money) to understand what terrior means, specifically as it applies to the wine in the glass in front of you, then you must be enjoying wine in the wrong way. If you go so far as to compare that wine against another wine and give it a score or rating, then you really are doing it wrong.

Pssshh! Talk about making wine seem elitist. If the only appropriate way to enjoy and appreciate wine is the way the manifesto claims, millions of consumers have to stop drinking (buying) wine PRONTO. Yeah, I don't think so.

Consumers are free to select and enjoy wine in a variety of ways per their taste, budget and lifestyle. As they should be.

What’s the real issue?

Personally, I think the real motivation behind the manifesto comes from a belief that scoring is interfering with consumers’ ability to find, buy and taste different or unique wines due to how scores are used in wine sales and distribution. I have the same concern about choices, but scores are not to blame for that any more than a dead canary is at fault for an airless coal mine. To get at the root of the issue, we need to address the complexity of wine distribution in the United States. And that is a much, much more difficult subject for the wine world to broach.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


I've been reading through the various reactions to the recent Amerian Wine Bloggers Conference held in Charlottesville, Virginia, and I have to say holding the conference in Portland, Oregon next year will certainly be a boon for the conference organizers.

First and foremost, the wine industry in and around Portland is obviously more mature than in Virginia. And it's on the West Coast right next door to California and Washington, again, huge wine producing regions. That means easy access to more great wines, wineries and wine peeps than it might appear the Virginia edition of the conference provided.

But what makes this a slam dunk is what I like to call the Portlandia-effect. My current hometown is suddenly one of the hippest places to be despite its long history of being otherwise (seriously, ask anyone who was born here and is older than 12).

It took a great many years, but it's finally all coming together for Portland in the popularity department. We are now known for: beer, wine (natch), the Silicon Forest, urban (sometimes naked) biking, the indie music scene, hundreds of food carts, hard core outdoor recreation, our long list of farm to fork restaurants, grocery stores and farmers markets and ... we "put a bird on it".

This Portland popularity streak should bring quite an eclectic crowd (even for wine folk) to the conference next year AND make it easy for the organizers to add variety and intrigue to the conference agenda.

I'm in!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Laws regarding wine sales and consumption are very stringent in the US, particularly when compared to wine-producing countries in Europe. We have many historical influences to thank for that - Prohibition and its repeal being the most obvious.

Case in point: In Pennsylvania the only place to buy wine is at state-run liquor stores. Does this negatively affect consumer choice in terms of selection and price?

I think yes. What do you think?

Members of Pennsylvania's state legislature are planning to introduce a bill to privatize liquor stores and allow wine sales at grocery stores and the like. Will legislators be able to wade through the complexities and objections to the bill and come up with one that will pass? Stay tuned.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Ah, to be a 15-year-old nerd again...

I'm reliving my childhood this weekend at my mom and step-dad’s house in Medford, Oregon. Since my husband took our son to Costa Rica for graduation, I decided I would head down there and pretend to be 15 again: going to breakfast on weekends with my parents, staying up late reading books, playing Solitaire and enjoying the hot Southern Oregon days. Only now I can drink. It is truly amazing how well those same activities from my childhood are conducive to drinking.

They don't have a pool anymore, but that doesn't really interfere with my nostalgic enjoyment at all. I still get to eat Cookie Connection cookies, stay up late reading, have dinner on the patio at the Club and help my parents with their never-ending yard chores and projects. (Sort of, mostly I'm just good at observing and asking questions while drinking wine.)

Another nostalgic activity is going to the theater, so last night my Mom took me to the Oregon Cabaret Theater in Ashland to see “The Marvelous Wonderettes”, a musical comedy featuring hit songs from the 50's and 60's. That’s her in the picture. It was cool eating dinner beforehand at our cozy table on the second floor overlooking the stage. I started with a Joel Gott Sauvignon Blanc which paired nicely with my simple garden salad, but of course you can never go wrong with a decent Sauvignon Blanc for appetizers and starters. We enjoyed a local RoxyAnne Claret with our entrees. It struck me as having nice balance between fruit and structure and it fit the mood well. I had seared ahi tuna and Mom had stuffed chicken with marsala sauce. The claret held up well with the ahi, surprisingly. We gabbed about cooking mostly. I finally started exploring the “culinary arts” since I've been unemployed. I'm sure my mom finds it odd that after all this time as a neophyte cook, my favorite new thing to talk about is grilled vegetables. But since my new best friend from the TV, Giada, showed me how easy it is to make them, I've been inordinately enamored.

I think the most amusing part of the evening was when my mom told me in a nostalgic and somewhat confidential tone that the songs from the musical were the ones SHE remembered while growing up. I laughed while reminding her that my brother, sister and I knew ALL of those same songs from our childhood since my parents constantly sang to the radio in the car and played their 45s at home for us. And they still do. (Well, the radio part anyway.)

Saturday, June 25, 2011


I think I've created a monster, or rather, a few monsters.

I was soooooo inspired by my tasting last week that I surprised my friends with an impromptu tasting of three red wines during a dinner party last night. I presented the wines blind, poured everyone a taste and encouraged them to take a drink. Now I'm not sure what happened exactly, but this novel activity must have set off some sort of competitive chord in their brains because...I swear before I could say a word...I had 5 people earnestly declaring which type of wine they thought it was. When I was able to get in a few words before the next sample, I tried to get them off of the guessing game. “Tell us which one you liked best and why, that’s all.” This didn’t work at all. They continued to profess they knew what wine it was after each sample was poured, and unfortunately, they were overwhelmingly wrong.

Considering that none of these folks are wine tasting professionals, I was certainly not surprised when they had trouble determining what wine was what. I’m absolutely sure I would have had the same problem had I not known ALL THREE were Zinfandels. See, I was just trying to show how differently the same grape can be expressed. And I guess I managed to succeed in doing just that, what with all the incorrect guesses coming from the group. But I feel kind of sneaky, particularly when some of the tasters appeared to be chagrined for mistaking a Zinfandel for a Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah or Pinot Noir. For God's sake, they shouldn’t feel bad at all! Most people who regularly enjoy wine would probably be in the same boat. And besides, nobody likes a know-it-all anyway. (not that I would know anything about that...)

Props go to George, who incidentally drinks the least amount of wine in the group, for correctly identifying one of the wines as the exact same wine I had sent home with his wife, Kim, after last week’s tasting. He spotted it right off, but Kim was the one who remembered it was a Zin. And also to Darren, my husband, for correctly identifying one of the wines as a Zin (a different one than George). It is Darren’s preferred varietal so he was bound to spot one of them. No one else guessed Zinfandel.

I've considered providing a bit more info on the wines and establishing some helpful groundrules in case I've scared off my tasters, but with goofballs like Darren and George (see picture above), I really don’t think that’s a concern.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Back in the Saddle

My friend, Laura, wanted to learn more about wine in anticipation of a job interview at one of Portland’s best steakhouses, so I organized a tasting for her and invited Kim to join us. It was a blast, and I can't believe I haven't bothered to do them more often over the last, oh I don't know, 10 years (gulp)!

We blind tasted three each of commonly found whites and reds, all in the $10 to $20 range. As I suspected, my tasting skills have become mighty rusty, but I tried to make up for it in helpful wine industry tidbits. My favorite part of the afternoon was hearing Laura and Kim to describe the wines. While they both profess not knowing much about wine, they were great at identifying flavors and sharing their favorites out of the bunch. I am so thrilled to have done such an official wine-y activity that all I can say is that there will be more tastings to come!