The turning of the last page of 2010 on the Gregorian Calendar is happening right now. And along with the passing of the final moments of the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century is the flurry of retrospective articles from every publication, electronic information service and Web site.
I am not one given to disappointing regular and casual readers of these weekly epistles about wine and spirits. Nor do I desire to swim against a veritable tide of human emotion when we want to try to understand the events of the previous year while optimistically taking the long view that matters will get better in the new year about to begin.
But I must address a few things on my mind and then move along, never, I hope, to be bothered by such banalities again. That’s not the way I’m betting, but it’s a new year and a relatively clean slate.
Herewith are a few of the peeves that continue to get my goat, in no particular order:
Underestimating the Power of Fresh
The making of an OK cocktail and a great one is often no more than the difference between a nonalcoholic ingredient that comes in a bottle and the real deal. It puzzles me as to why bar people won’t just do the right thing.
Fresh lemons are readily available. So is bottled lemon juice. But why not use fresh? Some bar owners feel it takes too much time to make a drink with fresh ingredients. They don’t have a problem taking our money, sometimes too much of it, for a stale product. The gospel of fresh is not a take-it-or-leave-it choice if you are in the business of serving drinks to the public.
Your patrons, Mr. Second-Class Bar Owner, have chosen to give you money for which they have worked hard in return for a good drink. FYI, you cannot make a good drink with pre-mixes, bottled juices or packaged substitutes for any ingredient. You can make a fast drink. You can make an artificial drink. You can make a very sweet drink. But you cannot make a good drink.
Treat your customers with respect. They patronize your establishment, and they pay you money for a product. Give them the best product you are capable of delivering. The notion of “They won’t know the difference if I use bottled lemon juice that’s been open for three days or fresh-squeeze the real deal” is not fair to the people who are supporting you.
The same real-world thought process also applies to ingredients that come through a bar-gun. These are not fresh. Tonic water, or even tap water, flowing through the same hose as Dr Pepper will never taste like it is supposed to taste in a mixed drink. You should want to open bottles when serving these vital ingredients.
And while we are on the subject of “fresh,” may I also suggest that you follow the directions of the manufacturer of your ice machine and clean the damn thing on a regular schedule? New Orleans has great water, but over a period of time, the chemicals added to our water to purify it will build up in your ice machine.
Clean the machine, and make better ice. Ice is a key ingredient in just about every cocktail, and it should carry nothing but cold into the drink recipe.
Incidentally, those of you who like to entertain at home should purchase bagged ice from the store. Home ice machines and ice-making units in freezers are almost never cleaned and over a period of time could be the basis for interesting lab experiments, the results of which end up in your guests’ glasses.
“I Ain’t Drinking Any F***king Merlot”
Yes, it was a great line from a fun movie, and I doubt that many bottles of merlot have been served since 2004, the release year of Sideways. Even producers of merlot sometimes use the line –– or a variation of it –– when serving their wines.
It’s not the line that is so hard for me to understand because for awhile American merlot was indeed a flabby, soulless, uninspiring beverage in many instances.
What bothers me is the thought behind the line. Writing off a whole category of wines or spirits based on some obscure prior experience or just because you know someone who “knows a lot about wine” and he won’t touch the stuff is simply wrong. You are missing a lot of good experiences by deleting entire product segments from your tasting episodes.
Merlot is a great grape with which to make fine wine. Some, as in all things, are better than others. But it can be successfully proved that merlot is a wonderful beverage that goes with so many foods and good times.
Don’t write merlot –– or any group of wine or spirits –– off from your repertoire. Every experience with adult beverages is another opportunity to make new discoveries, to find something interesting and rewarding. Some things you will like better than others, and you will know that going in.
But from time to time, you will be pleasantly surprised. And those are the times to be savored.
Vintages of the Century
Winemakers are an enthusiastic lot. They like what they do. I have never met a former winemaker who is now an attorney. I have met many former attorneys who are now winemakers. Winemakers have the wonderful assignment of working with the land, then making magic in the winery and finally savoring the bottled joy that required so much effort and time and money.
A drawback to making wine is that you only get one chance a year to make a product. If you blow it, you have to wait until next year to try the whole thing again.
Sometimes the enthusiasm of the winemaker gets a bit ahead of the result. In a year when nature cooperates and the other aspects of winemaking fall into place perfectly, hyperbole steps in, and enthusiasm for a job well-done turns into cheap theatrics. “Vintages of the century” fit into this category.
2010 marked the third vintage of the century from the producers in Beaujolais. I’m not a whiz at math, but how can that be so? We are barely out of the first 10 years of the 2000s –– and there are already three vintages of the century.
Lest you think I am picking on Beaujolais, this trend is also true of the Bordelaise. The great châteaux of the Medoc are fully capable of flogging their wines like a cheap carnival sideshow barker.
The “vintage of the century” statement may be real, but we will be in no position to judge for at least another 90-plus years. Please stop it. You are making fools of yourselves.
Selling Clothes to the Emperor
I love to hear the stories that visitors to Wine Country relate after they have returned home. They tell of beverages they have discovered and love because of the special care a winery bestowed on the product. The winery owns its own grapevines, it only uses new fresh oak barrels, it is organic, it is not organic, it is high on a mountain, it is in a lovely valley, it’s all family-run, the winery is based on gravity with no pumping and so on.
All the stories are good. And they are all no doubt true. But the real story is that there is very little bad wine being made today. Everyone has access to the same information about where to plant what and how much. Good vineyard management and a pristine winery environment are traits that just about all wineries today have in common.
If you like the stories, all’s the better. Keep in mind, however, that they are stories, told to you to assist your brain in remembering a particular winery’s products. Very little of what one winery has or does is not also possessed or done by its neighbor –– or the winery halfway around the world.
The bottom line is whether you liked the wine. Period. End of story.
Quoting “Trusted Sources” Who Shouldn’t Be
The Internet has given rise to many, many, many experts in every field of endeavor. Let’s face it, all you really need is a computer and an opinion. (OK, OK, you’re right, and I’m guilty as charged.)
But just because you can type and like wine does not make you a wine expert. It makes you just like everybody else. And because everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion, being an “expert” with those tools is definitely not in the realm of possibility. That does not stop folks from proselytizing.
As for you, the interested and curious consumer, be careful who you quote, particularly if he or she is just an Internet phenom. There are a lot of great wine and spirits writers out there who deserve to be listened to and read. They write and report for respected journals, and they are constantly at work honing their craft and doing research into their areas of expertise.
Use them. Refer to them. Don’t go out on a limb during a discussion and say, “Happy Hal –– you know, from the Happy Hal Hall of Fame Wine Pages –– said that this merlot/chardonnay blend from southern Peru was the vintage of the century.”
Happy Hal won’t be there to bail you out, and you are in much need of bailing.
On a sincere note, it is my privilege to be able to share with you my thoughts, and sometimes my suggestions, about what is worth your attention in the fun pursuits of knowledge about wines and spirits. I am very humbled by your taking time to read these outpourings, and I hope that you feel what is being said here is worth not just the time but also the resulting thoughts –– and maybe even actions, like buying some of the beverages we write about.
I wish you the very best in the new year and hope that you will only enjoy the finest wines and the tastiest spirits in 2011. If life is indeed too short to drink bad wine or spirits, then in that vein I will try to deliver to you each week the most interesting and useful information.
Happy New Year.
The Wine Show with Tim McNally is on hiatus until Jan. 8, when it will air from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on WIST-AM 690. Thereafter, it can be heard every Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.