Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Firesteed Pinot Noir – Believe the Pinot Hype?

I’m sure millions of Americans are geared up and ready for this weekends hotly anticipated release of Sony Picture’s RV the movie. While Sony is hyping this as a family classic, RV makers are hoping for a “Sideways” like impact. No, not a crash, though my guess is that anyone brave enough to sit through this movie will be praying for one to end the overdone, under funny family rode tripp’n high jinx adventure. Rather, what RV makers are hoping for is that Robin William, Jeff Daniels, Kristin Chenoweth, et all, will make RV vacation’s look and sound as funny as Pinot Noir looked after the movie Sideways. (Ah yes, the rant begins)

Before Miles, the wine hero of Sideways, ever proclaimed the importance of Pinot Noir the top selling wine in the US was Merlot, but oh how a movie can change the collective consciousness of Americans. Following the release of Sideways, everyone was eager to show off their price of admissions wine snoppery degree, turn up their nose at Merlot, and exclaim their long held irreverence for the amazing Pinot grape. (Especially anything grown in Sonoma, California) However, the truth was few had any interest in Pinot Noir prior to seeing the movie. Equally true, arguing the value of Pinot Noir over Merlot is a waste of time. If you like one you can appreciate the other. The only real question is do you enjoy the wine you have and did the person who made it know what they were doing. Any variety of wine can be great, but the important debate is can the wine get the job done.

If the job is pairing a wine with RV the movie in hopes to make that film palatable, I’d suggest copious amounts of Firesteed Pinot Noir. The people at the Firesteed winery in Oregon know what they are going. (Long before the current rush on Cali Pinots, Oregon was winning international awards) The winemakers at Firesteed have been creating a Pinot Noir that was so pleasing, reliable and reasonably priced that it was a sure bet for any restaurant menu. Firesteed Pinot Noir is a classic Pinot Noir with intermingled flavors of berries, vanilla and currants combined with soft tannins and a smooth finish. Though the price has gone up over the years due to the Pinot hype, the quality of the wine Firesteed produces remains constant.

Hype is generally based in some reality. Pinot Noir, RV’s and even Robin Williams all have valid reasons to be hyped. Yet, just as they all have a good side, each has its bad. Safe bets are Firesteed Pinot Noir, Airstreams and Good Will Hunting or Good Morning Vietnam. (note to self: only see Robin Williams movies with “good” in the title). Of course this is only my opinion, so feel free to believe the hype at your on risk. If you do take my advice, please let me know how the movie and the pinot paired, because you might find I’ll want something stiffer when I eventually watch RV the movie on DVD.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Wine's Lesson Learned - Thanks Beer

Part Two of my wine labelling rant.

When I came of age in college (drinking age that is) it was during a revolution. I had a front row seat to history in the beer industry. It was the “age of microbrews”, and it seemed around every corner there was a new beer. Brewers had finally decided to challange the big three (Bud, Miller and Coors) for market share. Suddenly it seemed their was "choice" in the beer market. For my part, I (like many beer drinkers) enjoyed being introduced to all the new styles and flavors. Suddenly, there where tons of beer options with great sales to match. You could drink a different beer every night, and I often did. Marketing became so competative that a stranger once approached me in Safeway offering me five bucks to buy Black Star and share it with me freind. (I bet you can guess what beer we drank that evening.) The only real problem with so many drinking options is remembering which beers you like, especially the more you drink. And thus my loyalties, at least to the marketer, seemed driven on price alone.

In a price war however, volume and distribution create an advantage. We all know who wins that battle. The statistic I remember from the time was one in every five beers consumed in the US was a Bud. Not a combination of Bud labels, no just a regular red, white and blue labelled Bud. (That's a nice piece of market share). Quickly it was obvious to brewers that price along couldn’t win market loyalty. Ideas to combat Bud came and went as did beers. Each brewer slipped quietly back into their niche. A few however have had a lasting appeal, and they are remembered for the image they impressed upon us.

That my friends, is what we are seeing today in the wine industry. No its not a battle against a single wine empire, it a battle against wine's history and tradition. American once thought of wine as the beverage of the rich and stuffy, ie people who travel to France. In the 90’s however a couple things changed. One, thanks to the beer revolution we created a generation of drinkers who are willing to try new things and experience different tastes. Two, farmers in California, Washington and Oregon all started planting wine making grapes because it was a crop they could make money on. Quietly a glut of quality grapes entered the market. In the early 2000's these two factors reshaped the wine market thanks to old (notice I did not say good) “Two Buck Chuck”. The seeds of revolution finally matured and agian it was a battle started with price.

With so many wine making grapes available the company that owned Charles Shaw name made a crazy move. They decided to make a wine, that by industry standards of the day, was priced to be given away. But the funny thing is the world was surprised that Americans were willing to drink it. A new day suddenly dawned, wine drinker in the US.

Suddenly, the same revolution that once graced beer, exploded into the wine market, tons of choices and competative pricing. Beverage mongers that survived the beer revolution remember how to capitalize on this trend now that it moved into wine, price alone can’t sustain the consumer. Those sellers moved to mirror the Beers that made it big. Leave a lasting impression based on image, not necessarily substance. Welcome to the rise of the iconic, sexy, catchy wine label.

With such busy lives and so little time, it seems Americans only have time (or perhaps the attention span) for simple entertainment. Rather than savoring a wine and passing that knowledge on to a friend, we chose wine based on the label and how it fits our price range. The bigger the impression left in our mind by the label, the more likely we are to remember and talk fondly of that wine. Let’s be honest, most of us are not wine connoisseurs, nor do we aspire to be one. Rather, we simply want wine to enhance an experience, whatever that experience maybe. Often times a label can do that. (I know I’ve given wine as a gift because the recipants name was the same as the name on the label, and it made their day.)

On the surface this all seems harmless; some wine, an interesting label, and a few laughs. But then what?... life is to short for mediocre wine. The one thing I’ve learned is good wine takes time, not marketing. So treat yourself, take some time and find that good wine. Just remember, write the name down, because I willing to bet once you find that wine, it won’t have a memorable label.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Covey Run - The Safe Bet Wine

Gambling, also known by its friendlier name “gaming”, is a major industry in the United States. It’s hard these days to find a person who hasn’t gone to Vegas, where it is reported that over 86% of the visitors gambled during their stay. Of course you don’t have to travel to Nevada anymore to game. 48 of the 50 states currently have casinos. I believe it is Utah and Hawaii that don’t. All sell lottery tickets of some kind. And if you really are dying to gamble, it’s only a click away.

But for me, I get my fix of gaming in much simpler down to earth ways. First, its good to have a local bookie; keep your winnings and losings in the local economy. (Think globally, shop locally). Second, realize why you game. Things are more fun when you have something at stake. Third, everything in life has the potential to bet on. I once lost 20 bucks to my dad on the states governors’ race. (Tip: in an election never bet against a Bush, those races are fixed). And finally, you don’t need to go to Las Vegas to be entertained, every night out has gaming potential. Here are a few of my favorite games.

Game One: Guess the nationality of the cab driver. While waiting for a cab, bet your friends the cab driver’s nationality. This is much harder than it sounds, mostly because when people hear cab driver they automatically buy in to stereotypes. Don’t be fooled, people from all walks of life drive cabs and sometimes I need to look the country up after I hear the cabbies nationality. (This game is also a good way to learn geography.)

Game Two: Wager on Service. Lean into the bar and see which of your friends will get the bartender’s attention first. After you’ve played this game a few times you’ve notice the same person is always ordering the drinks. Eventually you’ll want to make this game more fair by placing different odds on people. (Tip: Women generally have better odds at being served then men do.)

Game Three: Name a wine on the wine list. This game takes trust. Dishonest friends will scout wine lists ahead of time. Be careful, but with people you trust this can become a fun game. (Well maybe only for us wine dorks, but if you're reading this blog that assumption is a safe bet.) A wine I find is a good bet is Covey Run. My favorite is the Quail label Cab Sauv.

Covey Run Quail Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 is a great wine, especially for the price. In the glass the wine is aromatic and deeply colored. The palette is fruity, with flavors of cherries and berries and hints of spice. This is a medium-bodied flavors Cab from Washington. The main reason you’ll find this wine in restaurants is it pair well with many meals. I like it with cheese burgers myself.

The most important thing however is don’t feel limited by the games you play. Remember, everything and anything can be wagered on. Gaming is only a problem when you can’t cover your loses. So make sure to have lots of bets going at all times so your winnings can cover your loses. Now if you’ll excuse me I have an Easter egg hunt to bet on. (Tip: smart money is on the pushy girl with pigtails.)

Thursday, April 13, 2006

American in Paris? - Nope, Just American Style

On the surface it would appear that the wine industry is suddenly throwing off the shackles of tradition and finally loosening up, allowing for amazing growth across the industry. I look around and it appears a whole new flood a wine labels are waiting for me. Catchy, silly, cute, iconic, sexy, new wine labels call out hoping to supplant themselves in our subconscious. Cline’s Red Truck should be given credit as one of the originals wines in this revolutionary moment. But Cline was not alone, Royal Bitch Merlot, Little Penguin wines, Marilynn Merlot (to name a few) all have relied on image to make their mark. At first, this was a movement about labels you would remember because of inside was a wine you didn’t want to forget. But as this moment grew it clearly became more about the label and less about the wine.

Now the French are getting into the act. You know it is serious when the tradition heavy, snooty French are willing to step off their self-made pedestal and compete for the wine market. Scarlet of Paris Pinot Noir 2004 is the first attempt by the French to capture this new "image" over "tradition" wine market.

Luckily, like many of firsts, Scarlet of Paris Pinot Noir 2004 has both a catchy label and a tasty wine to remember. It is a fragrant and earthy French wine, definitely rustic. Overall this wine is light and a very pleasantly fruity Pinot Noir. Most of all this is a French Pinot priced to sell. Definitely worth taking the time to try and if you like it, you’ll be happy it won’t break the bank to stock your cellar.

However, while Scarlet of Paris Pinot Noir 2004 is the latest hit in this new movement of appearance first and substance later, there are countless forgettable wines draped in “pretty labels”, after tasting one would be happy to forget. But before I ramble on about this topic I think I’ll take some time to enjoy a glass of Silver Oak and reflect on our recent past.