This is a young sommelier's adventure through wine, liquor and the world. You will find no ratings here. You will find somethings that are sometimes geeky, sometimes irreverent, and always presented in my own unique (and dyslexic) way. Hopefully, the content inspires exploration, a sense of adventure, a good icebreaker for conversation, and even a good sense of humor about the magical juice we call wine, the insane elixirs of ting the world of liquor, and the culture surrounding all of it. .

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Keeping Wine Relevant: Part 3

The Economy

            Before I get into the bulk of this argument, I need to say one thing: I will not, and let me repeat, WILL NOT, make this section into anything political. While this portion of the series could easily go in that direction, I will not be letting it. So, if you expect something that favors left, right, center, or sideways, you will not get it.
            For several years now, we have been hearing about the recession. We hear about different companies going into bankruptcy or getting bailouts, people being out of work for long periods of time, and now, cities filing for bankruptcy. The world seems to be in a downward spiral with no definable end. People are counting their pennies more and more and not splurging on things as much as they were in the 90’s and earlier 2000’s. Young people are having a harder time getting jobs and saving money and debt is piling up. At this point, besides the possible feelings of doom and gloom that may be rushing through you, you may also be wondering what this has to do with wine staying relevant. Well, allow me to explain.
            With more people coming of drinking age due to the “baby boomlet”, the consumer base for alcohol is growing. With this economy, the average net worth of those new consumers has dropped. Currently, according to CNNmoney, the average net worth of someone 25-35 is a little over $8,000. Now, factor in rent, school loans, car payments, everyday expenses and we are not left with a whole lot of money to spend on those “extra” things. Those “extra things” include wine and spirits.
            Setting the money talk aside for a moment, let’s examine the consumption of these things. With all of the wine in the world, about 90% of it is made to be consumed within a year of it being bottled. Most younger consumers (being defined as the 25 to 35 year old age group in this case) won’t even wait that long, usually drinking the bottle that day or within a week of taking it home. If it is saved, many times it is not in ideal conditions and goes bad within a few years at best. Liquor, for the most part, has no expiration date, mainly because the higher alcohol levels allow for it to be opened and stay open without going bad. In fact, it is almost impossible to make certain liquors go bad at all. That higher alcohol content also means that a little will go much further than a glass of wine.
            All of that being said, we turn back to talking about all of this in terms of dollars and cents. According to Decanter, the average price of a bottle of wine has climbed to over $15 a bottle, up almost 80% since 2002. They also say that the average cost will continue to climb as much as 7.1% in the next 2 years. That is not an insignificant jump, especially when you consider that the average alcohol level per bottle is around 13%. Compare that to a bottle of booze; that same priced bottle of booze will carry an alcohol content in the 40% to 50% range, meaning that the likelihood of finishing a bottle in one sitting is slim to none. So, that bottle will last the consumer longer than the bottle of wine will, cutting their average spending on alcohol significantly. This also raises the question as to why people are consuming. Is it for enjoyment, understanding, to get drunk, or any number of other possibilities? This also helps dictate the amount of money that people are willing to spend on the product itself.
            So here is how I view this economy argument. For the average 25-35 year old, they are not thinking of wine as an investment, so the high end, collectable wines are out of the question. I won’t be cynical an say that all people in that age group are also drinking to get drunk, because I don’t think that this is the reason everyone drinks. However, I do believe that everyone, especially people in those age groups, are looking for value over anything. It is hard to argue that the value of a bottle of liquor or a six pack is less than the value of a similarly priced bottle of wine. Mathematically, it just isn’t. With all of this, how does one make the argument for someone buying wine over other alcohols of the same price?
            It is a hard argument to make, and often times one that does not make much head way. We are in a generation that flocks to places with great cocktails and beer lists rather than great wine lists. The thirst for more knowledge and understanding of these products seems to be far greater than that of wine. Some of this goes back to the first part of this series and the conversation of wine being approachable. Does price make it less approachable as well? I would tend to argue that is does and that, and until people have more liquid assent to spend on wine and exploring it, that the trend will stay that way. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Keeping Wine Relevant: Part 2


            One of the things that can either get someone excited about something or turn them off completely is how it is talked about. This goes beyond wine and cocktails. This thought goes throughout life. If you speak of things with enthusiasm and excitement, then others are more likely to listen. That being said, the words used are pretty important too.
            As I have said before, and will continue to say, the way wine professionals talk about wine needs to change. Wine needs to be shown as something that can be approachable, not unreachable. But, don’t take it from me; let’s examine some of the terms used to talk about cocktails and wine and how they might effect someone either just getting into or seeking to understand wine and cocktails more deeply.
            When talking about cocktails, many people use cool, even sometimes even crass terms and words to describe them. You are more likely to hear people refer to a cocktail as “bad ass”, “awesome”, “poundable” and other terms. This is not to say that you won’t also hear things like “balanced”, “complex”, or “interesting”. But, when is the last time you heard something like “this cocktail is great, but it needs to breath for about 20 minutes”? Never. People enjoy cocktails as they are presented. Sometimes, the bartender doesn’t quite get it right, or people will put ice into a glass of whiskey that makes the bartender shudder. However, those personal preferences can be influenced by cool, intelligent, and even witty conversation.  Talking about cocktails can often be, for lack of a better word, fun.
            Now, lets think about how people talk about wine. Words are often used that, sometimes, make absolutely no sense to some people. “Tannins”, “terrior”, “minerality” and “structure” are only some of the words that can be used to describe wine, not to mention all of the crazy flavor descriptors. I am not going to say that these words are bad or incorrect, as all of those things are part of what makes wine what it is. However, what do some of those words mean for the new or amateur wine drinker? What does “lemon pith” mean to someone who is more likely to eat fried foods than concentrate on what different parts of a lemon taste like? All of these things add up to one word: unapproachable.
            In the age of social media, it is almost impossible to get someone’s attention. How do you describe something so intricate as a well made cocktail, whose history is vast and influential, or a wine, whose sense of place and intricate techniques can change everything about the wine, in 150 words or less? How do you break down things that are so complex and make them simple? That is a struggle that we all go through as beverage professionals and one that will continue, but also one that needs to be examined if we hope to continue to develop educated and interested consumers, particularly in the case of wine.
            An approachable means of communication…maybe this is the answer? Or maybe, that’s too simple. Tune back in for part 3 for another idea that just might have the answer. Until then, keep exploring and, as always, enjoy drinking delicious things.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Keeping Wine Relevant: Part 1

As I pull up a lot of blogs, websites, magazines, and others forms of media, I see more and more stories and opinions about cocktails. It seems that people are becoming more and more infatuated with cocktails, who makes them, and the history behind them. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love the fact that people are making an effort to become more educated drinkers, more curious about the history behind them and why we drink. However, with the pendulum swinging so far in the direction of cocktails (and sometimes beer…I can’t forget about you beer drinkers), it leaves those of us who have made wine a career to wonder if we are being left behind. It seems that people find wine uninteresting for any number of reasons. This series of entries will explore what some of those reasons may be. I don’t aim to present absolute answers for this feeling or question, but rather present the things that may be standing in the way of wine being seen with the same enthusiasm and interest that cocktails seem to be right now. 

One of the first things that came to mind for this article is the idea that cocktails seem to be more creative than wine. Now, let me say this up front before I cause some uproar from this thought: cocktails ARE creative. I would never say that they are anything but, and that is one of the reasons that I myself have enjoyed being a beverage and cocktail director in restaurants.  So, yes, they are certainly creative. However, I think that the part of the allure of the creativity of cocktails is that, many times, it is immediate and tangible. 
Most places create cocktails at that moment, in front of the consumer. The performance is how they are prepared (shaken, stirred, with flair, lit on fire, and any number of other preparations that exist). The creativity is something that can be seen and experienced in other terms other than simply drinking the cocktail. There is a story behind the cocktail, but many times the story is part of the overall performance. The creation and preparation is part of the story that the drinker can then walk away with and tell to their friends. 
Compare that creativity with the creativity that is involved with wine. Most times, that creativity is done far away from the consumer, by scientist and wine makers who dissect every step of the wine making process. The creativity is done inside barrels and caves that many people will never see in person. Every step of the wine making process can dictate what the final product will be like. However, most of the time, none of that is ever seen until you pop the cork and pour it into the glass. Even then, unless it is tasted against other wines of similar variety, that creativity is never realized. It takes someone who knows the wine well to be able to communicate that creativity and history behind the finished product to the consumer. However, there involves the last point of this creativity argument: the people who bring the product to you. 
Through a quick and simple google search, I wanted to compare the images of those people who are responsible for explaining the story and history of the product they are serving. In fairness, I chose the most high brow titles for each that I could think of: mixologist and sommelier. Look below and compare the results…



These images are only an example of many of the photos available on google for those two words. However, they paint a very interesting picture. The mixologist seem younger, more hip, approachable, and active. The sommeliers are typically older, unapproachable, and rather pompous, not to mention, all men. Now, don’t get me wrong, I know some female sommeliers, but the majority are men. In fact, there are less than 30 female master sommeliers in the country out of the almost 200 that exist. That is a lowly 15%. That raises the question, are sommeliers unapproachable to most. And there is where the creativity argument gets interesting. Who is making the drinks and pouring the wine is almost as important as what is being made and poured itself. If it is done with pomp and circumstance, then why would people come back or want to learn more? Most people have a low tolerance for arrogance and it shows in what they drink and where they go.
So, creativity and presentation…could this be the answer to wines woes? Wait for part two and we will continue the conversation. Until then, enjoy drinking something delicious!