Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Growers VS Showers....

Happened again a couple of weeks ago. My coworker Ronnie was pouring reds from Spain and Portugal, starting with the lighter, more friendly wines and moving into the heavier, chewier ones and I happened to be standing there when a couple was poured the first of the big reds. “Ohhhh, now that’s a wine!” the gentleman cooed as the opaque liquid settled in his glass. He and his wife were giddy, practically giggling as they made their way to the food table to grab hunks of cheese and sliced chorizo to munch on while sipping on their, “Monster red” I had already run through the wines, suspected that the dark wine thy were about to drink was not going to be what they were expecting, so I watched them closely and waited for their reaction and was not the least bit surprised when they quickly came back to the table. “UM, what is this?” they asked Ronnie, “It’s Afros Vinho Verde” he told them followed by, “It is from the Vinho Verde region which is typically known for their white wines but they do have some reds and this one is made from a grape called Vinhao” I watched as their faces glazed over, hearing words but not words that made any sense to them whatsoever. “Well it isn’t what we were expecting” the man replied before he and his wife went back to mill about the smallish group in the tasting room. Their reaction, exactly what I was expecting however.

The Afros Vinho Verde is a very dark, rich looking red wine but once on the palate you find something that is more akin to dry Lambrusco than the chocolaty, berry rich wine I’m sure that couple was assuming it would be. So their shock was not at all shocking to me, in fact it’s pretty typical for a lot of wine tasters. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve poured a big, black wine and had people ohh and ahh over it, say things like, “Yum!” before they’ve even smelled or tasted it and it never ceases to baffle me. As the Burgundy buyer for the store I learned long ago to stress to my customers that color tells you nothing about what you are about to taste. Often with red Burgundy the color can be just this side of Rose, and in some cases lighter than a Rose, but that doesn’t mean the wine isn’t loaded with deep and complex flavors. In a class setting I can make them understand that but in the stand-up tasting setting, little more difficult.

A couple of weeks ago we did a Cabernet Franc tasting on a Saturday afternoon and I couldn’t wait to extol the virtues of one of my most beloved varieties to all in attendance. Didn’t take long however, seeing as only about 27 people showed up. Randy and I found ourselves locked in a discussion afterwards trying to figure out why the event was so poorly attended, especially seeing as Loire Cabernet Franc is positively on fire in the shop right now. The only thing I could come up with, “Cabernet Franc is a grower not a shower”. Tasters seem to adore big, dark, thickly purple reds, wines that look as if they might just rip your face off and are loaded up with sweet upfront fruit and lots of toasty oak. They love them alright but the funny thing, not what most of them buy, to drink that is. 

“I need to buy a bottle of Cab, it’s a gift” this is how about 85% of the Cabernet Sauvignon I sell is sold, as a gift. Always amazes me that. That people wanting to give a gift of wine are automatically drawn to that big, flashy, showy style wine even though it’s not what they opt to buy and drink at home themselves. What’s up with that? Sure, we have some diehard Cabernet drinkers, drinkers not tasters, but for the most part that “I need a bottle of Cab for a gift” is followed by, “Oh and maybe something for me, a Pinot or blend maybe”. So you drink and prefer lighter wines but wish to….what, impress, with a bottle of bigger, richer, maybe better known and definitely more dripping with prestige Cabernet Sauvignon? Makes me wonder how that status was attained in the first place. Reminds me a bit of those ghastly holiday fruitcakes and rum cakes, everyone keeps handing them out but how many of those recipients are looking at that gift horse and stashing it away only long enough to pass it on to someone else?

“Dude, running through a lineup of Cabernet Franc is fun, running through those, that’s work” me emerging from the kitchen at The Wine Country after tasting only six of the twelve wines we had poured at our Big Time Cabernet Sauvignon tasting the night before. I’ve committed myself to learning more about California wine and no matter my mood or workload I will hunker down and give any and all of those wines my undivided attention to better understand what it is we stock and how best to serve our customers. Well, tasting through a dazzling array of high-end Cabernet Sauvignon had me thinking like those customers of ours do, “maybe a Pinot Noir or blend for me”. Just can’t seem to find pleasure, my pleasure in the actual drinking of them. Hell, for me, even the filling my nose and mouth with them, six of them, had me tapping out and asking for a break. Finding the working of the register and scrubbing of the wine bar in preparation for next event, much more inspiring than reaching for bottle number seven. This is what we give as gifts? The epitome of wine wonderfulness?! This is where you have to picture me sheepishly raising the index finger of my right hand, face scrunched and brows digging deeply into my skull as my mouth curled into a WTF?!

There are wines that “Show” upon one look, sniff or sip and there are those that demand that we spend just a little more our time, shedding expectations and stripping down to that primal grab of what really gets us off. Is that Cabernet Sauvignon?  In my world, not so much. That showy expulsion of juicy black fruit…the chewy density of exposed flesh right out there, open and giving it up in the first whiff? Seems rather cheap and shallow to me…

I want
Ache for
Showing is one thing, growing is another.      


Ron Washam, HMW said...

My Gorgeous Samantha,

People are always swayed by the color of a wine, and, as you point out, mistakenly. But humans are visual creatures who flatter themselves that they have extraordinary senses of smell and taste when they actually don't. So sight has more influence in judging a wine than it deserves. The vibrancy of the color is important, and color can tell you a bit about how the wine was made at times, but other than that, get over it. And "legs," hell, how did that capture the public imagination?

But I'd disagree with you on Cabernet from California. Many are stupid, granted, but the best are not, and have all the complexity and elegance of your beloved Cab Franc from the Loire. They show more primary fruit when they're young, but with age reveal much, much more. Do I want to sit around the pool and sip Cabernet? No. Do I want Cabernet with my burger? No. Are they overpriced? Yes. But all those are different arguments.

Most of the people who buy Cab as gifts are wine novices giving wine to other wine novices. It's like giving Riedel stemware or Hermes scarves. They want what they think others think is the "best." Cabernet has had that reputation for 150 years or more. Chinon has not. The reasons have more to do with economics than quality, that's for sure.

But, as always, you have so much to say, and say it so compellingly. Wow, I love you.

Marcia Macomber said...

I had a winemaker dinner last night (me and the winemaker) and was a bit surprised at how much attention he was giving to the color of the Grenache line up we had going. But he explained that consumers are heavily swayed by color, so he puts a great deal of attention on it in making his wine. (Or, as he put it, hooker makeup on wine)

I love a good Cab Franc too (far more than Cab Sauv). And love your Cookie Monster photo selection! Could use that laugh this morning.

Samantha Dugan said...

Ron My Love,
I wrote this steaming piece in a sleep deprived and wine soaked haze, in fact I don't even remember publishing it so thank you for muddling through it....I am not even willing to do that, so you must love me.

Ah yes, pandering, we all do it from time to time. Where the heck do you think those tragic Red Wine & Chocolate tastings started? Been guilty of it myself so there is little I can say about your wine making friend there. But, (guess I do have one little something) it kills me that we all want the general public to understand wine better but play into their wrong-headed ideas. What up with that?

John M. Kelly said...

Amen to the color thing - even in Roses. Mega Purple continues to be hugely profitable for the manufacturer.

For the producer as well as the wine slinger there is nothing wrong with giving people what they think they want - at least for the more self-aware among them it sets up the potential for a teachable moment.

Samantha Dugan said...

John My Dear,
You are right of course and trust me, I take every stinkin' chance I get to change their minds!

Susan said...

I have purchased the Afros wine a number of times. I love it! It was recommended to me by my wine shop and I tried it. It is very dark in color, but not in weight. I like it slightly chilled. I always like to read about wines I really like in your blog.

Samantha Dugan said...

Well welcome and thanks so much for taking the time to comment. I am a huge fan of that wine as well and think it's wicked delicious, chilled and served with a variety of cured meats and cheese....very ,much like Lambrusco, (the good ones) in fact. Thrilled to hear you love it and think you have a pretty cool wine shop if they are recommending it to you.

Selyndria said...

I took a cooking class (BBQ Thrills) the other night and forgot my bottle of CMS at home. I lamented the whole night! I was offered some wine by some guys who were also in the class (Company Team Building). I had to choose between the Cab Sauvignon and Merlot (Robert Mondavi). I chose the Merlot based on what we were making. I mentioned that the Merlot would go better with the flavors of the night then the big Cab.

I was then asked how I knew so much about wine and I told them frankly, that I didn't know much about wine. I was just smart enough to LISTEN to my Wine Merchant, try new things at the tastings they held and buy what I really liked and loved. I sent a few of them your way so they could learn... and love.

I love the Cab Francs, do not like the Cab Sauvignon. LOVED the Afro (bought some for the love).