Thursday, August 9, 2012

Done The Research

A couple of months back coworker Ronnie and I were asked to attend a big trade tasting being put on my distribution giants Southern Wine & Spirits, a tasting laughingly called, “Best of the Best” but truthfully should be called, “The Best of the Crap Bulk Wines We’ve Got” so as I’m sure you can imagine, I was really looking forward to it. The truth is I, as in my departments, do almost no business with this particular company, not a political statement of any sort, just find the majority of the wines they have mediocre…at best and that is not what The Wine Country has ever been interested in dealing with. Let the chains and restaurants deal with that crap and we’ll just keep stocking our lesser-known but often far more thrilling wines and everyone wins. That being said my boss Randy wanted us to go and as someone that often tells people, “Unless you’ve tasted recently you really don’t know shit” I figured I had better practice what I preach, so went we did. Sigh…..

The second Ronnie and I entered the massive banquet room spilling over with stuffed shirts, shiny suits and spray tans my jaw got tight. A huge room that smelled like hotel Prime Rib mixed with about 25 different perfumes and colognes….perfect. I took a deep breath, slipped my backpack over my shoulders, grabbed a glass and looked at Ronnie, “So, what do you want to taste?” a shrug of his shoulders in response and we began our loop around the joint. Ferrari-Carano, Ruffino, Cavit (Best of the Best?! Okay) Jordan, my glass still empty and after nearly being knocked over by a Asian kid, 23 if he was a day, yelling “Winner winner chicken dinner!” and shoving me aside to get at the Caymus table I was once again looking at Ronnie, this time nearly pained look on my face, scrunched as all get out, “There is literally nothing here I want to taste let alone drink”. Dreadful show of wickedly boring “juice”. I finally saw the Champagne table, one of the most crowded of course, but thought it was time to revisit some big house Champagnes and see what if anything I had been missing. Yeah….

This was Ronnie’s first time tasting through so many of those wines. He was not a lover of Champagne when he came on board at The Wine Country, matter of fact I believe the direct quote was, “Champagne is fine, I just don’t prefer it” which after a few tastings and nights with open bottles of grower stuff, he is now a full blown Champagne “prefer-er” and in some ways is even snobbier than I.

 We stood there, glasses extended, squished between the sequined and heavily sprayed taking mouthfuls of utterly boring, if not down-right bad Champagne, Ronnie finally opening his mouth to say, “How can people drink this stuff?” exactly. Tasted the range from some of the most prized and famed estates; Clicquot, Moet and even Ruinart, even the high-end stuff, each and every single wine was insipid, absolutely uninspiring and honestly, not even swallow worthy. Fuck, no wonder people don’t drink more Champagne. This is the stuff being touted as “The Best”?! I can tell you, as a fiercely impassioned Champagne lover, if those wines were all that there was….I’d give up Champagne for good. Truly awful. Where is that rich, powerful and fully flavored wine that Clicquot used to be? Ruinart was a gem of a heady, doughy and monster style bubbly, now both are awkward, thin as shit, weirdly metallic and gassy in that ever appealing burpy way, dead sexy and luxurious that. That Grande Dame is now a shriveled old shrew and I’m calling her old ass out, “Your new clothes are showing all your business and um, damn, kinda gross”.

The one that didn’t surprise me in the least, Moet & Chandon. Those gas inducing wines have been crap for as long as I’ve been drinking Champagne. Crap and something Americans might not know, they have been fucking with you for decades. White Star, fucking White Star, how many times have I heard a customer tell me, “I like a dry Champagne like Moe-a White Star”. First of all its Moet, a Dutch name, (thank you Ron Washam for pointing out my error. I had originally said German) so go ahead and pronounce that T, secondly White Star is a sweeter wine that was created for the US market, not a dry wine, never was, tasted like donuts the first time I had it, gave me the gag shivers and I would only begrudgingly taste that shit during appointments where my Southern reps were begging me to bring the line back in the shop, which, after tasting, I never did. Always poorly made, (least in the past 15 years) and always priced like twice what the wines were worth. Not being dramatic, if I were handed a glass at a party I would pass and opt or water. They are that bad. The one thing that did get my attention at that, “Best of the Boring Crap We Have” tasting, no White Star.

I had heard somewhere that Moet & Chandon was dissolving the label, didn’t think much about it seeing as I hated the stuff and wasn’t even considering ordering it but, I do have an obligation to have answers as a specialist and all, and that includes knowing what’s up with the broad market dreck should anyone ask. I mentioned that I thought they had stopped making White Star to a friend a couple weeks ago, one that didn’t seem all that inclined to believe me I might add…and you have to know how much I love that, so I last night I popped on their website and guess what? Yeah, no White Star. Ha! Take that Mr. Smart T. Pants! Oh but not to worry, where that dreadfully dank and donuts tasting bubbly was, there is now another…oh yeah.

Fantastic! The first ever Champagne "designed" to pour over ice! Nothing says classy like ice cubes in your wine, especially your Champagne! Water and Champagne being so beneficial to one another and all. Don't I feel like the asshole now, I stopped putting water pitchers out for my Champagne classes years ago, because you know, I thought water, and one would assume ice as well, are Champagne killers. Color me so red-faced, should have looked to goddamn Moet. What….the…fuck?! I did some brief reading around the internets and this bullshit ice-needing swill is described as being “super-fruity” and just so you know, that is code for sweet, and has been targeted to exclusive, high-end, resorts and retailers, that right there is code for dumping this repackaged White Star, (I’m sure the bottle color is sheer coincidence) on the filthy rich that brand buy and have absolutely no taste….a little something cold, no icy, to sip on while their Armand de Brignac Ace of Spades is chilling in the gold lined ice box on the yacht. Cannot wait to see this show up on my Housewives of New Jersey….fucking Moet. 

So I’ve done the research and I can say without hesitation, haven’t been missing a thing. Asshats keep making my job harder. Grumble....


Ron Washam, HMW said...

My Gorgeous Samantha,

As Mr. Smart T. Pants, that's Mr. Pants to you, I confess my ignorance as to the disappearance of White Star, a wine you and I both hate. If they canceled "Friends" I wouldn't know either, as it too sucks.

And, Ms. Smart T. Pants, Moet is Dutch, not German. Now we're Mr. and Mrs. Pants. Or, we could remove our Pants and be Mr and Mrs Smart T.

As always, though, you bring life to the wine biz. Even those dreadful Southern tastings. An awful lot of industrial wines in one large, perfumed room.

I love you!

Samantha Dugan said...

Ron My Mr. Pants,
Okay so best part of this, it was my Moet rep that told me it was German! Gotta love Southern right? You are right however, should have checked but seeing as I was never going to carry the stuff, never bothered. My bad...wanna spank me? You crack me up sweet man and I love you so!

Jon said...

Sorry to burst bubbles, but White Star was just rebranded as Imperial. Same dreck, new name.

Samantha Dugan said...

Guess I suck at that research doing. So what the hell is the Ice Imperial? Even sweeter than the old White Star, now Imperial? Gawd, am I glad I don't have to deal with that crap, going to happily drink my Saves, Dhondt, Coutier and ingore the noise. Thanks for the heads up though!

Valerie said...

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner? That's right up there with the "Have you tried the wine slushies yet?" No, no, I haven't. But hey - let me get out my blender, some ice, and Apothic Red...

Thomas said...

"I had heard somewhere that Moet & Chandon was dissolving the label..."

This is done by putting the label into the Champagne. Viola! Label dissolves.

Re, the salespeople in suits: I always hated that uniform when I worked for a distributor, and I rarely wore it. Once, after having been caught again not in a suit and tie, I was forced to go on the road with a producer rep, who was dressed like an IBM staffer with a fine expense account.

As soon as we walked into the first large retail store, the owner looked at us and said to me, "Wdaddayou workin' for IBM now?"

Samantha Dugan said...

Could not believe that one, literally shoved me aside to get to...Caymus. So rude but it did make me laugh later.

About all that crap is good for is dissolving labels.

I don't mind the suits even though there are only three companies here that require their sales reps to wear them, most dress casually and either is fine with me. The thing that bothers me is the cheesed out, fake tans and Jersey Shore like dudes that don't know, or give a shit about wine. They are selling units and wheel and deal like used car salesmen to sell "boxes" and that has never been the way I see wine, nor will it ever be....but I guess if you are selling mass produced "juice" honing your passion for the stuff might be too hard. I woke to a pretty angry message from someone I care for greatly that does in fact have a tremendous amount of passion for wine, and works for a very large company, one I believe is linked to SWS in some way and he was pissed at me for this post. Broke my heart but did prove that there are people within that massive machine that do in fact give a shit and knows that somewhere in that gigantic portfolio there are some good wines....wish he was my rep.

Thomas said...


I know the feelings of your friend who works for a large distributor. I tried working for a medium-sized distributor that had started life as a dedicated wine operation but had grown. I found that moving boxes had become too important in the business; that attitude has little room for passion. It crashed down on me after being repeatedly pushed to sell certain products which I always seemed to forget to mention while out seeing my customers.

I gave up after 1.5 years at the company, which was when I went into a partnership to open the retail wine shop in Manhattan where our mission was very much the way you describe your mission.

Samantha Dugan said...

Yeah, I feel for him although he is, I think, in a very wine driven and specialized section so I'm sure my words here kind of stung a bit....that or simply pissed him off. The thing is I wasn't so much talking shit on SWS as much as stoopid Moet which is in fact dreadful plonk.

We had a very nice and knowledgeable woman that worked for SWS, on the American side, for about 2 months and she, much like you experienced, had to get out and find a smaller, more wine focused company to work for. Too bad because it was nice to have a rep that actually knew and cared about wine. The one we have now, nice enough, but all he brings us is whipped cream Vodka samples and shit like that....perfect fit dude.

webb said...

While you and Ron, actually, Mr worsham -i don't know him well enough to call him "Ron", are dropping your pants, you have saved me a ton of moola. Have always wanted to save up and try Moet, but even i know you don't freakin' ice champagne - under any circomstances!

Samantha Dugan said...


Yeah, save the money, you are better off getting something from Roederer, either the real Champagne or the domestic, which is quite lovely and hell, if you do go the California way you can save enough to get some really cool cheese to go with it.

Carolyn Blakeslee said...

Funny. At a recent tasting, I visited a table whose rep was pouring French wines, including a fabulous Picpoul de Pinet. I might have taken one home, but when he opened his mouth to offer another taster the Syrah and pronounced it "SIGH-rah," I just walked away.

Thank you, Samantha, for opening my mind to sparkling wines at all. I've always eschewed "champagne," for the reasons you outlined -- these "big names" were all that were available to me and I just didn't like them. I would sip them at weddings and New Years to be a good sport, but I still didn't like them. Not even Dom Perignon or Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque when I tried them, I dunno, 20 years ago. Do you think I "wrong" about those? or do they fit in with the Moet mystique too?

I recently LOVED a sparkling Torrontes and an extra dry Prosecco, though, so it's nice to be developing confidence ... maybe when I have the privilege of tasting true (and truly good) Champagne it will actually make me pop my eyes open and say "Wow."

Samantha Dugan said...

Dom would be a fine $50 bubbly, thing is, it's not $50, over twice that....and in ever Costco, CVS, Vons and I've even seen it at Food 4 Less, (terrible discount market) so one has to know just how special and rare that junk is. I had the PJ 98 when I was in Vegas a couple weeks ago, (not a chance in hell we bough it, someone gifted it to us) and I shit you not, could not get past three sips. Tasted like burnt caramel and sweet cream...gross. The base wines for these massive case production wines just aren't what they used to be as the growers they were buying fruit from are ending their contracts and making their own, far fresher and brighter wines. I do hope you are able to taste some truly handcrafted Champagnes soon, they are game changers.

Carolyn Blakeslee said...

Thanks, Sam, for confirming what I'd suspected. Game changer -- well, based on the glimpses I've had recently, and the sheer passion with which you write when a Champagne really hits the right spots for you, I BELIEVE YOU! :-)

Anonymous said...

You forgot to mention Dom's "klub" label. It glows in the dark so your competitor at the next table has to go large to save rank.

Samantha Dugan said...

I had to Google that to believe it. File that under, "You know you're a douche when"

Anonymous said...

Hello Ms. Sans Dosage

Ah Dhondt, and Tarlant, hmmmmm!! and true story.

1984, just getting into the grape juice, my local wine head at the local store front says to me, we have a producer in the store that is hard to get and is really good, and if you can spring for it you should try it.

$37 dollars for Selosse, and I have never been the same.

As Mr. Waits says - "Champagne for my real friends and real pain for my sham friends"

Have a splendiferous day !

Ciao !

Samantha Dugan said...

Hello Mr/Ms Don't Know Your Name.

Selosse at $37, no matter what you think of the wines now, game-changer. Unreal. I was carrying those wines for a couple vintages, I dug them for their voice but maybe found them a tad aggressive back then, must confess to being way curious to taste them now but seeing as they are priced out of my retail worker price range...and I'm guessing I shan't be tasted on them, just going to have to wonder for now. Have you had them recently? Would love to hear from someone that knew then and knows now...

Anonymous said...

Ms. Sans Dosage,

Rare Wineco is calling Monsieur Selosse, Champagne's greatest producer. Wow!!

Of course you get to do that if you are the primary importer and trying to make a lot a' bucks.

But they may be correct, saying Mr. Selosse got it right early, and remains distinctive enough to claim leader mantle, if he chooses I suppose. Anselme is probably too sophisticated to care, and every damn wine is different anyway, so comparisons are for critics and the herds that sway to their every snort and bray.

I wonder what Mr. Theise would have to say about this, that being Selosse is the best sparkling wine produced in Champagne?

Hey Terry, got any thoughts on this?

And Ms. Sans Dosage, got any thoughts on that Tarlant Zero?

Ciao !

Samantha Dugan said...

Name I Don't Know,
You would make things a touch easier if I could just type your name here, but I understand if you would prefer to remain nameless.

I read the flyer from Rare Wine Co and after choking at the prices, thought there was a bit too much "genius" going on there to not have it look like they were just trying to push sales. That being said, those wines have for so long been off the market here that I am sure they will have no problem selling them. Good for them, honestly. The word "Best" always bugs me, even though I've used it myself, the thing that I keep coming back to, "The Best for what?"....

I would love to see what Terry would have to say, as well as Becky Wasserman, whom I think is bringing in some masterful Champagnes...Saves, Moineaux, Dhondt anyone?! Not trying to take anything away from Selosse, but "the best" is measured on far too many layers, and palates, to make that kind of proclamation if you ask me.

It has been like 10 years since I tasted anything from Tarlant, not even sure who imports those wines anymore, is it still North Berkeley? Might be time for a revisit me thinks.
Thanks for chiming in!

Sara Louise said...

Not my Ruinart... NOOOOOOO!!! It's sad. Just plain sad.
But, not as sad as the Champagne with the ice cubes. And you better believe we'll see that on the RHONJ! My bet is TG will be swilling it first.
Confession time... here in The LPV, we all have been known to toss an ice cube or two into our rosés. It's just too freaking hot. Except for Papa. Papa has started drinking his rosé out of a Texas Longhorn insulated tumbler that I bought him last year. That's right... a tumbler! Homeboy is not messing around.

Samantha Dugan said...

Ice in your wine I can forgive when it's like a billion out, but in bubbles?! Worst thing ever, for the wine and for the one drinking it. Giant fail. Yeah, your Ruinart has become and anemic version of what it once was, in fact I have a $40 dollar wine that kicks its scrawny ass....and is Grand Cru! Time to take a whole new look at what we once thought we knew with regards to Champagne...times, they are a changing.

John M. Kelly said...

Producers of the mass marketed swill - even those vaunted "names" that think themselves above reproach - should take heed. We see you as you are, you are not wearing any clothes, and you are ugly as the contents of a chamber pot. Moet, thy name is shite.

Samantha Dugan said...

Has anyone had my back more than you?! Consider that handsome face of yours peppered with kisses...