Friday, March 8, 2013

What About The Classics?

“So, this might be a stupid question but is Roquefort just a blue cheese? What I mean is are all blue cheeses Roquefort or is it its own thing?” a customer the other day mussing about our little cheese case. I informed her that Roquefort was its own thing, a salty, slightly grainy sheep’s milk cheese from France, considered one of the classic French cheeses in fact but one I’ve been forced to stop stocking for lack of sales which resulted in expired product, (although expiration dates on cheeses sort of bug me and are way too early in the cheese’s maturation period if you ask me). I showed her another blue which she purchased and thanked me for the information before leaving the shop. “Where’s the Stilton?!” Randy sort of bellowing in my direction from the cheese case where he stood trying to assist a customer buying a bottle of port. “I’ve stopped carrying it Randy” my words twisting his face into a question mark and before I could get another word out he quipped, “But, but, it’s a classic” to which I responded, “A classic that doesn’t sell and I end up having to toss in the garbage when it expires.” He stood there looking somewhat deflated and confused and asked that I try and pick another cheese to go with port, fairly easy for me, just grabbed a wedge of Roaring 40s blue and sent the customer on his way. Then in January Randy and I were at the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco tasting all kinds of cheese and upon walking away from the cheese pagoda Randy says, “That Stilton wasn’t very good”….classic.

Not sure exactly what has caused the shift away from Roquefort and Stilton within our store, if the cheeses themselves have changed, which I seriously doubt seeing as they’ve been made the same way for like ever, or if the shift has more to do with the fact that there are a lot more options when it comes to blue cheeses now. Other old school blues from Europe that weren’t exported, or much of it anyway, before and the explosion of artisan cheese makers that have burst on the scene over the past 10 years. Either way I haven’t been able to move though a complete wheel of Stilton or Roquefort without having to throw at least some away for being past their expiration date.  Oh sure, whenever I state that being the reason I’ve stopped carrying those once beloved cheeses, (on the fairly rare occasion that I am asked anymore) customers offer the ever-so-clever, “You should have called me!” cracks me up every time I tell you….sigh, but when it comes down to the people that are buying cheeses regularly, the ones that fund my little cheese department and are actually plunking down their cold hard cash, they are simply buying other blue cheeses….classic or not. 

A few days ago I did a post where I listed five wines that I would devastated to live without and asked, or encouraged others to do some thinking and share their top five or whatever. Kind of fun for me to read the answers, even the smart ass ones, (Thomas, I’m looking at you) but more than fun I found the whole thing pretty fascinating. There were some rather glaring omissions, wines barely mentioned that have long been considered, “the best” or classics which I found to be really interesting. I actually went through the comment section and did a quick tally of the top mentioned styles/varieties and it broke down something like this...


Pinot Noir


Sauvignon Blanc/Rose (Tied)

Those were the top four wines mentioned by the readers that took the time to think about it and respond. Now I think we should keep in mind that these are responses from people that read my blog which is clearly French leaning and the wines I wax rhapsodic about here are often the lighter, more elegant and graceful and not the meaty and powerful, so the people that read my silly junk are probably likely to drink things along the same lines…although I know folks like Ron and Charlie drink bigger wines regularly. The one thing I kept asking each time I opened an email alerting me there was a new comment, “Where are Cabernet, Merlot and Chardonnay devotees?!” those classic and iconic wines that always hold the top spot in terms of sales and wear the aura of being somewhat “aspirational” or noble, what gives?! To be fair Chardonnay was mentioned once, (but I should add that it was after I made a comment about it not being in anyone’s top five. That being said it was offered by someone that is mad about Chardonnay so I totally believe him) as in Chardonnay from California and Chablis was brought up three times but a couple of those were in the, “If I could have just a couple more than five” sort of deal. Cabernet, Cabernet Sauvignon, the big dog, the star, mentioned only once and again, as a “If I could have extra” way and Bordeaux, not offered once! Mind, blown. 

Now this isn’t some finger-pointing post where I talk about what the old guys are drinking compared to what the hipsters or younger wine drinkers are ponying up for, that fucking conversation is happening other places, lots and lots of other places and it doesn’t need me to stir that pot any further…plus I don’t give a shit. Got no dog in that fight and no point to prove. Just thought it was truly fascinating that the kind of wine lover that wanders about the wine blog world, the more obsessed and “into it” crowd, least the ones that gather here, would leave three of the nine noble varietals right off their list. I’m sure if we did a “Man on the street” kind of deal, hit up the people that are content buying their wines at the grocery store, they would have lists that looked very different from those in my comment section…just like if I asked those same people what the best blue cheeses are, guessing we would see lots more Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Stilton in their answers. And much like the blue cheeses I was talking about earlier I think there are several reasons for the shift into wines other than Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

 Some of it might be a reaction to stylistic changes in wine making, (although I doubt that is the case for most the people here) for some folks, but I think as is the case with cheese, there is just so much more great wine available to us now. Not just in the form of newer to us varieties, sure we have those in the pot too, (and not once did anyone mention Ribolla Gialla or Poulsard in my comments section either by the way) but I think the more we travel, as a society, the wider our eyes and more open our palates. We have some fantastically forward thinking importers now, not to mention more of them, ones inspired by the wines grown in the tiny villages they’ve visited as well as knowing that we as a wine drinking country are in fact not only open to, but actively seeking, new flavors and wines that wear a footprint of where they come from. Mix that with technology and younger generation wine makers and we have an amazing array of very high quality wine and often far more affordable than the “Big dog” or “Stars”….kinda winning if someone were to ask me. The classics are there for those that seek them AND we have all this other cool stuff to drink in between.

 Sort of cool no?   


Ron Washam, HMW said...

My Gorgeous Samantha,
I listed Napa Valley Cabernet as one of my desert island wines--and I loved it before I got old and all my taste buds died. Same with Zin. I can't see myself ever listing Merlot, not because I don't like Merlot (drank a great Italian wine last night, 2007 Gemola, and I mean great, that's 70% Merlot) but because in size and texture and flavor profile, it's too much like Cabernet.

And you only asked for five choices. And most of us like to sound cool, especially here. Would I ever miss Chardonnay? Only Chablis, Champagne, and a few CA examples. There are so many more versatile white wines. And Roses for that matter. And, truthfully, I don't think I ever loved Chardonnay, not as passionately as I love the Rhone varieties, or Zinfandel.

It's amazing to me that there are so many more wines available now. I can list a hundred varieties that weren't even available in the US when I started learning about wine, from Albarino to Poulsard to Teroldego to Mencia. It would be interesting to go back for a year and see how many different varieties I drank in the past 12 months. A lot.

And, thank you, My Sweet Love, for having a comment section where I can escape from mine! Yikes, nothing but egos over there.

I do so love you.

Marcia Macomber said...

OMG! First? Naaah! Must be my browser... OK... I was negligent on your previous post of top 5 wines. Intimidated. So I'll chime in on faves:

Chenin Blanc

Rhone blends
Syrah and Merlot

As for the cheese, makes me cry to think of tossing Stilton! Agony... A huge favorite of mine. I put it in pie crusts. Yum! Tell us in another year if sales continue to fall or flatline on blues. Bummer.

Marcia Macomber said...

Dang! Forgot to mention Zin. I know you never like it. Ron and I can share!

Samantha Dugan said...

Ron My Love,
You were the lone Cabernet lister in that post Love and you were the first, I think, to list Chablis other than my "extra" beyond five list. I did only ask for five Honey but that was to make us really ask ourselves, even just for fun, what wines we would be brokenhearted to live without. Kinda unruly if we all listed every wine we love and want to drink....and honestly, not that interesting. Other than yours of course, you know how I crave knowing what you're drinking.

It is kinda crazy the cool ass wines we can get now. Look at Lambrusco, for years all we could get was that dreadful Riunite, and frankly that was all the market was ready for, but now...these cats are bringing in the cool shit and we are gobbling 'em up. I was reading something recently that referenced, "These new Lambruscos" and I found myself shaking my head. Those wines are NOT new, they've been making them in Emilia-Romagna forever, just new to us. I for one am thrilled with how many choices we have now.

As you know I deleted a comment from your blog last night and have been biting my tongue as the comments sail fast and hard into my inbox here. I dig the furry and interest but fuck me, whole lotta yammering about shit that no one has the answer to....and too much cock-n-balls even for me. Thanks for popping by Baby, I miss and love you so.

Cheating! Too late to list now!! Kidding of course and yes, you can drink yucky Zinfandel with Ron in my stead. Don't fear dear lady, we are selling loads of blue cheese, in fact more of that than almost any other, just not Roquefort or Stilton. Maytag, Roaring 40s and St Agur are flying off the chilly little shelves.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Amen to the overflowing cock-and-balls over at my blog. My little peepee is very intimidated. Help!

I did notice you deleted your comment, but I feel like deleting everyone else's. As you would say, a lot of crunders in knots. Who are these clowns?

I've loved Chablis since my first taste of a Raveneau Premier Cru back in the '80's. It changed my perspective on wine. You can't taste wines like that and say, "Ah, it's only wine." I rarely get to drink Raveneau any more, but there are lots of others imported now, and, well, there's really nothing like Chablis, is there?

No one really like you, either, Baby.

I love you!

Unknown said...

excellent post. i'm glad you kept away from the echo chamber topics and kept it to wine :)

i can't speak for everyone, but i know that i didn't list cabernet on my "can't live without it" list because i am already living without it. not because it doesn't taste good, but because i can't afford it. my wife gets mad when i spend $20 on a local pinot, imagine her face if i came home with a $50 napa cab!

as for merlot, i will say that it has lately been the front runner in one of my top-5 wines, under $10 bottles from trader joe's. unlike cab, good cheap merlot is easy to find and easy to drink.

and finally, chardonnay. while it might not be in our top-5's, it's still the most popular wine in America. and if the winemakers in the Willamette Valley are any indication (which they are probably not), chardonnay is due for a comeback pretty soon. i don't drink chard very often, but it still has the ability to blow my mind. the only problem is that, like cabernet, you usually have to pay big bucks for a good one.

so to answer your original question about what happened to the least for wine...the answer (for me) is pretty obvious - the classics got to expensive.

Samantha Dugan said...

Ron My Love,
Yeah, sorry about the deleting deal, just seemed like another useless comment in a raging sea of others. Plus Chris sometimes comes in my shop so if I have something to say to him I can do it in person. Shit load of twisty crunders over at your place and it baffles me how they can still all be so bound up when they've already talked, ad nauseum, to each other even, like 10 times already. Remind me the definition of insanity again? I think they just like the sound of their own keystrokes.

I can think of only one thing that is like Chablis and one night, should we ever meet again, over a bottle of wine you must remind me to tell you about the tasting note I once sent to this guy I was fucking crazy in love with....fuck he was hot and I'm still not over him. Least I have a story right? You're right though My Love, there aren't many more like me...THANK GAWD! Can you imagine? Ugh.

I know price is a big factor for many of our customers too. We hear this more than anything else when people are looking for a Cabernet recommendation, "I need a Cab for a gift and maybe a little blend or Pinot Noir for me". Crazy. Oh and don't you worry, I shan't be getting into that whole wine writers black hole. I've not the stomach for the bloated arguments and inflated senses of importance from so many enough voices in my own head, not looking for a choir. Plus, as I said over at Wark's place, I think we need to be careful when using the term, "wine writer" when talking about a lot of us bloggers. There are lots and lots of us out here typing a wine blog but I don't think that makes us writers. I mean I have sex a lot but that doesn't make me a porn star right? So you're safe from a lot of that stuff here...I've lots of other shit to bore the hell out of you with!

The Wine Country said...

I was struck by the fact that only one person mentioned Beaujolais, and only one mentioned Chenin Blanc, two of the most useful dinner wines on the planet. Although I don't drink them all that much, I'd sure hate to be without them if I had to limit my choices. White Burgundy at its ends--Chablis and Maconnaise--also provide thrills. Something crisp and cool--provencal rose, Sancerre--something fruity like Mosel Riesling and something profound red Burgundy first, Barolo second. Am I over five yet? Is there room for Madeira, Tawny port or aged Vintage Port? I don't drink sherry very often, but when I do, I realize it is one of this world's treasures. Russian River Pinot Noir, if the alcohol doesn't burn. Jesus, how do you pick just five? That's why we got into the wine business--because we can't pick just five! --Randy

The Wine Country said...

Where's my Comte? --Randy

Samantha Dugan said...

Thanks for popping by! If we are talking useful dinner wines I think we should also add Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Dolcetto, but as we have discussed over and over again, not all wine is meant for, or best for the table and that will not make me, or lots of us really, love them any less. Picking five is impossible for people like us and the friends I have here, that's why we are in the business and trolling wine blogs, but for the average consumer, the ones Charlie is always talking about, they might even be perfectly content drinking three...which was part of what I was getting at here too. Working on my am I doing boss?

You and your Comte! I love that cheese too but we just can't move though the massive chunk they make me order before they expire. Broke my heart the last time when I had to throw away, toss in the garbage pail, like 23 pieces of glorious, milky, fruity and nutty perfectness. Crushing that....

Unknown said...


it took me four years of winemaking before i started calling myself a winemaker. for what its worth, i consider you a wine writer

Samantha Dugan said...

Awe! That's sweet of you, now to work on getting my porn star status....

WineKnurd said...

Which wines and cheeses go with which pornstars?

Thomas said...

Based on what I like to eat and the conviviality factor, here is my real list of five:

Barbera D'Alba, Provencal Rose, sparkling wine, Riesling, and Madeira.

Based on my everyday consumption (without any restrictions) this old bastard proves quite resilient and experimental. In fact, as soon as I hear of a variety that I may not have consumed lately or at all, I go after some to find out what it's all about. This is how I recently came to appreciate a few Torrentes and how ten years ago I came to appreciate Savoie.

As for cheese, when I operated a tasting room, I wound up throwing away (or eating) more than I sold until I gave in and carried cheddar, jack, havarti, and brie (Americans accepted brie, as long as they could--gasp--bake it).

Samantha Dugan said...

For porn stars I highly recommend Cockburn's Port and Fromunda cheese, silly.

Now that my friend is a very fine list and seems to run along what many of us did, that mix of daily and aspire to wines. Love it. Hey, I didn't know you were a Madeira guy! Did a tasting with Chris Blandy's just this very Tuesday night at our shop. Dude. Dude...unreal. I am mostly a Bual gal but I lost a little of my soul to the 1995 Blandy's Verdelho Colheita that night. Going to haunt me forever...

Yeah, leave it to us Merican's to turn Brie into cheesy-goo. Real nice. We do sell quite a bit of cheese and to a fairly adventurous and open minded group for the most part. One of my best selling cheese is Epoisses and it is liie $25 a piece, so these cats are savvy...just think they are sort of over Stilton and Roquefort as as I was getting at, there are some far better cheeses on the market now. Thanks for adding your real list kid and I so wish you could have joined us Tuesday night...was pretty magical.

Thomas said...


Back when I was on the road selling wine for a distributor, Blandy's was in our book. One day, I went to dinner at the home of the importer rep. She had me taste a number of old Madeiras, from the early 20th century and one from the 19th century. I was completely hooked after that experience.

Like you, Bual is my go-to Madeira, but I have tasted many unbelievable wines in other classifications, including Malmsey, which is not normally among my favorite.

Samantha Dugan said...

For my husband's graduation from Cal State Long Beach May of 2000 I bought him a bottle of 1845 Madeira, had to have been some sort of solera situation, (but still cost me $300 +) but the complexity and intrigue in that wine is still with me....