Wine Education

Playing Wine by the Numbers

100 point wineEnvision a 100 point Cabernet Sauvignon.  What does it taste like?  Beyond the shelf talker descriptions that someone else provided you with. Is it sweet, dry, semi-sweet?  How acidic is it? Paint me a picture describing its tannin structure.

If you find it difficult to explain the “perfect wine”, you’re not alone. Many people have questioned the usefulness and legitimacy of the 100 point system. There’s no doubt about it, it has some flaws. But personally, I like the Robert Parker system. I use it, among other things, as a basis for my purchases. I’m one of the few that will concede to the critic’s influence.
However, there have been some exceptionally off the mark ratings (2006 Panarroz Jumilla: 90 points, Bobby Parker. Really? I poured it down the sink), which is why I also rely on the advice of others that I know and trust. When I told my dependable wine comrades about my experience with the aforementioned wine, they all laughed out loud. Then, they proceeded to tell similar stories.
It isn’t as much about everyone agreeing on a single wine’s merit. It’s more about us relating to each other and knowing that if we ask each other’s opinion of something in the future, it is through understanding what we absolutely don’t like that we understand and can communicate what we do like.
Wine Spectator, Wine Advocate, International Wine Cellar, and other major American wine publications use the 100 point system. Across the pond, Decanter Magazine, Jancis Robinson, and other critics use a 20 point rating system. While logistically different, both scales hope to help consumers understand that some wines are better at what they do than others.
Why has the numbers trend dominated the wine industry over the past 30+ years? Quite simply, our culture loves numbers. In school, a 94 is equivalent to an “A”, meaning that the student has done an exemplary job during a given marking period. If a New York City restaurant earns a score of 29 from Zagat, you can rest assured that reservations will fill up faster than a Denny’s after last call at the bar. In baseball, if a player is batting .392, he’s well on his way to a $200 million contract. With good reason, too. He’d be one of only 3 players with a batting average above .390 since 1941.
See where I’m going with this numbers obsession thing?
The problem with wine is that a single magazine or person’s score is so subjective, unlike baseball batting averages, Zagat scores and school examinations.
Perhaps it’s time for a new, complimentary system to assist consumers in determining what a wine actually tastes like. What are some alternatives to the subjective scores?
There is a useful system in use at B.C. Liquor Stores in British Columbia, Canada. They have implemented their own sweetness code.  The code ranges from 1-10, based on the amount of residual sugar in the wine. A code of 00 would represent bone dry table wines, like most Cabernet, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnays.  Wines with a touch of residual sugar or sweetness, like many Rieslings, would fall in the 3-4 category. Dessert wines such as Tokaji, Port, and Sauternes would lie in the 5-10 range. This system is well suited to first time or occasional wine buyers, and eliminates the subjectivity factor. These wines aren’t numbered by perceived sweetness, they’re labeled by actual sweetness. This, of course, may not provide more educated, savvy shoppers with enough information. Putting ripe, fruit forward wines of Lodi in the same category as Bordeaux hardly seems appropriate. It can also help people decipher what to expect from a wine that can come in a number of different carnations (a bone dry Clare Valley Riesling versus an Auslese Mosel Riesling).
If you are looking for something a little less numerical and technical, but a lot more fun, check out the Wine Badge revolution. Many wine writers like Ward Kadel, Mark deVere, and Steve Paulo, have adopted the concept of labeling wines with descriptive and colorful stamps. These include more basic labeling, like “Old World”, to more artistic expressions, such as Paulo’s “I can’t believe it’s not Brunello”.
Badges are a lot more like my favorite wine buying tool; the recommendations of a trusted wine comrade. These badges are amazingly inventive, and congratulations to all of the Bloggers for contributing something exciting and original to a system that needs it now more than ever.
Understanding what wine tastes like before you make a purchase is a really tricky goal, and maybe one that is not entirely realistic.  Even if you have tried a winery that you generally like, there is always variation in vintage. Even within a vintage, there is bottle variance. Of course, time in the bottle has a profound effect on the wine.  Eventually, you will have read every thing there is to read, and asked everyone there is to ask. You’ll have crunched all the numbers using whatever algorithm you most trust. Finally, you will have to go out there and make a purchase.
The most interesting things about wine is that you never really know what you are going to get. I have surely been disappointed by a fair share of bottles, but far more times I have been pleasantly surprised. About 68% of the time, in fact.
Edited by Jon Troutman

My First Wine

Does everyone remember their first kiss?  Their first girlfriend? Their first car?  Of course you do.

Now, how about your first wine?  I don’t mean the first wine you ever consumed, but rather the first wine that opened the door into the world of wine.  A decent wine that took you beyond $4 swill.  I mean the first wine you bought as an adult, a wine that you actually put an effort into buying and a wine that launched your love of wine.
Ahhh, I remember it well (sort of). It was the Fall of 1993. Nirvana’s “In Utero” had just been released. Heart Shaped Box, All Apologies – I was rockin’ (all music references, for those who aren’t 90’s rock savvy)!  Wow, has it really been almost 17 years?
the big log vancouver

My favorite spot

I had just turned 21 and was playing in a band, working part-time as a courier, going to college part-time, and having a good time long before blogging, Twitter and Facebook were household terms.  I lived above a bar in Vancouver, British Columbia, only 15 minutes from Lollapalooza ‘93.  Good times.

Anyways, I digress. Back to the wine.  I was in the government-run liquor store and instead of buying my usual 12 pack of malt liquor or “Old Style” Pilsner I wandered into the wine section.  After a few minutes, something caught my eye.  I’m not sure what it was, but there was something about its simple label.
It read: Wyndham Estates Bin 555 Shiraz.
I bought it but can’t for the life of me remember what I paid, but it was somewhere in the wheelhouse of $20.  I was so poor that this was really a big expenditure, and I drank the wine out of a coffee mug!  I remember it being rich and fruit forward, much smoother than the home-made Portuguese wine of my teenage years, and without all the sediment to go with it. As much as I liked it, I couldn’t afford it as a daily drinker.  Malt liquor or cheap vodka was still the best option when considering the “bang for your buck” effect.  Yeah, “It’s a long way to the top (if you wanna Rock ‘n Roll…)

Another one of my favourite spots

This became my go-to special occasion adult beverage. Eventually I began exploring other Australian Shiraz’s. Rosemont Estate, Penfold’s, and others. As my palate evolved, I began drinking Wolf Blass Yellow Label.

Then I stepped away from Australia and into France. My discovery of Vin de Pays allowed my young palate to drink high quality, affordable wines. Why had I been subjecting myself to all that torturous vodka and malt liquor?
Fast forward to the year 2000.  Having just moved to Phoenix, Arizona, I found myself in the grocery store looking at all the wines for sale. Wyndham Estates Bin 555 wasn’t to be had.  The wine steward asked me if I needed any help and I asked about the missing wine.  He looked it up in “the book” and  said he would try to find the distributor and put in a special order for me! Great! Nothing like moving to a new city and having something to remind you of your old home.
Well the wine never arrived.  Apparently it was not being distributed by anyone in Arizona.  Maybe a year later I was in a different grocery store and I saw Bin 555!  I was excited and reached for the bottle on the shelf, and then I saw the price… $6.99!
What?! I was stunned!  I’ve been in love with really cheap wine all this time?  Oh No! But then I started to chuckle…the other wine steward  had been sent on an expedition to find this apparently very good “must have” wine and probably eventually discovered the price and slammed his book shut in disgust!
Why the big price difference?  In British Columbia wine, beer and spirits are regulated by the government.  Wine and beer can only be purchased outside of a restaurant setting in special “Cold Beer and Wine” stores, or specialty wine boutiques.  Spirits can only be purchased from government owned liquor stores, which also sell wine and beer.
The dramatic price difference is specifically due to taxes. Canada implements taxes on things like alcohol and cigarettes, known as a “Sin Tax” and in general, Canadian taxes are higher in order to promote the social systems programs, including things like health care. If wine is a wrongful sin, then I don’t wanna be right. As a Canadian and resident of British Columbia I was long subjected to higher mark ups and limited government selection. My move to the United States and Phoenix specifically allowed me access to a  wider range of wines. Phoenix is actually a key market for many Californian producers.  I was no longer restricted to a handful of producers from each country, known for quantity rather than quality.  Case in point: Every year I make a trip back to Vancouver and make a point of visiting the BC Liquor stores and I always see almost an entire isle devoted to the usual suspects of Auzie fruit bombs and hidden around the corner or behind the apple cider is US and French section. But I digress, that is a subject for another post.
What was your first “real” wine? Was it a single bottle that opened your eyes and made you realize your love? Or was it a single experience or series of experiences that forced you to realize your love for this crazy juice?
edited by Jon Troutman

Blind tasting Wine | Almost as Delicious as Humble Pie

Sometimes we all need a thick slice of humble pie to chew on. If you find yourself routinely puffing your chest out or staring for long periods in the mirror at your handsome reflection, I suggest a blind tasting.

wine tasting at FnB Scottsdale

Lots of wines, no labels

Not only are they grounding, but blind tastings are also a great way to test your “wine chops”.  A while back, I attended a blind tasting at a local wine bar.   There were 4 wines, 2 whites and 2 reds.  We did not know the varietals or where they came from– known as a “Double Blind” tasting. We were given only one clue: The wines were single varietals, not blends.

When blind tasting, every part of the wine tasting process needs to be intricately analyzed. Is the wine pale in color, like water? Or is it a deep, honey golden color? When it’s swirled, how viscous does it appear – thin and watery, or cloying and thick? Are the aromas more earthy and woody, or sweet and fruity? When tasting, is the wine heavy with mouth drying tannins or more light and silky? Each identifiable characteristic will act like a piece to a puzzle, helping you more accurately label a wine a certain way.
To make it even more interesting, the wine bar was offering a $25 gift certificate to anyone who could guess all 4 wines correctly.  After all the eager contestants had arrived, we got down to business.
weekly wine journal wine blogThe first white wine was placed before us like a microorganism beneath a microscope. Guests put their noses in the glasses, taking notes, swirling and gazing into the distance searching for analogies. This was repeated several times, as gazes turned to puzzled, contorted facial expressions.
I found the first wine tasted like lemon Theraflu – not exactly appealing. The second white wine was marginally better with a sort of buttery chardonnay mixed with grassy Sauvignon Blanc taste, a somewhat confusing flavor profile for me.  Halfway through the competition and my confidence had already taken a harder beating than BP Oil.
weekly wine journal wine blogNext came the reds. The first red wine had me completely stumped.  It was unlike any red wine I had ever tasted before, and not in an amazingly good way either.  I found it to be one of the single worst tasting wines I have ever tasted and I couldn’t finish it.  The other guests finished theirs, and the girl next to me remarked that she really like it. I thought to myself, “if you like flavors of nail polish and forest fire with a muddy dirty mouth feel and very little in the way of fruit, this is right up your alley.”
The second red wine I liked a lot more; smooth, with decent fruit, light acidity and tannins. My mind went straight to Merlot. Without a doubt, no questions asked.
It turned out to be a Cabernet.  Then the moment we had all been waiting for – the results. While the $25 gift certificate would be nice, it was our pride that we were all hoping to walk away with.
The first white: Pinot Grigio. I could have sworn it was blended with Theraflu.
The second white: a Sauvignon Blanc – I was almost there!
The third of our flight turned out to be a Zinfandel (a poor excuse for Zinfandel, if you ask me).
And finally, the fourth and final wine… a Cabernet Sauvignon. I would have bet good money it had been a Merlot. Maybe they had poured me the wrong stuff?
We looked around the room to find that a few had 3 out of the 4 pegged correctly, but nobody got them all right. No cash prizes, but there were plenty of defeated wine aficionados.
Blind tasting is a learning experience to say the least. Analyzing wine without knowing the brand, varietal, or price point really puts your palate to the test and is the single most honest way to evaluate a wine.  It’s an interesting and fun way to add mystery and intrigue to a wine tasting or wine party, especially if you venture out of the more well known grape, wine regions and flavor profiles.
Have you ever put your palate to the test in a blind setting?  If so, what were the results? Were you pleasantly surprised with your wine wherewithal? Or did you leave with a bruised palate ego?
Edited by Jon Troutman

Pursuing The Dream: The Costs Associated with Buying a Winery and Vineyard

Grenache vineyardHave you ever entertained the idea of owning a vineyard and or winery?  At some point most wine lovers wonder – better yet, dream: “it would be so nice to have my own winery or vineyard”.  Images of vines all neat in rows, and others contouring to the hillsides. Press accolades adorning a tasting room, the adulation of millions of consumers…

Most people “in the business” will shatter your dreams, explaining that owning a vineyard is a great way to turn an investment of a large fortune into a small fortune.  Despite determent from more experienced, jaded winery owners, I set out to do some preliminary investigating on the feasibility of my hair brained idea to own a winery and vineyard.
Vineyard and vines arizona wine

Page Springs Cellars, Cornville Arizona

There are two most common ways to do this:

Plan A:  Actually purchase your very own vineyard.  Obviously, the first step is buying land on which to plant your vines.  You need to think carefully about where the land is located.  Is it located within the boundaries of an American viticultural Area (AVA)?  AVA-specific wines generally fetch higher prices, and are easier for consumers to recognize.  In turn, properties located within the boundaries of specific AVAs also tend to be more expensive.  So you have to ask yourself: is it worth the investment to slap a recognizable, branded region on the label?
The next question becomes, “what is my long term brand goal?”  Is it to produce inexpensive wines that compete on price and price alone? Or are you going for a more elite, status-driven brand?
Once you’ve decided how you want to position your product, it begs the following questions.
Arizona VinesWhat vines to plant?  What varieties will do best based on your local climate, soil composition and rainfall?  Based on the soil composition and access to water, you also need to space the vines appropriately.  Too far apart and your yields will be low on a per acre basis, costing you money.  Too close together and the vines will eventually grow to crowd each other out. Of course, certain grapes will cost more to produce. Cabernet Sauvignon often requires longer barrel aging, increasing overhead costs. Pinot Noir is fickle, and in unideal vintages can result in unprofitable yields. Workhorse grapes like Chenin Blanc in California are more suitable for those with a focus on quantity and consistency, rather than quality.
Next up, who is going to harvest the grapes? Where are you going to take them for processing and fermentation and aging?  Doing this all in-house is convenient, but the initial investment in equipment and buildings is sure to be costly. Custom, shared wine making facilities are becoming popular options, as more people look to “pursue the dream…”
Which brings us to Plan B:  I have interviewed a number of wine makers and they all agree that this method is by far the less expensive, more simple option of the two.
Not in a position to buy your own land or vineyard?  Instead, buy your grapes from an existing vineyard.  A recent study estimated that grapes from prestigious Napa Valley Cabernet Vineyards cost an average of around $4,759 per ton.  However, there are plenty of less esteemed areas and grapes, producing quality fruit that only cost a fraction of Napa Cabernet. For a better understanding of what these numbers mean, it’s good to know that one ton of fruit will produce approximately 50 cases of wine.
Once you’ve determined where you will source your grapes, you’ll need to actually turn those grapes into wine. Hire a consulting wine maker(s)? Again, we’re talkin’ big bucks! According to a Food & Wine Magazine report, quality consulting wine makers in California will cost between $3,000 and $10,000 per month. A bigger, more reputable name can be as much as $200,000 per year. Not exactly chump change. The alternative would be teaching yourself (not always the best recipe for success) or spending 4 years at U.C. Davis to learn more.
The reason I am writing about this is because, yes I am seriously entertaining the idea of owning my own Estate Winery, producing wines from my own vineyard.  The more I dig into it, the more there is to know, and the more money and time I’ll need to live my dream. The numbers are discouraging for sure, but as the hurdle grows, so too does the dream. I am opting for Plan B first, with an eventual goal of shifting into Plan A.
For those “in the biz”, your advice is invaluable – please pour it on! For those that share my dream, have you ever considered the costs associated with it? Have you ever actually tried to make your own wine?
Edited by Jon Troutman

The Best Way to Learn About Wine is to Taste it, and Lots of it

Mark Tarbell Over the years, a number of people, with little to no wine drinking experience, have asked for my advice as they start their wine education. While wine blogs and internet references have made factual education easier than ever to obtain, the number one educational tool will always be tasting. There is no need to sacrifice your first born in order to learn by tasting Grand Cru. A solid foundation can be built on very short money, and I’m eager to spread that word. I thought rather than answer everyone’s questions individually, I’d compile the following advice for people interested in empowering themselves with some educational wine ammunition.

wine tastingThe first thing I recommend is determine what your monthly “research and development” budget will be. Like I said before and contrary to popular belief, you do not have to spend a lot to learn a lot. I would start out on the less expensive side, perhaps $10 a bottle. Drink that very same bottle over the course of three nights to see its evolution from the time it’s popped until the last glass is poured, about 72 hours later. Many wines can become flat and dull by day three, but this is all part of the education process. Recognizing how the wine has changed, for better or worse, is enlightening. This game plan can cost less than $100 per month, assuming you’re going to be tasting wine each and every night.
Wine listExperimenting with a wide range of wine styles is probably the most essential step. Start by investing in 12 bottles of wine, a “mixed case”, of 6 whites and 6 reds, all different styles.  The basic, most quintessential red and white varietals are a good stepping stone – Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Zinfandel, Pinot Noir,  Merlot and Malbec for your reds and Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Grigio, Gewurzatraminer and Chenin Blanc for whites. I would not recommend spacing these 12 bottles over 12 months. Instead, try at least 1 bottle per week.  In the beginning, the objective should be to expose yourself to as much as possible, discovering what styles excite us… and which leave us flaccid. Once the 12 wines have been polished off, move onto more esoteric grapes and other styles of sparkling and dessert wines.
You’ve no doubt seen movies, TV shows, or your more wine-smart friends tasting wine.  They sniff the wine, gargle it, seemingly getting off to it. After tasting, you wonder if they need a post-coital cigarette. What the heck are they doing?
champagne glasses

Cheers!

Why not just drink it already? Understanding that our sense of smell is how we percieve most of what we taste is very important in wine tasting. The wine’s aroma is often times just as important as the taste. Take several sniffs, searching for essential characteristics that will give you hints about the wine’s style and production. Do you get aromas like butter, cream, vanilla or smoke? These are all indicators that the wine was aged in oak. Does it smell like jammy, sugary fruit? This might be an indication that the grapes were grown in a warmer, New World climate.

Arizona wine cheers

Wine is best shared with friends

Finally, we’re ready to actually taste the wine. Take a sip, holding the wine in your mouth, suck it back and forth between your teeth like mouthwash.  This may seem odd or downright inappropriate, but what you are doing is “Priming” your palate.  Forget what your mom told you about playing with your food, this method is the best way for analyzing all that a wine has to offer. It’s important to get the wine into all the far corners of your mouth.  There is a sort of memory to our palates,where the second sip activates the memory of the first sip, and even though the second sip is much quicker than the first, it almost has the same effect.  If you do not prime your palate on the first sip, the second sip might be somewhat unremarkable.

thinking about wine

reflection

After swallowing (or spitting it out), genuinely reflect on what you’ve tasted. Again, you’ll want to look for specific flavors that will tell you about that wine’s origins. Does it make your mouth salivate or slightly pucker? This is an indication of high acidity. If it’s dry and leaves your mouth feeling like sandpaper, then the wine is probably rich in tannin. Finally, use your past experiences to draw conclusions – don’t try to use fancy jargon if you’re not comfortable with it. Cassis, quince and minerality are often tasting notes used by “the pros”. But if a wine tastes like your grandma’s blueberry pie, don’t hesitate to say it. There are no “rights” and “wrongs” in wine tasting. The more you taste, the more readily you’ll be able to identify descriptors.

Perhaps the most essential step for future reference is taking notes. Taking notes will reveal certain things about your palate. If you routinely enjoy wines with peach and apple characteristics, you might notice a trend. Maybe these are all wines made from a specific grape varietal or country, and you’ll know to buy them in the future.
You are armed with notes on which wines you liked, which were just okay, and some that were “less than okay”. Over time, you will probably have determined whether you have a preference for reds, whites, sparkling or dessert wines. Knowing your preferences among a wide range of wine styles is the most essential step for making an informed purchase.
There you have it – the key, introductory essentials to personal wine education.  For some, this may seem common sense. We can all read text books, blogs and wine forums until our eyes bleed, but there’s no replication for actually tasting the stuff. Experiencing wine through experimentation is not only educational, but the most hands-on, fun way to learn. After all, it’s supposed to be fun, isn’t it?
How have you learned about wine so far? Have you tried any of my tips above? If you’re a seasoned wine drinker, how have you explained the learning process to others?  Did anyone ever provide you with an invaluable piece of advice that you still follow to this day?

Wine Descriptions: Are They Accurate?

Those of you who read the last few posts may have noticed a critical tone developing, maybe an irritation?  I decided to write about something positive this week.  That was until something happened that I just could not let pass without comment.  Add this to the list of things related to wine that get under my skin.
I was in a big warehouse club and I was just visiting the wine department to see if there were any deals.

Low and behold, what do I find but this little gem:
2005 Chateau Pinchon Longueville Comtesse De Lalande.  A quick scan with the smart phone revealed that the price for this wine ranges between about $150-$200. This is a serious wine.  It was classified second growth in the Medoc classification of 1855.  The price at this store was $99.97  Great!  But then I noticed something.
The price tag also has a brief product description and other info, and it read:
2005 Chateau Pinchon deland
Pauliacl, France
95 points
Spice, fruity, with hidden power.
I would like to know where Pauliacl is.  Is it related to Pterodactyl? I am a terrible speller, but c’mon!  The rating, who gave this wine 95 points?  There is a difference between 95 points Wine Advocate and 95 points Wine Spectator, and Wine Enthusiast. Who am I kidding, I’d buy 95 points from any of them, but it’s just nice to know.  And then there is the flavor profile.  At this point I just burst out laughing… With hidden power! It reads like a fortune cookie.  Your future holds spice and fruit, and hidden power.  I wish!  This warehouse store is a multi billion dollar company, I think they can do better.  This shows me, that maybe they are not really interested in wine, just making money from it.
Around the corner I noticed the 2005 Twomey Merlot for $37.99.  No product description.  The only information other than the price reads: 80 points.  Good luck selling that!  This wine is virtually guaranteed to be on markdown in the near future as some bean counter somewhere scratches their head wondering why it’s not selling.  Who would even consider buying something rated 80 points?  A quick search with the smartphone revealed that Stephen Tanzer gave it 89 points. Ok, so there is likely to be an incredible markdown on this wine, and I will be waiting for it.  I just wish I had a couple hundred extra dollars for the Pterodactyl from Pauliacl

Wine Service 101: Using the Appropriate Stemware

I recently posed the question: “Am I was becoming a curmudgeonly old man, and a wine snob?”
I explained there are 2 things (so far, 2 things) that really irk me about the wine experience while dining out. The first thing is serving wine at the incorrect temperature.

propper stemware

Pet Peeve

The second thing is not serving wine in the appropriate stemware.
Now, you can’t expect your local sports bar to have anything other than tiny red wine glasses that they fill precariously close to the rim, so they’re not the ones I’m complaining about.
But how about a nice non-chain restaurant, an Italian place, or a trendy Bistro? Shouldn’t a place that actually takes time and effort to make great food, at least consider the presentation of their beverages? I went to a wonderful Bistro here in Phoenix a while back, and the food was absolutely outstanding. Except the red wine came in champagne flutes. Really? I am paying $35 for a 6oz fillet Mignon and I get red wine in a tall skinny glass? I felt like a jerk when I asked if the server could pour the wine into a red wine glass for me, and she said “That’s the only wine glass we have”. I felt like saying “well in that case, just bring me the bottle” The people dining with me laughed and said I needed to lighten up.
I’m not saying that I need my wine in Riedel stemware. But I really do need my reds served in a nice, big glass, so I can swirl it and smell it. It’s gotten to the point now where as I walk into a restaurant to be seated, I take a quick glance at the glasses people are drinking their wine from. The bigger they are, the safer, more relaxed I feel. I almost feel like the character from the TV show “Monk”; the little things bug me. If all the wine glasses are the same, regardless of red or white, that’s a bad sign. If they are little and filled to the top, that means I am ordering beer; it’s pretty hard to screw that up.
So tell me: am I a wine snob?

Think Before You buy: Is Retail Wine Storage Affecting Your Wine?

On a recent trip to a big warehouse club, I noticed some incredible markdowns on super high end wines.

"7"

A markdown is when the retailer lowers the price to clear out their inventory, making space for a product that they hope to sell more of.  A markdown is usually denoted by the price ending in the number 7.  For example, this store had 2001 Chris Ringland Shiraz on sale for $399.97.  A quick search on my smartphone revealed that the online price for this wine ranges between $550 and $999.  The 2001 Chris Ringland Shiraz was rated 100 points by Robert Parker and only 60 cases of this wine were produced.  I was very surprised to see it in a big warehouse club!

I looked at the bottle and started salivating…should I? Shouldn’t I?  How will I afford to eat for the next month if I buy this wine?  I looked at the bottle, standing upright in a Plexiglas enclosure with a lock on it.
Then I began thinking…about the proper storage of high end wines
How long has this wine been sitting upright?  What is the temperature inside the store? 70F?  Has the UV light shining down through the opaque skylight caused any negative changes in the wine? In Arizona, where I live, there is such a high level of UV light outside that you can almost get a tan sitting indoors off the secondary UV light!  Now, the store in question only opened last October, so I know that at least the wine hasn’t been in that particular environment for very long.  But where was it kept before hand?  At a distributor’s warehouse?  Unconditioned? Through the Phoenix summer, where temperatures regularly exceed 115 Fahrenheit, or 46 Celsius, for all my metric friends.  How was the wine delivered? 

truck trailer

How did the wine get here?

How did it get from the Barossa Valley in Australia all the way over to Phoenix, Arizona?  So many questions and the answers I kept coming up with lead me to believe that somehow this 100 point wine was not kept under ideal conditions, and therefore no longer a 100 point wine.  On the other hand…how sensitive is wine?  Do serious connoisseurs baby wine too much and spend too much money on unnecessary storage set ups?

This article was edited by Jon Troutman

Review | Vinotemp 34 Bottle Wine Fridge

Vinotemp logo on glass fridge doorThis is a follow up to a piece that was published yesterday. In it, I provided some practical advice about what some of the most important features and elements to look for in a proper wine storage fridge. Last year I purchased two Vinotemp 34-bottle capacity wine fridges.

After cutting the cardboard, making a mess of the Styrofoam and plastic, I then set my two fridges side by side and just looked at them.  My first real wine fridges!  Black, sleek, clean, inviting, alluring, SEXY… yeah, baby, I’m going to age some wine!
Once I got over the initial excitement, I decided, for once, to read the instructions.  With super easy to follow instructions, not filled with tons of irrelevant information, the assembly was a total breeze.
The box says 34 bottles.  In the online comments, I had read some complaints of people having trouble fitting all 34 bottles in the fridge.  Bordeaux bottles are slightly more robust than the standard red wine bottle,  which does create an issue if you are Bordeaux centric in your collecting habits.  There is a similar problem with Chardonnay, Syrah and Pinot Noir bottles.  The bottom storage area can be used for storing non standard shaped bottles, and can fit at least 4 bottles.
two wine fridgesOne thing of note is that the door of the fridge encompasses the entire front of the fridge, so I would recommend you put the fridge on a hard surface. Placed on carpet, the fridge sinks down making it difficult to open and close its door.  To avoid that problem, use your fridge as a proverbial time capsule; in other words, don’t open the door anytime soon!
With the wine in the fridges, it’s time to turn them on.  Referring back to the instructions on where the plug goes, how to unlock the lock feature, and how to set the temperature, just 20 seconds later the fridges are on and cooling.  The first thing worth noticing about the Vinotemp is how quiet they are.  Many reviews suggested very negative comments about wine fridges in general being extremely loud.  Both of these fridges sit next to my bed and I never once awoke in the middle of the night to the sounds of the compressors or other weird noises.   Here is a quick flipcam clip of the sound.  It sounds louder than it really is because I took the camera right behind the fridges. I have had these two fridges in my bed room for a year now and haven’t lost any sleep over the noise.
Edited by Jon Troutman

Purchasing a Wine Fridge: What to Look For

wine rackThere comes a time in every wine lover’s life when they begin to consider storage.  Proper storage. Aesthetically pleasing storage.  Expensive storage.  Finding an appropriate place to keep our wine becomes an issue because, as a our enthusiasm for wine grows, so too does our collection.

Do you buy wine at a faster pace than you can drink it?  You need storage.  Are all the vegetable drawers and the bottom half of your fridge full of wine?  Yup, you need storage.  You’re not keeping your wine in a wine rack in the kitchen are you?
You’ve scoured the internet, looking for deals, becoming more confused than you were before starting the search.  I know I was.  Why are some fridges $250 and some $12,000?  Some brands seem to have negative customer feedback, but can those comments be trusted?  I know from my day job that people often “stack” the comment sections of their competitors with negative comments, and then praise their own products.  I’d like to think that I’m sophisticated enough to be able to tell, but maybe I’m not.wine storage
Common complaint comments about wine fridges include excessive noise, vibrations, temperature fluctuations, humidity control and last but not least, abysmal customer service.  People that know me recognize that one of my biggest pet peeves is poor customer service.  The kind of stress that comes from being on hold for what seems like an eternity, or in a redundant maze of automatic telephone options, will shorten your life span; I’m sure of it.  Paying too much is irksome, but not nearly as much as supposedly getting a deal, only to be left in a state of endless frustration.
That is why I am going to suggest that, paramount to the price you pay for something, is the expectation of service you have should something go wrong.  For that very reason, I ultimately decided to buy my wine fridges from Costco.  Regardless of whether the actual manufacturer warranties the item, Costco has a very good return and refund policy.  I once returned a camera I bought there after I had opened it. The second reason for my Costco purchase was that they had significantly cheaper options than anyone else.
My final purchase: two Vinotemp 34 bottle wine fridges for $189 each. Checking online the next best price is around $250 from an online vendor, of which I know nothing about. Maybe I’m just too lazy to read all 980 “comments” to figure out if they’re legitimate or not.
So here’s what I’m going to do:  I am going to keep you, dear reader, updated on my wine fridge journey and adventures.  Next update: removing the fridges from those big, old boxes!
Edited by Jon Troutman