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April 29 2009
Last summer, around 7:30 pm on a Friday night, as my wife and I sped out of town for the weekend, she received a text message from a friend of ours, Chris, saying, “Ask Jeff. What is the indentation on the bottom of a wine bottle called and why is it there?”
It seems Chris and his wife were having a small gathering of folks at their house, drinking some wine, and asking each other some head-scratching wine-related questions.
Feeling like Ken Jennings on Jeopardy, as we eased into a gas station to fill up, completely sure of my answer, walking that line between smug and confident, I responded to my wife as she responded, thumbs flying on the phone.
She texted something like – “Called a punt. Gives structural support to clanking glass bottles when shipped overseas hundreds of years ago.”
Feeling triumphant and ready for my own glass of vino, we went on with our drive out of town and then later joked about it when we joined the nascent wine club and monthly gathering a few weeks later (this months edition hosted at Chez Lefevere and the theme is ‘Sauvignon Blanc from Around the World’).
Not satisfied with my answer, Chris also texted ChaCha, a text-based search engine and answer service that employs 1000’s of college kids as stringers. ChaCha is, by the way, the best thing to happen to the bar bet, er, house party bet since, well, corks were invented.
They received a completely different answer.
If only I had a copy of History of Wine Words by Charles Hodgson …
If only ChaCha had a copy of History of Wine Words by Charles Hodgson …
In the most interesting and useful quick read since A Wine Miscellany by Graham Harding, Wine Words is a terrifically fascinating book on where our wine words come from.
For anybody that has read this blog for longer than a week knows, I am a non-fiction book wonk, and a big fan of understanding context to the world around me. For the erudite wine enthusiast who loves to banter about wine administrivia in a manner that is more spirited Cliff Claven and not aloof elitism, this is your book.
Hodgson, though he has a career outside academia, is something of a professional in etymology and author of several books on word origins, in addition to being the creator of http://www.podictionary.com.
With History of Wine Words, he has written a book that should settle scores of wine bar bets for years to come.
Set-up dictionary style, and indexed for quick access, History of Wine Words, for example, explores that mysterious punt of a bottle and explains:
… The name appeared in English in 1862, only one year after the word kick was used to describe the same bottle feature. The best guess as to why this indentation might be called a punt is that an instrument used to make bottles was also called a punt or a pontil. It was an iron bar … used to hold the molten glass blob as it was being formed into a bottle. As such, it left a scar on the finished bottle that was often ground off, leaving a slight indentation.
I was wrong, even if it was an assured guess!
The book is chock full of these nuggets. Take Sangria for example. The book notes:
The name of the famous Spanish wine punch literally means “bleeding,” which likely refers to the color imparted by red wine … the word didn’t appear in English with the Spanish spelling until 1961, but sangaree was first cited in 1736 as the name of a popular if lowbrow punch.
My lone complaint about this book is its price. Available at Amazon.com for $17.95, its $4 or $5 higher than it should be based on similar books like the aforementioned A Wine Miscellany or Schott’s Food and Drink Miscellany. That said, it is published by a micro-publisher and printed on demand, which likely affects the cost model given that printing costs cannot be spread out over a larger print quantity.
Despite a small price quibble, having History of Wine Words in your wine library is money well spent and that $5 is easily earned back at the next wine bar when you make a trivia bet with a friend, the knowledge you’ve gained and tucked away, ready to earn you a glass of wine.
*Disclosure* This book was received from the publisher as a review copy
April 28 2009
More social commentary doodled on the back of a napkin ...
Odds and ends on Sangria, “intelligent barrels,” the always fun folly from the French and the coming wine competition season (and bashing).
April 27 2009
I am hardcore and unapologetically on a Sauvignon Blanc kick. Apparently, others are as well.
My “What is the Best White Wine for Casual Enjoyment?” poll has Sav. Blanc in the lead in front of Riesling and Chardonnay with 41% of the vote.
It also helps when you can find high-quality Sauvignon Blancs across price points, which seems to be more rule than exception, and not something that Chard and Riesling can necessarily say.
This post also marks an evolution in my tasting notes. I’ve struggled with a format that kept my interest, as I largely find reading tasting notes an exercise in tedium, perhaps more painful than looking at other peoples vacation photos. Not to say that my new version isn’t tedious, but it’s an evolution from my downloadable formats in the past and something I’m interested in for the time being ... though, I am fickle ... I expect to significantly increase the amount of my tasting notes in the future, moving from sporadic to regular.
I use a combo system of the Napa Valley College scoring format (more information found at this winebusiness.com article) and the generally accepted five star format that can be found on the web. I add to this with a “good” for a 3 star wine, “recommended” for a 4 star wine and “highly recommended” for a 5 star wine.
*Disclosure - this wine was received as a sample from Wines of Chile
April 26 2009
Tradition, whether mindfully created or observed over a period of years is important, and perhaps no more important than when carefully cultivated and observed in our own lives.
Simply, tradition is the glue, the tie that binds us.
In times of distress or uncertainty, our traditions act as a comfort, a point of solace.
How many people make a certain dish at Thanksgiving for no other reason than the fact that it has always been prepared?
For both host and guest, it is a comfort, and occasionally a memory.
Even more important, tradition is the fundamental bedrock for most every winery and the industry – a waypoint for their business and navigational aid for where they are going.
Consider, even the production of champagne is heavily governed by tradition with the méthode champenoise.
Several years back Indiana University’s football team willfully started several traditions, including a pre-game walk from the locker room to the stadium, a nickname for the stadium (The Rock) and a couple of other nuances that added to the tapestry of a program that has long been a doormat in college football.
Critics suggested at the time that this mindful creation of tradition was hackneyed and contrived.
Tradition is built, it is not created, said the chorus of naysayers.
Tradition is upheld and continually built upon—whether personal or for a business, a winery, for example.
My family and I have a lake cottage, actually more of a lake house, but we call it “the cottage,” because, well, that observes tradition. The cottage was inherited from my Grandparents and my Mom. I grew up going to the previous incarnation of the lake cottage, a time marked by so many fond memories that I cannot count them, and a fair share of traditions, as well.
Last year, we re-built a lake house on the same ground of the previous cottage.
In the process of doing so, we were careful to pay considerable homage to the traditions of the lake.
We did not buy much that is new for the cottage; instead, it was an assemblage and pastiche from here and there, with much held over from the previous cottage. I am certain when I have toast on a Sunday morning in July, using the same toaster my grandfather used 30 years ago, before he went fishing, he is smiling somewhere down on me. Ditto when I use a plate earned by my grandmother from collecting supermarket stamps, a set of plates that served dozens of fried chicken, coleslaw, corn on the cob and sliced tomato Sunday lunch.
This honoring of tradition does not stop with my childhood memories though; I want to create new traditions. Simple things that I uphold that create fond memories of the lake.
To me, this is not a contrivance, it is a respectful act that continues to build upon the foundation of tradition laid for me – and it can act as a comfort and a memory for those that we entertain.
Amongst many ideas, but given that we host friends quite a bit, the nearest thing that I have come to that combines wine is a celebratory sparkling wine toast for every new visitor.
Given that, here is my new tradition – a choice of 12 sparkling wine cocktails that every friend can choose from to kick-off everyday celebrations at the cottage.
1) Death in the Afternoon (Sparkling wine and Absinthe)
2) Savoir Faire (Sparkling wine and St. Germaine)
3) Bellini (Sparkling wine and peach puree, garnish with maraschino cherry)
4) Undertaker (Sparkling wine and Jagermeister)
5) Black Velvet (Sparkling wine and Guinness)
6) Nelson’s Blood (Sparkling wine and Port)
7) Goodnight Kiss (Sparkling wine, bitters, Campari, and a pinch of sugar)
8) Green Dragon (Sparkling wine and Midori)
9) Mimosa (Sparkling wine and Orange juice)
10) Morning Glory (Sparkling wine, Orange juice, triple sec)
11) Lake Webster (Sparkling wine, triple sec and cranberry)
12) Kir Royale (Sparkling wine and crème de cassis)
Tradition, unfortunately, in our go-go world, is oft neglected or overlooked, despite the fact that it gives us comfort.
We often look back at fond memories with nostalgia, the traditions creating a fondness for days gone by, while, unfortunately, not paying heed to creating an opportunity for those same traditions to develop over time for a point in time in the future.
My challenge to each wine enthusiast, young and old, is to create some level of wine tradition in their life and carry that through with friends and family.
April 25 2009
I have been on a tangent lately regarding something that I believe is so fundamentally important to the wine business and the consumers they serve that I’ve been beating something of a dead horse …
And, now I have found a good example to cite as an example.
I wonder if anybody in the wine world cares that some Midwestern dairy farmers are whipping their ass? More on this in a second …
In the last week and one-half, I have twice written (see also: The Penny Plan and Coming Home to Roost) about the need for players across the wine industry (producer, distributor, associations) to unify and create a national consumer campaign encouraging healthy, responsible, trend forward wine consumption. Think “Got Milk.” Or, for this post, think Wisconsin cheese.
The solution isn’t easy to implement, even if the idea is – but it’s time to look at a winery opt-in “Penny Plan” whereby a penny goes into a fund for every bottle sold to support broader market advertising and mindshare creation.
First, the problem facing the wine industry is fundamental – in order to build growth in high-end end wine consumption and seize this demographic coming of age to turn affinity-based casual wine drinkers into wine enthusiasts, more must be done than leaving people to their own devices.
Quite simply – how do we change perceptions on a large scale? We create mindshare campaigns that influence perceptions. Open any food magazine and you will see examples from beef, pork, eggs, milk, cheese, almonds, avocados, and other commodity producers of consumables. Likewise, this has been stock in trade for smoking, drugs, parenting, etc.
Mindshare campaigns work for both “don’t do” and “do more.”
The premise for creating an industry wide campaign is simple, the domestic wine industry that is not a large corporation, is heavily leveraged into the high-end, above $15 a bottle market, and customers at an ultra-premium price-point are typically what is called a “core” consumer.
Now, to be fair, members of Generation Y have shown a proclivity to price inelasticity in their wine purchasing, but they have also shown a penchant for buying imports, as well.
Current day, these existing core consumers, depending on whose numbers you look at, are either minuscule, or just merely a very small in number.
Wine Market Council numbers them at about 10.5% of the total population and Pointer Media Network indicates these “core” consumers number about 7.5M consumers.
7.5M – I could find 7.5M people that are hardcore scuba divers.
That number of “core” consumers doesn’t give you a warm fuzzy that things are safe and sound in the land of wine despite the consistent news reports of volume increases in wine consumption that act as something of a comfort blanket.
I do not care how much trending data indicates how aggressively Gen. Y is taking to wine; we (the industry and those that care about wine) cannot live in a bubble. Gen. Y is also taking to craft beers, fine dining, and a bunch of other affinity items, as well.
Wine’s healthy growth future is not manifest destiny.
The cold, hard reality is that unless the wine industry works on converting these self-proclaimed young, wine enthusiasts into real core consumers who enjoy wine as a part of their daily and weekly lifestyle, in a healthy and responsible manner, the domestic wine business is going to have their lunch eaten by imports with a higher quality-to-price ratio and larger corporate-owned wineries that have resources to invest and the capability to move up and down the price ladder specific to their brand.
Back to the Midwestern dairy farmers—why should the wine industry be embarrassed? Take the Wisconsin Cheese Board as an example of a coalition that gets it.
Its cheese for goodness sake … cheddar, swiss, Monterey jack …
Yet, this is a finely oiled marketing machine. In addition, irony of ironies … the number two state in the country in Wisconsin cheese consumption is California.
However, the real point of their work is they are progressive in getting out and addressing consumers where they live.
These people get it – mindshare is their currency that leads to purchase intent.
Cheesecupid.com, in particular, is a nicely done application that pairs cheese with drinks – red wine, white wine, beer and dessert wines.
And, it just so happens that cheese is a growing segment as well with imports galore coming in … very similar to wine. Yet, Wisconsin cheese views imports as the competitive threat that they are.
Is the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board sitting on their hands? No. No, they are not.
They recognize that consumers must be cultivated. In a global village where competition comes from everywhere and market share is fleeting without investment.
Is the wine industry sitting on their hands? Why Yes. Yes, they are …
If cheese heads from Wisconsin can do it, surely folks in California, Washington and Oregon can do it, as well. I will not make breathless predictions that indicate the future of the domestic wine industry depends on it, because it does not.
However, what does depend on it is taking this moment in time when consumers are attuned to wine and turning it into a rising tide that sustains as opposed to a period that we look back at fondly as salad days.