Monday, March 26, 2007


~In the 1990s I worked as a wine salesman for a distributor. My market was upstate New York, which spanned from Buffalo to Utica and all points south to Binghamton. I clocked about 40,000 miles a year.
~It was grueling work and so I dropped out after less than two years. While part of the grueling work was the extensive driving, another major part of it was the treatment that the market got, both from the distributor and from the wine producer representatives—neither seemed to want to give up the income but neither seemed to want to give over any attention to the market; not enough dsiposable income to make it worth their while to support with promotion or even tasting money.
~The most annoying—to me—lack of focus on the upstate New York market was in the way product was either withheld or dribbled to it.
~By withholding product from my market it meant that I was working as hard as other sales people but getting less support and thereby less income opportunity. What was worse, however, is that the market missed out on a lot of good stuff and buyers hated me for it.
~Back then I noticed that a lot of what grew to become so-called cult wine was actually a kind of marketing plan. Producers would purposely produce small volumes of certain wines, probably also purposely produced them in a style that certain wine critics were going to love, and then after gaining the slavishly sought after high points of the critics the wines would be slapped with equally high prices and low, low allocation numbers.
~Mainly, allocations went first to restaurants—the top, expensive, usually grossly snobbish restaurants. Hotels would get allocations too, provided they had good, recognized names.
~Big retailers were next on the list, but only big retailers who could guarantee sales of other products in the distributor’s portfolio; after them, came the rest of the retail trade, which generally hardly ever got to see the wines.
~I am out of that end of the business—thank the gods—but I assume not much has changed about it. I am, however, giddy over the way the allocation system has seeped into the direct to consumer trade.
~Makes me wonder how easily consumers can be manipulated when I read gushing wine geeks online begging for their allocation of a generally high-priced, high profile product. It’s really saddening to me. But then, I am the type of person who won’t dine in a restaurant that forces me to wait in a long line before I can have a table, I won’t go see a movie that takes an hour and a half of waiting in line to secure a ticket, and I stopped going to wine tasting events that treat people like cattle for slaughter.
~Finally, I won’t beg anyone to take my money—but I’m funny that way.
NOTE: I am going to be away for a few days and so there will be a longer than usual gap between this and my next entry. I expect to get the next blog entry up by April 1.

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
March 2007. All Rights Reserved

Thursday, March 22, 2007


~When someone starts a statement with the words, “I think, I believe, I feel,” be warned that what follows will be merely an opinion.
~There is nothing wrong with an opinion—provided the person subjecting us to the opinion at least knows the subject he or she is waxing over. And when I say knows the subject, I don’t mean knows that it exists—I mean knows what’s behind, in front, and around the subject.
~That someone may have been drinking wine for years, and spending a lot of money on the best names, is absolutely a qualification for issuing an opinion on what he or she does or does not like. But is it qualification for issuing an opinion on a wine flaw?

Rather than being subject to an opinion, a wine flaw is measurable, and so it is subject to the lab. That’s why even the government sets parameters for certain potential problems that can develop in wine production.

Exceed the boundaries and you have produced a wine with a flaw.

With this fact in mind, it is completely fatuous for someone to identify a flaw in wine without having it analyzed. But don’t worry, most people who identify a flaw in wine are issuing an opinion and not a fact.

~I was reminded of this flaw-opinion relationship a few days ago on two separate wine forum sites. As usual, wine geeks were picking nits over whether or not this guy liked that smell or that guy could handle this level of alcohol and on and on. Most of these conversations begin with the tip off words, “I think, I believe, I feel.”
~One of the threads was about TCA in a certain producer’s wine and the other was about volatile acidity.

TCA is the shortened version of a chemical reaction that causes cork taint—that wet cardboard smell that signifies a dead wine.

Volatile acidity is when acetobacteria have flourished to the point where the wine smells like strong vinegar or maybe nail polish.

~The TCA discussion got started because a particular wine critic mentioned that wines from one producer seemed to lately suffer from TCA taint. To his credit, the critic didn’t just ask readers to believe him—he sent the wine for lab analysis to confirm that what he smelled was TCA. Few critics bother to do something so basic and necessary—few critics think they can be wrong.
~Of course, the wine geeks have to pipe up questioning the critic, the producer, the potential TCA, and anything else they can think of questioning, but few truly contributed anything to the conversation save their often misguided opinions. Few hadn’t even tasted the wine in question.
~The volatile acidity thread was more reasonable. Most who posted in it talked about the specifics of what the term means and smells like. But a few people were not sure if volatile acidity is a flaw or not.
~Volatile acidity at a certain level in wine is a flaw. That is not an opinion; it is a fact. It is a fact because the government says that a wine cannot exceed a certain grams per liter of acetic acid—that is called an objective measurement.
~Yet, a couple of people could not get it through their heads that their opinion on volatile acidity reflects only their ability to accept or reject the smell at whatever perceived level. That is not the same thing as identifying an objective flaw.
~The trouble with all this is that people in the wine business who make the mistake of getting into discussions with people who have mountains of opinions but molehills of technical knowledge about wine wind up, as we say, pissing in the wind (and if your wine smells like piss my opinion is that it is likely Sauvignon Blanc).

VA1, VA2, VA3

Copyright, Thomas Pellechia
March, 2007. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, March 17, 2007


~MOX: a new wine term. Well, not really.
~First, MOX is the initials for a process known as micro oxygenation.
~Second, the term is quite hot in wine circles.
~Third, some producers seem shy about admitting that they employ the winemaking process, and that makes me wonder.

Briefly, MOX is a method of slowly releasing oxygen under controlled conditions into a stainless steel tank of wine.

The reason for the oxygen is, essentially, to do what oxygen and time normally do—change the chemical chain structure of tannin (and maybe other components) thereby altering, usually softening the wine on the consumer’s palate.

The reason for this process: to make the wine approachable sooner than nature would were the wine subjected to rest in wooden barrels where oxygen passes through its pores, slowly. Oh; I forgot; the tanks that the wine is in and to which the MOX process is applied may be lined with oak staves or they may have oak chip teabags dipped into them.

In short, wine producers want both the softening and the taste of oak that barrels usually give to wine, but they don’t want to wait for that to happen over too long a period of time—so they MOX it!

~Before you raise your eyebrows and think, “Aha, Now I know why producers want to hide the process from us.” Not so fast.
~Sure, mostly producers who have no trouble waxing poetic on their back labels about oak and malolactic fermentation and their lack of investment in filtration equipment don’t care to talk about MOX, but not because they are trying to fool us; they likely don’t know what to say to us.
~MOX is a technical process, a manipulation in a long line of wine production manipulations that also comes with some controversy.
~The people who sell MOX equipment of course think it is the answer to every wine producer’s prayer for quick release and speedy profit.
~Producers who use the process seem to agree with the salespeople, as do so-called wine consultant experts, especially the ones who advise MOX on wines as a way to make the wine “better,” and you know how I hate the word better...
~Some wine people however, this one included, understand the short term goal of MOX but we would like to know its long term effect on wine, especially on wine’s aging potential. It seems to many of us that if MOX works to soften tannins, and softening tannin is one of the things that happens over time as wine ages, then MOX might very well cut the time necessary to age specific wines—or worse, MOX might mess up the schedule, making it more unpredictable than wine aging already is for us.

In a recent back and forth on a wine-oriented bulletin board I tried to determine if any studies are under way to try to figure out MOX’s effect on how wine will age, but I was unsuccessful.

My questioning did however bring to light that while some wine industry people claim that MOX is used mainly on low end wines—the wines that weren’t meant to age in the first place—many producers of high end wines may be using the process to make their wines more quickly available for consumption, especially for consumption of those wine critics who tell us what we should consume; but these producers will not admit to it.

At that piece of information I threw out another question: if MOX is considered a perfectly legitimate and non-intrusive manipulation with no particular negative affect, why would high end producers be afraid to admit to employing the winemaking process?

~Obviously, high end producers don’t want their fat wallet patrons to get scared and think that the expensive wines they buy are being purposely designed to keep them coming back for more.
~It is a particularly hilarious revelation to me that people spending lots of money on wine still seem to forget that the industry is a business to make a profit by selling wine, and by keeping the customer coming back for more. All it takes for a food/wine business to meet that goal is to strike the so-called “sweet spot” of tastebuds. How that goal is met is anybody’s guess, especially if the wine producer won’t divulge. But to think that they won’t do it if they can…might as well put your head in that sandbox.

In business, purity is green and it has pictures of presidents on it.

~Anyway, I never got a straight answer from people in the wine business whether or not a study is or will be under way to find out if there are any effects on aging wine after it has been MOXed.
~I also never got an answer to my question concerning why high-end wine producers are afraid to admit to using the process. My suspicion is that they may not know for sure but, like me, they may suspect that if MOX softens tannins, it likely alters a wine’s aging window.
~For the benefit of all wine consumers, I do hope that someday someone comes up with the answer. In the meanwhile, I believe that consumers should ask direct questions like “did this wine go through a MOX process?” Unless they are great poker players, even captains of industry display facial and other tics when they lie.

MOXTALK, MOXsales, MOXpaper, MOXsales2, MOXarticle

Copyright, Thomas Pellechia
March, 2007. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Front and Back Labels

~Did you know that with wine, the back label can also be the front label?
~If that piece of information sounds ridiculous it is, and we can thank the U.S. federal government for that Orwellian situation. Come to think of it, we can thank the federal government for every Orwellian situation; that’s what governments are for!
~Let me explain.
Federal wine label regulations mandate that certain blocks of information must appear on the label, information like the warning statements, plus the name of the region, grape variety, producer, alcohol, etc.
Never mind that much of that stuff is not really information. A lot of it is like those tourist maps when you visit Italy; you know, the ones that are more impressionist than they are directional.
For instance, the government alcohol warning statements are a lesson in misinformation and Orwellianism, and the other items are potentially but not necessarily true—it all depends on the definition of 100% and what constitutes a cellar or the definition of the word “vinted” if there is such a word in the English language.
~After we spend our time trying to figure out if we indeed have a wine that will make us pregnant, or some such thing, or a wine that is 12% alcohol by volume, or if it really is Merlot and not just partly Merlot, we can relax and take in the pleasure of the back label.
~The back label is where producers get creative, or at least they think they are creative. This is where you find out all that important stuff like how old the family vineyard is, where the patriarch came from, what he used to believe back in the nineteenth century, and the virtues of his old vines, some of which are today owned by some big corporation—but that is no matter.
~On the back label we find attempts at poetry or at descriptive missives. The problem is that too often people with absolutely no poetry in them or with poor writing skills write these back labels, which usually creates unintentional hilarity.
~ Who knows, maybe wine producers simply don’t value good writing, or don’t have the money to hire a good writer. Or maybe they are either under the sway of a P.R. hack or an inflated sense of their abilities to communicate the joy and beauty they experience from wine.
~Whatever the cause for the funny back labels, in my view, they can do away with them completely. All that is needed is a simple and brief description of the wine (maybe the blend) plus some ideas concerning the food to pair with it.
So, what does this complaint about the writing have to do with the back label also being the front label?
Nothing. But I’m getting to that subject.
~Earlier I wrote that the federal government mandates certain information on a wine label. Generally, anything that is mandated on the label must appear on the front label and not on the back label.
~Have you checked that bottle of wine lately? Is that bottle cylindrical or am I nuts? Of course, the two are mutually exclusive, but the bottle is cylindrical.
~Take a good look at the bottle. Do you know which is the front and which is the back of that cylinder?
~The potential real reason that wine producers don’t spend money on hiring a good writer to do the back label is that they spend all their money on designing the artwork for the front label.
~After spending all that money on the front label why would a producer want to ruin it with that government mandate stuff, especially when most of the government stuff isn’t true anyway?
~Are you with me?
~Not yet?
~OK. I’ll spell it out.
~All wine labels are subject to both federal and local (state) approval. The federal approval takes precedence. Every label design must be submitted to the feds with an application (and of course a fee) for approval, to make sure that the mandates are covered, and that the women in the drawing are covered too…
~The producer can arrange the labels in whatever format desired so long as the mandated stuff appears on the one that the application identifies as the front label.
It must have taken a smart importer fifteen minutes to figure out that the producer can’t control which label the retailer displays on the shelf—a cylinder can be turned around and around.

TTB labels, morelabels,

Copyright, Thomas Pellechia
March, 2007. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Frozen wine?

~Someone recently called my attention to an online wine columnist who makes the claim that freezing a wine makes it “better.”
~I normally discount the subjective opinion of words like “better, worse, good, bad” etc. Subjectivity is a personal opinion and not a technical one that can be reproduced, and so you must take its value with a grain of salt…
~Yet, I know that freezing wine doesn’t really hurt it, which means the possibility exists that it may help the wine, and so I decided to do an experiment, to freeze a wine and then to see what the process had done to the wine in comparison to it in its natural, out-of-the-bottle state. Here’s what I did.
I took a Spanish red wine from the La Mancha district, which happens to be Europe’s largest wine region demarcation. This is a mainly arid region south of Madrid; its name interprets into “parched earth.” The wine I selected was produced from 100% tempranillo grapes, the so-called spine grape of Spain.
I opened the bottle, poured a one-ounce taste into a glass and then split the bottle into three 8-ounce portions, each into its own sealed jar, and placed all three jars into the freezer to rest for eight days.
I smelled and tasted the sample pour from the bottle and made notes.
When the eight days were up I took the three jars out of the freezer. I put one jar in a convection oven, which I set on “defrost” for an hour. I put a second jar on the kitchen counter and let it sit for an hour. I left the third jar in the freezer. I also took a second bottle of the wine, set it on the kitchen counter—unopened—and let it wait for an hour.
Four minutes before the hour was up, I took the third jar out of the freezer and defrosted it on a four minute setting in the microwave. Then, into three separate glasses I poured the wine that had defrosted in the jars—one glass for each jar—at about two ounces each. I opened the bottle and poured two ounces of wine into a fourth glass. I let all four glasses sit for 45 minutes, to get them all at the temperature of the room.
~I called my friend. He was responsible for serving the four glasses to me—blind—so that I would not know which wine in which glass I was evaluating. My evaluations of the frozen wines and the second bottle of wine were to be compared with my original notes on the first bottle that I had opened eight days prior.
~Here are my results.
Impressions from the first bottle.
Appearance: deep, ruby, with transparent clarity.
Nose: dark, lush fruit and cedar wood.
Taste: tart black cherry, tannic, bitter finish, wood on the edges—great middle palate or spine.
Impressions from the four glasses.
Glass 1—deep, ruby, opaque.
Glass 2—deep, ruby, transparent.
Glass 3—deep, ruby, opaque.
Glass 4—deep, ruby, opaque.
The glasses were switched around.
Glass 1—flat, hardly any nose.
Glass 2—flat, hardly any nose.
Glass 3—hint of fruit.
Glass 4—fine, lush fruit and cedar.
The glasses were switched around again.
Glass 1—soft, almost sweet sensation, vacant middle.
Glass 2—sweet cherries, soft tannin, prominent wood, vacant middle.
Glass 3—tart cherries, tannic, wood, biting middle palate.
Glass 4—soft, almost sweet sensation, vacant middle.
For Appearance, glass 1 was the microwave defrost, glass 2 was the fresh bottle, glass 3 was the convection defrost, glass 4 was the countertop defrost.
For Nose, glass 1 was the convection defrost, glass 2 was the countertop defrost, glass 3 was the microwave defrost, glass 4 was the fresh bottle.
For Taste, glass 1 was the convection defrost, glass 2 was the microwave defrost, glass 3 was the fresh bottle, glass 4 was the countertop defrost.
~My interpretation of the results:
Certainly, freezing wine changes it. In this test, the freezing indicated that acidity was lowered significantly, which I already knew would happen, and which accounts for the opaqueness of the wine, with tartaric acid crystals floating in the wine as they dropped out from the cold. The lower acidity made the wine taste softer and even made it seem sweeter.
More striking, to me, is that each frozen sample seemed to lose its middle—its spine—making the mouthfeel of the wine rather thin and uninteresting to me.

~If I had to make a subjective remark about the wines that had been frozen I certainly would not use the word “better” to describe them, mainly because I don’t care for flabby wines that are empty in the middle.
~All I can say is that freezing doesn’t necessarily ruin the wine, but it certainly makes it different, which is what I suspected all along.
~Whenever someone tells me that a wine he or she had stored in a particular manner tasted a week later just as it had when the bottle was first open I say that you can’t be sure about that unless you compare the stored wine with a fresh bottle—but most people don’t do that, and so the information is rather meaningless to me. The wine guy who says that freezing makes wine better has issued an opinion, but he doesn't seem to know what he is talking about.

Copyright, Thomas Pellechia
March, 2007. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Wine talking on the Internet

~Have you ever visited a wine bulletin board or forum? If not, you might consider doing so.
~You can have a lot of fun learning on a wine forum. You can also have a lot of fun reading some of the truly idiotic threads that can develop on a wine forum.
~Mostly, the threads on a wine forum that cover wine are relatively straight forward: sometimes, they are technical threads; sometimes, they are tasting note threads; sometimes, they are general interest threads; sometimes, they are specific interest threads; most times, they are all over the place threads; all the time, they are great fun for someone with either a passing or a deep interest in wine.
~The idiotic stuff that takes place on a forum often starts with a subject either directly related or vaguely related to wine, but then the discussion degenerates into insults, inanities, and serious displays of intemperance, which, to me, is a fine irony, since these are people who drink alcohol…
~The first wine forum I ever visited was by invitation.
~The late Jerry Mead was one of the most outspoken curmudgeons in the wine business, which is why I loved the man. We had never met in person, but we had established a correspondence after I once sent him a letter regarding one of his beautiful anti-government diatribes in his small magazine named the Wine Trader.
~Jerry asked me to write something for his magazine on two separate occasions. After the second piece, he invited me to join in an ongoing email conversation among a number of industry professionals. The email “round robin” was simply an open discussion among many people with definite opinions. We disagreed a lot, sometimes feverishly, but I cannot remember one personal insult ever having been thrown at anyone in those emails.
~Then, Jerry got involved with the Internet and he invited me onto a forum. Jerry’s forum still operates under the name—its URL is below with the other forum URLs.
~Today, the state of the wine forum is all over the map. Each forum is free to the public, but some are there to support a separate commercial interest, like the forum connected to the name Robert M. Parker—the URL is below.
~One particular forum is operated by a truly free-spirited, fun-loving winophile Russian-American who started his forum after his online posting style had gotten him into trouble on other wine forum sites.
~You'll even find a forum where most of the posters will likely remind of your days in the know, when teasing and one-upping was adolescent fun.
~Without doubt in my mind, the most open and reasonable of the genre is the forum that Robin Garr operates: Wine Lovers Page—the URL is at the bottom of this post. But—and there is always a but—even on Mr. Garr’s site there are those whose brains sometimes seem to revert to the crib, or worse.

There simply are people on this earth who can’t be made either to think or to be sociable.

Unfortunately, the Internet is an easy place for such people to spout off. On many of the sites, such a person gets a few warnings and then likely is barred.

The best thing to do when you encounter a person like that on a forum is to ignore…do not respond with a post of your own; instead, some people cannot avoid the impulse to respond, and then the fun begins.

For an example of what can happen when a melt down occurs on a wine forum look here: ridiculous

~Incidentally, the man who started that vicious thread once worked as a critic for Mr. Parker. I have no idea what he now does for a living, but I assume he doesn’t directly rely on the wallets of wine geeks or, as he so eloquently puts things, us morons.
~I am endlessly amazed at the capacity to entertain of so many people who aren’t entertainers, and I am sometimes happy that I don't have to buy a ticket for the entertainment.
~Don't get me wrong. I am not squeaky-clean. I engaged in some stupid arguments in the past. I have sworn not to do that again...

A wine forum usually requires no registration to read the posts of others, but should you get sucked in and want to post, you must register. If you register and post remember: I will be watching—try not to make me wince…at times, you might even see my name in your thread.

Here are only a few sites: wine talk, Parker,, Garr, Therapy,

Copyright, Thomas Pellechia
February 2007. All Rights Reserved.